Frites, mayo, and marzipan
Updated: Jun 10, 2019
Before my trip out here I had decided I would use my year abroad to get fit again. At Oxford I was involved in around 20 student societies, and this is the first time since A-levels that I've had space to sit around and do nothing, so I thought I might as well be productive. On my first full day in Brussels, I threw on my running gear and headed in (what I thought was) the direction of a local park. My sense of direction has never been one of my strong points and soon I realised that the street that sounded like 'Aardvark' that was to be my first right-turn was nowhere in the vicinity. Fortunately I had preempted my getting lost and had brought my phone and its handy connection to Google Maps with me. I must have used that phone a total of 7 times during my run, but eventually I got to the park.
Park Josaphat is a small bit of greenery and trees in Schaerbeek area, close to central Brussels. It's a very sweet place with a lake, areas sheltered by tree branches, and a variety of old and modern statues - somewhere you'd see feature in a chic flic if it were filmed in Brussels. Not that anything like that would happen - Brussels is far too sensible a city to have tasteless films advertising it to Americans.
It may have been because I was out at 10am on a weekday, but it seemed that running wasn't something that the Belgians did at this time of year. All my flatmates go to the gym or do indoor exercise classes. Perhaps the Belgians just stay indoors from October onwards.
After a breakfast of some really yummy soya yoghurt that had the consistency of thick double cream, I headed out to town. As I had discovered from my run earlier, Brussels seems not to have been built for pedestrians, or cars, or anything really. The roads all go in the opposite direction to where you want to go and pedestrian crossings are not always the best-placed. As a result, the metro is by far the easiest means of getting about. On my way back home, given I was laden with lamps and whatnot, I took the metro for a lazy two stops. After what was effectively a sunbathing holiday in Barcelona my fitness is less than ideal.
A highlight of the day was buying (and eating) some Belgian frites with mayonnaise. They may have cost nearly €3, but the portion was enormous. Another treat of the day was a packet of marzipan balls, which was sold at the counter of a homeware store. Having never seen them before in Britain, I couldn't resist! They weren't bad, but nothing will ever beat my family's homemade brownies.
Food is a big thing for me when travelling. I am intolerant to both gluten and lactose and so far Belgium seems slightly more accommodating than France is. I managed to find several biscuits made by the Spanish brand gullón, and the local supermarket had a 3 for 2 offer on alternative milk, so that certainly made me happy. I am still on a hunt for gluten-free flour, so the pancakes will have to wait!
I cook a lot at uni, and having a big kitchen was always a must when finding a place to live. I'm living in a shared house with 8 other international students and ex-pats. It's very central and everybody here is lovely. I found my house on appartager.be, an easy-to-use site where owners post their flats and houses for renters to view. I also tried via-flats.com and spent a lot of time contacting owners, but to no avail. The site appartager.be was much better, and within a few days of registering I was contacted by the owner of the house. For those looking for places to stay in Europe, I would thoroughly recommend Facebook groups as a way of finding somewhere cheap. The pages tend to have good admins and often post things in the group that are also about what to do for nightlife etc. in the city. On Wednesday there is an organised meet up for ex-pats and stagiaires (interns), which I shall certainly be attending.