Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: brussels

From high places: Brussels and Toronto

As I was going through my posts in the “From high places” series, I was surprised to find that I neglected several recent visits to Brussels, one of my favourite cities (if not my favourite) in Europe.

That’s OK. Brussels deserves its own post anyway.

Come to think of it, I went back to Brussels in 2015, 2016 (short stopover), and 2017 (just last week) and each time discovered a new viewpoint. My favourite, notwithstanding the slight reflection of the glass window, would have to be the one from the restaurant at the top of the Musical Instruments Museum. From here, you can see the imposing and magnificent town hall in the Grand Place, as well as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in the far distance, which I believe is the fifth largest church structure in the world (official source). Lovely buildings – I like both of them very much.

In 2016, I finally got up to the viewing platform at the top of the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and of Military History. Not as impressive as the previous view, but still quite nice.

And here’s the view on the other side of the viewing platform, facing east toward Merode station.

And last week, while visiting with my dad and sister, I discovered the garden and café on the fifth floor of the Royal Library. The view was similar to the one on top of the MiM, but I certainly wasn’t standing as high, and the view wasn’t as extensive. Regardless, the basilica still looks so grandiose, even if it was so far away.

After Brussels, I also found a photo of downtown Toronto that I took this year while visiting the University of Toronto with my sister, from the 11th (I think) floor of the OISE building. I was in a hurry because I wasn’t supposed to be in this room, and someone was entering as I was taking this photo…so I snapped and ran. Lots of reflection in the glass – oh well.

So the post wasn’t ALL about Brussels after all. Sorry, my beloved, but perhaps I love Toronto just as much.

A little place called Brussels

When people ask me what my favourite place is in Europe out of all the cities I’ve travelled to, I never really give a straight answer. How DO you answer this question, when each place is so unique, so charming? Yet, I always ALMOST say Brussels, because that’s what comes to mind when I think of places that I really love.

So then Brussels became sort of my de facto favourite place in Europe, just as it is the de facto capital of the European Union. It’s right in the middle of Paris and Amsterdam, two very popular cities, but ironically, these are two of the most overrated European cities in my opinion. Brussels lies there, unnoticed and often overlooked by travellers, but what a gem it really is! I’m lucky that one of my co-tutelle universities is in Belgium, so I have plenty of chances to go to Brussels, which is just an hour away by train from Louvain-la-Neuve, my university. It’s not quite a place I’m super familiar with, like Bordeaux, yet not JUST a tourist destination for me either.

I realize, though, that during the two and a half years I’ve been in Europe, I’ve had six sessions in Belgium and countless visits to Brussels, yet I’ve only written about this beautiful place once or twice. And it deserves much more attention than that.

I stopped by Brussels the night before my departure to Lisbon, and the view at Mont des Arts just swept me off my feet. All I could say was…wow. I love cities in the night, and Brussels got me completely mesmerized. Never thought I’d see a rainbow at night!

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Sherry’s European adventures: Belgium, Paris, and Bordeaux

Well, after months of planning and anticipation, the sister is finally here to visit. I meticulously planned this trip so that when she arrived, she would be visiting Belgium when I was still there. Then we’d head to Bordeaux with a short stay in Paris, and in the end, we’ll fly back to Canada together, for MY vacations. This way, she would get the benefit of experiencing a little bit of both countries while I’d have some company for the long trans-Atlantic flight 😉

It’s been almost three weeks of hopping between cities, most of which I’ve been to already, and I wanted my sister to get the best out of her first European adventure. It certainly wasn’t easy for her to be away from home for so long, all by herself, and it wasn’t easy to plan a feasible route for her, but I enjoyed the process of showing some of the places I loved and exploring new places with her. Of course, food was a big part of our adventure, as you’ll see later! So let’s start with…

Belgium

I was finishing my 4th session in Louvain-la-Neuve when my sister arrived, and she got to stay with me there for a full week. I brought her to Bruges, a popular tourist destination that I didn’t like when I first visited, Ghent, like Bruges but much more lovely, at least to me, and of course, Brussels, the European capital. Chef tagged along as well, triple the fun!

