Archive | August, 2013

To Do: 5 Places in Brussels

26 Aug

I had a few days to myself before school started this week that I earmarked for wondering around Brussels, seeing what there is to experience. Unfortunately for me, I had errands that were really more important than wondering and I didn’t feel the greatest. However, I am going to a college that schedules a bus and walking tour of Brussels available to first year and study abroad students for the weekend before classes start, so I took part in that. Thanks to Mother Nature, that walking tour turned into a strictly bus tour  because it was super cold and rainy! I enjoyed it this way because not only did I get to sit and see a great overview of the city that I will be spending the next 9 months, but our guide (a professor who teaches about European history and has lived in Brussels her entire life) got to give us great explanations of what we were seeing.

So on this trip, I saw a TON of great places to visit this year. However, in this post, I have narrowed that list down to 5 specific places that I know for a fact that I really want to visit. Most of the information I am posting about each of the sites came directing from our professor. Pardon the pictures I’m posting; I took them with my phone, through a bus window, during the rain. Better pictures will come later when I visit them for real.

1. Law Courts of Brussels

Law Courts of Brussels

Law Courts of Brussels

     Also known as the Palace of Justice and the Palais de Justice (in French), this was commissioned to honor Belgium’s 50th anniversary as an independent country by King Leopold II. It is located in uptown Brussels, which is literally called that because it is up above the rest of the city. There is a spot next to this building where you can look out and see Brussels spread out below you. In the Middle Ages, this was the site where public hangings would take place. Vesalius (our college’s namesake) would come here after hangings and collect the bodies to study them to learn more about anatomy. It has an eclectic architectural style, meaning that it does not display just one style throughout its design. For the 19th and most of the 20th century, this was the biggest building in Western Europe.

2. Royal Palace

Royal Palace

Royal Palace

     The Belgian Constitution was made in 1830, and construction of this Royal Palace was completed in 1850. Though this is the seat of the government, the currently King of Belgium, King Philippe, and his wife, Mathilde, live in a royal mansion in a different part of the city. The Royal Palace is located in an area called the Royal Park, which also holds the Belgian Parliament and the Belgian Prime Minister’s offices. In the actual park next to this building, there is an interesting monument. There was a point in Belgium’s history where a large party was thrown. At this party, Peter the Great indulged in great amounts of both food and alcohol. This monument in the park is there to commemorate the place in which Peter the Great got sick that evening.

3. Cinquantenaire



     The Cinquantenaire was commissioned at the some time as the Law Courts of Brussels, by King Leopold II, to celebrate Belgium’s 50th anniversary. It was not completed until after he passed away and was inaugurated by King Albert I. King Albert was actually Leopold II’s nephew and never actually planned to have to take over the thrown. Unfortunately for him, he eventually was king and had to serve during World War I, when he stayed with his army instead of fleeing the country.

4. Chinese Pavilion

Chinese Pavilion

Chinese Pavilion

     This pavilion was one of the exhibits at the 1900 World Fair in Paris, France. King Leopold II like it so much that he had it and the Japanese Tower reconstructed in Brussels after the World Fair was completed. The outside of this structure takes parts of many different kinds of Chinese architecture into its design, the interior is actually designed in an art nouveau style. Interestingly enough, the man who design this was French and had never actually been to China.

5. Atomium



     Of course, no trip to Brussels would be complete without going to their iconic destination, the Atomium. The Atomium is a replica of an iron molecule (increased in size by 165 billion times) made for the 1958 World Fair in Brussels. It was never meant to last longer than the World Fair, but the people fell in love with their symbol and it remained; however, it was at one time damaged and had to be rebuilt in a different kind of material. When this happened, tightrope walkers had to be commissioned to put parts of the structure back together.


“Back to school. Back to school, to prove to Dad that I’m not a fool.”

26 Aug

ImageFor those of you who do not get that reference, it a quote from Adam Sandler’s character in the movie Billy Madison, and though I have no belief that my father things I am a fool, I am in fact going back to school!

As I have mentioned before, I will be spending the 2013-2014 academic year here in Brussels, Belgium attending Vesalius College. As stated by their website,

“Vesalius College was founded in 1987 by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Boston University to offer undergraduate education in English. As an American-style college, Vesalius takes a humanistic approach to intellectual inquiry, encouraging students to not only learn skills and knowledge important to their chosen careers, but to think critically and develop themselves personally and as citizens of an increasingly multicultural and globalised world.”

