Stuck in the middle

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I’ve called Lille, or at least northern France, my home for the past three years. Although I’ve spent time living in Douai, Hazebrouck, Lille itself, and Cassel, I have always been a student or worked in Lille. It’s my favorite city in France. Full of culture, friendly people, great beer, and just a train ride away from other great European cities like London, Paris, and Brussels.

I live 12 kilometres from the Belgian border. We’re there at least once a month, whether it’s to drink a beer, go shopping, or pick up tobacco for M’s parents. I’ve visited Belgium more times than I can remember. (Luckily I have some documentation of my trips to Bruges,  Brussels, Bruges again, and Brussels again. But that’s definitely not all of my trips there.)

I fly out of Brussels International airport more than half the time I go back home to Texas.

The people who died in the horrific attacks that took place yesterday are like any of us: traveling to work, traveling to see family or friends, traveling to new places, out and about.

The images that I saw – and had been trying to avoid – on the news last night saddened and shocked me. I don’t know how else to describe the emotions I felt. Just shocked.

Not so long ago, we heard similar stories from Paris…

For lack of my own better words, I want to share this post from Rick Steves, a man whose guidebooks were the keys to my traveling success the first time I ever traveled Europe on my own.

Learning of today’s tragic attacks in Brussels, my first thought was of that city’s unique knack for celebrating life. It’s a city of great humanity, and great joy. In recent visits, I’ve been inspired by beer pilgrims who flew all the way from New York for a three-day weekend of sipping the world’s finest monk-made brews. After taste-testing decadent chocolates in a line of five venerable shops in a row, I’ve spied yet another shop…and popped yet another praline. And standing on the Grand Place, which was lovingly blanketed with flowers, I’ve enjoyed the best open-air jazz I’ve ever heard — forever giving Europe’s finest town square a joyful soundtrack in my mind.

Half of Belgium speaks French, and the other half Flemish — but, with a battlefield called Waterloo just a few miles beyond its suburbs, Brussels understands the importance of getting along. And, as city beloved for its cartoons, beer, chocolate, and buckets of mussels, it knows the rewards of cooperation are rich.

Brussels is the capital of Europe — an experiment in pluralism more open and determined than anywhere in the world. And not surprisingly, forces against freedom and pluralism have attacked it. In a world of soft targets, easy access to explosives, and vivid media, terrorism is here to stay. And our challenge to maintain a free and open society is here to stay, as well. Europe is strong. It will pursue both safety and the bad guys. And, as a matter of principle, its people will continue to embrace freedom. As a matter of principle, I will keep on traveling. How about you?

 

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Bruges for a day

The boy and I found ourselves browsing airbnb.com for villas in Bali one night when we decided, why not spend a day in Bruges? It was a much more feasible plan, being that this Flemish city is only a 1 and a 1/2 hour drive from our house, and we wouldn’t need to spend $10,000 to stay there for a night. So the next Sunday, we set off on the road along with his mom, dad, brother, sister, and sister’s boyfriend to spend a nice little afternoon in Bruges.

Group shot on a side street of Bruges, taken by the boy’s brother

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Brussels in a Day

The travel blues hit me hard Wednesday night. Therefore I bought tickets for the next day to and from Brussels, Belgium.

It’s a 34 minute, €28 TGV train ride from Lille, I had only spent half a day there before, I love how I never know if I should speak English or French, and I had a craving for waffles… so, why not?

After arriving at 9:45am, I grabbed a city map from the train station (seriously… I was slightly unprepared for this little day trip) and followed another guy who was holding a map out to the subway station in front of the train station. From there, I took the subway line 3 (or 4) towards Gare du Nord/Noordstation and got off at Bourse/Beurs, dropping me off just next to the main square. Once you step inside the square, you suddenly find yourself enveloped between huge, magnificent buildings, and you probably won’t know where to look – I spent a good 15 minutes just walking around and taking it all in!

The Broodhuis

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surprise!

My winner of a boyfriend planned a surprise for me on Friday that included the following things: Ghent & Alexi Murdoch.

It wasn’t as easy as it sounds… (does it sound easy…?)

I met up with him in Lille around 5pm on Friday after he got off work, and we headed to our at-the-time-unknown-to-me destination of Ghent. We made it to the city with no problem, arrived at our destination, and quickly discovered that the address was in fact that of the ticket office and not the concert venue. Hmm…

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big weekend part 3: brussels

We left the hostel at 3am, said goodbye to those who were still up in the hostel kitchen, walked to the commercial center, got on the bus, and passed out. An hour and a half later we were at the airport, an hour later we were on the plane, and two hours later we were in Brussels at 9am. I called Michel, who was coming to pick us up, to let him know that we had arrived. He told me that he was outside of Quick (a French fast-food restaurant), but when I asked security where the Quick was, they laughed and said there wasn’t one at this airport. Uh oh.

So we were both at different airports. Who was I to know that there are two airports in Brussels? Continue reading