Europe Week 12: Brussels under lockdown


I am safely back in Prague!  Thank you for all the concerned messages and calls when I was in Brussels this weekend. I’m pretty sure no one was more stressed than my mother.  We felt fairly secure following the rules to stay safe, however, in retrospect, our 4:00 a.m. idea to head to Amsterdam maybe wasn’t necessarily a bad one after all.

Some asked why it even crossed our minds to go to Brussels. My response was simple. Belgian Frites. Belgian Waffles. Belgian Chocolate. Belgian Beer.  These are all things we discovered (and sampled!) after the fact.  Beforehand, Deb and I just decided to meet in the most boring country for a silly weekend exploring.  Turns out when Brussels goes on a level 4 terror alert, it gets a lot less boring. 

Deb and I in Grand Place, with guards all around

This may just be the one weekend I never forget. First, probably more obvious, is that Brussels was shut down. Belgium is a beautiful country, but rainy so the scenery is alternately beautiful and gloomy.  A lot of ‘things to do’ weren’t immediately obvious (and those that might have been were shut down) so we felt mildly ‘Huh.’ when coming up with ideas of things to do.  We were there Thursday through Sunday. After Friday night there were armed military personnel on every street corner and 2-5 stationed outside our hotel at all times. It made things a little more tense than normal, but people were still in shops and on streets.

On Friday, we visited Bruges – summed up as a city so cute you could fit it in a snow globe, the Christmas Markets were fun and we climbed to the top of the Belfry Tower, where part of “In Bruges” was filmed. If you haven’t watched the movie, you should because the final line in the movie slayed me. “Maybe that’s what hell is, the rest of eternity spent in fucking Bruges.” While we wouldn’t say it was hell, the three hours we spent there was just enough. Next was Ghent which we summed up by walking around and then saying, “So…. this is Ghent.” I believe total time there was 90 minutes. We were back in Brussels in 7 hours after leaving.

In Bruges. Doesn’t seem like a “snow globe” city.

After finding out about the terror alert abruptly at 3:30 Saturday morning, we slept in until noon, took a cab to another part of the city and treated ourselves to fondue (which is Swiss, not Belgian) spent the rest of the day in the hotel, digesting a gallon of melted cheese and half-gallon of melted chocolate. The day culminated with perhaps one of the best meals of my life. I’ll just leave you with the pictures and the obvious statement that we really like truffles. We decided against going to the movies or museums, even though they were open, and tried to think of if we were in New York, what would we do? Which was to avoid places that attract large crowds of tourists… significantly limiting our options.  Luckily, our hotel lobby bar had beer.  In Belgium, beer is always an option.

Who is Deb Roth? She is my sister/mother/friend, and that’s the only way I can describe her. My favorite person. There is no one else I would have wanted to be on lockdown with other than her. We managed to turn what could have been a terrifying weekend into the time of my life.  And how many people can say they had the time of their life in Brussels?  (In truth, Deb mostly slept when we were stuck in the hotel, but I’m pretty sure if she had convinced me to go to Amsterdam this email would have been a lot more interesting.)   I loved this weekend, even if I spent half the time in a hotel room. The sheer ridiculousness of the situation was almost comical. Even still, we are planning to go back in 2019.  Maybe.

Belgium was an experience neither of us will soon forget, for better or for worse.

Moving on, Thanksgiving is tomorrow! Perhaps my favorite holiday of the year. I almost wish I could be home for it this year, but my program is taking us all out to a restaurant for what they described as a “traditional Thanksgiving feast.” I’m curious to see how Czechs interpret this holiday.

One of my favorite things about the holiday, besides the three turkeys, cooked three different ways, is when we all go around the large table and say what we are thankful for. And it can’t be your friends, family or health. It has to be something else. 

This year, since I won’t be at the table, I thought I’d share what I would say with all of you:

It has been a whirlwind year. Tomorrow will mark two years since I came out and I am still so thankful to this day for how it is a non-issue. There isn’t a better feeling in the world than being able to live an open and honest life. I am happier and more confident in myself because of it. 

The theme for me in 2015 was independence. Living on my own, either across the country or on the other side of the world. I’m incredibly lucky and fortunate for all of the opportunities that came my way this year. This time a year ago I could never imagine my life to be where it is. In 12 months I’ve seen more than some people will see in a lifetime and I’m only (?) 21. So many will never have the opportunities I have and I’m reminded of that everyday. 

I am going to Vienna on Friday with my program for two days.  It’s safe!  Don’t worry. 

Follow this link to see all of my photos: Mark in Europe

Sending all my love from my apartment in Prague


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