Sista time! Sherry is 9 years younger than me – quite a huge difference, no? Almost everyone told us that we don’t look alike, and most would agree that I am more like my dad while my sister is more like my mom, both in terms of physical appearance and personality. Do you think we look anything like each other at all? 😉

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Black, yellow, and red – Happy birthday Belgium!

July 21st was the Belgian National Day – happy birthday, dear host country #2! I didn’t even say happy birthday to France, who celebrated a week before Belgium.

I did some very brief research on the history of the independence of Belgium. The day was July 21st, 1831, when Belgium declared independence from the Netherlands. That makes this year the 181st birthday of this small yet diverse country that may even be considered a little bizarre. Almost two years in Europe and I’ve spent close to half of my time here – wow.

(Completely unrelated side note: It seems like most of the countries that have held some significance to me at some point in my life has their nation days in July. Canada, July 1st. The USA, July 4th. France, July 14th. Belgium, July 21st. Coincidence?)

There were some events in Brussels for national day, and I decided that instead of staying in Louvain-la-Neuve, I’d head to the capital and spend some time around the city with two friends I met at the church in Brussels. We walked around a bit before deciding that there were way too many people and that we’d never squeeze through the crowd – the police wouldn’t even let us try. Since none of us are actually from Brussels and knew the city well, we wandered away from the parades and shows and crowds to do some exploring of our own.

Most of the events took place around Parc de Bruxelles, where the royal palace was situated. Here is one of the entrances, greeting us with two of the foody symbols of Belgium, beer and “French” fries. Yes, the Belgians invented the fries, not the French. There were other delicious goodness scattered throughout the park, including of course chocolate, mussels, and Brussels sprouts. I was surprised that I couldn’t find a waffle though 😦 For more pictures, click here to see them on Facebook.

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Paris and a little bit of Brussels, in one day

No travelling makes Annie a dull girl, so after a month of staying in Louvain-la-Neuve, I went to Paris last Saturday. It’s a place I’ve been to perhaps more than enough times already, almost like my backyard whether I’m in France or Belgium. Now, my friends in Canada hate me when I say that, but I am not trying to boast (trust me, there really isn’t much to boast about Paris). Still, being within a 3-hour train ride from either Bordeaux or Louvain-la-Neuve, Paris became a frequent destination from either city of depart, as a transit point or a place to meet friends.

The purpose of Saturday’s trip was precisely the latter. A friend from Bordeaux is leaving for her internship in China next month, and she happened to be visiting Paris on Saturday. I had booked my tickets to Paris for the same day about a week ago, to see another friend’s art exhibition (which was, actually, the main purpose), so I figured, why not meet up before we say goodbye? I do head back to Bordeaux next Saturday, but there will be a training school in Anglet the week right after, and I will depart on Sunday. By the time I get back, she will be gone 😦 As such we planned our day carefully, first having lunch after my arrival, then heading to the exhibition and finding a place to have a nice chat afterwards.

Even though the city itself has failed to impress me each time I went, I still somehow look forward to every visit to Paris. Of course, I see it not as the most romantic city in the world or the “City of Lights”, but more as a big maze of a place where I can convenient go to get myself lost. And I love that feeling of wandering; Paris is perfect for that.

But as much as I dislike it, I gotta admit that amidst the strange odour in the metro, the dirty sidewalks, and the crowds of people everywhere, Paris is a city filled with music, art, and culture. There are streets where entire rows of galleries and art shops can be found, like a heaven for the true artist. Turn a corner to the next area and you’d find a whole bunch of street musicians performing for an audience that is willing to pause and listen. Such is Paris.

Friends and I were on our way to the art exhibition when we stumbled upon this small strings ensemble playing near the Louvre. Judging by the sound, they certainly didn’t seem like your average amateurs. Seems like you can find a concert anywhere in Paris, even on the metro.

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