Living in the heart of Europe

Caroline Tolfsen
Published on Wednesday 160120
A big, pink suitcase rolling down the streets from the central station. For the very first time I saw this city, that was going to be my home for the next months; and it looked nothing like I expected.

I was very exited when I left for Erasmus in September. Living in a big city like Brussels, was going to be very different from what I am used to. I was excited that I was going to meet so many new people, learn Dutch and travel. First up, was seeing were I was going to live and exploring the city for a few days.

Grand Place

Manneken Pis, and the beautiful Grand Place are some of my first memories. I remember walking in the streets thinking it looked so different from what I pictured. Narrow streets, and tall buildings. The architecture fascinated me more than anything, since it was so beyond what I am used to in Norway.
Grand Place blew me away. I was going there the first day, and an orchestra was playing.
It was around seven in the evening, and the place was crowded. Some sat right on the ground, eating waffles and talking. The lights lit up the buildings, and an almost magical atmosphere was created.

I guess my first impression was this magical feeling, and I kept feeling that for a while throughout the following days. The city center is so beautiful, and I was really happy to live there. Short walk from school, and even shorter walk to Grand Place, which for me has been a place to go in the evenings when taking a break from studying.

Living in the big city

In my hometown in Norway, there are about 80.000 inhabitants. As I have always wanted to try and live in a bigger city, I was really looking forward to the stay in Brussels.
Beforehand, you picture what it is going to be like and yet it is so very different after experiencing it. Both positive and negative aspects to consideration, I was positively surprised by the heart of Europe.

As I am very into politics and culture, seeing the European Union area at Shuman and meeting all these people from different countries, are some of my best memories. The fascinating thing is that even though Brussels does not have all the institutions of the EU, the city represents the diversity of the people of Europe and it is surely the capital. So many cultures are coming together in this city, working and living side by side;
it has truly been an inspiring and instructive experience.

Lockdown

When the attacks in Paris shook the world this fall, I was sitting in the apartment with my roommate. We were horrified, and as the days went by it became clear that some of the attackers were from Brussels. We kept living normal, until the security level was raised to 4.
Since we live right by Grand Place, our street was all of sudden filled with armed military and police. The otherwise so alive streets, went silent and there were nearly nobody around in the city center. After a police raid close by where we live, I decided to go back to Norway for a few days.
The situation was intense at this time, and we were living in the middle of everything. My roommate moved to a friend, and we decided it was for the best to leave the center due to the situation.

I think police and military are doing a great job preventing an attack in the city. And even though I decided to leave for a while, it was manly because I could not focus on my studies. When you find yourself in a situation where government is saying an attack could happen any time, you worry. Even though the police and military presence was there to protect you, it made you both calmer, but also more afraid, because looking out the window reminded you that something was not not right.

The whole lockdown situation created massive media attention, and I want to say, that at this time I consider Brussels to be a safe city. Seeing how law enforcement handles everything, I would not tell people not to travel here. Brussels is just one of many big European cities, and these things could happen anywhere. Also it as a beautiful city, with nice people and so many sights to see.

Missing nature

I really like Brussels, but I have discovered that living in a big city is perhaps not for me anyway on permanent basis.
Maybe I would have felt it otherwise living outside of the center?
The reason is that there is a lot going on, apart from the lockdown, there is always a lot of noise. Also I love raw nature, sea and mountains, which are some of the things I have really missed while being here. Just the silence surrounding you, fresh air and woods. I have enjoyed walking down the streets to school with take away coffee, and being a city-girl, but I do not think I could live like that for too long.
The city does on the other hand have many nice parks, which are great for walking when you want to see something other than the urban city views.

Brussels will always be in my heart after this semester and I am surely coming back to visit soon!