Orientation for the study abroad students and new degree-seeking students was last Wednesday. It wasn’t anything like our orientation is in the U.S. My orientation lasted a day, and in that day we sat in the same room and listened to person after person form the college come tell us about what we should expect in the upcoming semester (I’m the only person I’ve heard of so far who is studying abroad here for a year rather than a semester). At one point we went with our VeCo Buddies to get a tour of our campus (two floors in an office building) and the campus of Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), the Dutch college that is right next door that we have complete access to.

I then met with my academic adviser (also one of my professors) to solidify my class schedule for the semester. Below is a list of my classes, but I’ll go into them each more closely in a different post.

  • Communications 231- Rhetoric
  • Political Science 351- Military Approaches to Security
  • Political Science 132- European Peace and Security Studies
  • Political Science 235- EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy in Theory & Practice
  • Political Science 236- Understanding Contemporary Conflicts in Europe and Beyond


All in all, I’m super excited to get things underway!

I Have Arrived!

20 Aug

Though I arrived about three days ago, I finally have enough time to sit down and write about my trip without falling asleep first.

Unfortunately for the family, Mom had to work on Saturday, so she didn’t get to go to the airport with us. However, we were very fortunate indeed to have some amazing friends travel up from Indianapolis so that Dad wouldn’t have to come home from Chicago alone. I have to say again, thank you SO SO SO much Uncle Johnny and Alana for joining us on the trip; it was a blast!

Mom, Dad, and I saying good-bye at the house. Photo credit: Alana Null

Mom, Dad, and I saying good-bye at the house. Photo credit: Alana Null

Here is a little tip for international travelers out of Chicago O’Hare airport. Don’t plan on eating with the people dropping you off at the airport. That is what we normally do. We get to the airport, check in, find some place to eat, say our goodbyes, then go through security. Unfortunately, what we didn’t know about the international terminal at O’Hare is that the only place to eat before security is at the downstairs McDonalds. They didn’t even have tables really. You just have to sit in airport style chairs and try to eat. We did eat there, but I know Dad would have preferred an actual sit down meal.

My first flight was from Chicago to Dublin, lasting almost 7 hours. It was through the night, so we got dinner. I don’t know how other airlines are, but my meal on Aer Lingus was fantastic. I had pork with stir fried rice, a roll, mixed veggies, and a chocolate brownie for dessert. Yummy! That was pretty much the highlight of the flight though. I read a book, watched a movie (Olympus Has Fallen), watched 3 TV shows (Ripper Street, Big Bang Theory, and Family Guy), and did a sudoku. It officially made me 5 for 5 on not being able to sleep on international flights. I don’t know what to do, next to medicating, to make it so that I can sleep. Oh well, hopefully it will be different on the way back to the States.

I arrived in Dublin at 5:00AM their time (1:00AM LaGrange/Atlanta time) and had just over an hour to wait for my next flight. I was really excited to see a sign that said Guinness had their main taps at my gate, but go figure, they weren’t selling any at 5 in the morning. Sorry Dad, guess I’ll have to use my Guinness money for some Belgian beer instead.

I arrived in Brussels at 9:30AM their time (3:30AM LaGrange/Atlanta time). Customs was super easy to get through, and I even met two other students who are studying at Vesalius this semester. One was from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the other is from Rochester Institute of Technology. They were super nice and I hope to run into them again tomorrow at Orientation.

My host mother, Laurence, and her sister-in-law, Eleanor, met me at the airport and helped me take the stuff out to the car where my host father, Thibault, was waiting. They took on a short drive through Brussels before going home. Unfortunately, their house is being newly renovated and it hasn’t quiet been completed yet, so we are staying at Laurence’s mother’s house for the time being. I really enjoy it here, though I am not looking forward to repacking my bag in the next day or so. It is definitely not going to be as easy as when Mom and Dad are there to help me sit on it to force it to close.

I’m having an amazing time though. Laurence and Thibault’s baby, Simon, is adorable and is always laughing. Laurence enjoys cooking just as much as I do, so we have had great conversations about cooking and Belgian cuisine. They have showed me house to use the bus system and I successfully got lost, found my way, and used the bus to get back to the house. I may have walked randomly through the streets of Brussels for an hour before I found the right bus, but I saw some beautiful parts of the neighborhood that I will eventually be living in.

I will start posting more as my trip continues, but just know that I am safe and so far loving my experience!