This weekend my flat mate and I took a trip to Brussels, Belgium and it was so different from London, but absolutely amazing. Brussels has so much history, gorgeous churches, the Grand Place, the EU Parliament, and incredible food.
St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral.
When we first arrived in Brussels it was very clear we were in a different country. We got off the train and were completely lost. All the signs were either in French or just symbols that meant nothing to us. For about ten minutes we stood there trying to gather our bearings and figure out what to do. Eventually we realized that the “M” is their equivalent of the tube and we took that to find our Airbnb.
The subway system in Brussels was surprising especially since I have gotten used to the tube here in London. The stations looked very nice and modern, but the actual trains were rather old. The doors on many of them were not automatic and you had to pull a handle to get them to open. It was a big adjustment from the tube, and I can honestly say the tube is my preferred mode of transportation. Before coming to London people would rave about the public transportation system and I finally understand what they mean; it is so simple and reliable.
Manual doors on the subway.
Another difference from London was the language barrier. I did not expect it to be too much of a problem, but when we got to our Airbnb a maintenance man let us in, but he did not speak English, so it took a lot of gesturing to get to that point. Walking down the streets no one spoke English, at least until we went to the tourist areas where there was a lot more English.
I went abroad with the mindset that most Europeans know English. I know this is not something I should have assumed, but in my past experience it has been what I have observed. Many of the Belgians I interacted with did not speak English or knew very little which was shocking and eye-opening.
Every time I have traveled in the past, someone I was with spoke the language of the country we were in, or everyone spoke English. My flat mate and I both knew no French and we felt bad walking into places and rudely saying “hello” in the hopes that someone would realize we spoke English. We actually decided to learn how to say “Bonjour, est-ce que vous parlez anglaise?” which means “hi, do you speak English?” While it was not a lot of French, we were trying not to feed into the stereotypes of Americans that we are rude and expect everyone to speak English.
Another aspect of this language barrier I noticed was that a lot of the tourists spoke English. A man came up to me on the street and in English asked me directions somewhere, but this was not his native language, and neither was French. It was interesting to see other travels who were under the same impression that if you don’t speak French maybe try English instead of another language.
Aside from the language barrier, Brussels is very different from London. Brussels is a lot smaller of a city and it seemed to have more tourists than what I have encountered in London. This could be partially because I was accepting the tourist role in Brussels, but in London I do not do the touristy things anymore. It seemed different though because London is a global city. While there are a lot of non-British people here, a lot of them are working or studying and not just visiting. In Brussels this did not seem to be the case as much.
While I took a weekend off from London, I actually missed the city. I know it has only been four weeks, but this city feels like home and I cannot imagine leaving it.