Bonjour or Hallo from Brussels! I have the unique opportunity to be the first blogger for the 2011 Study Tour of Europe for Educators. This is quite appropriate considering that this is my first trip to Europe, and I was surely met with many awe inspiring moments as I walked down the beautiful cobble stone streets of Brussels and viewed amazing architecture, storefronts, skylines, markets, hotels, and, of course, chocolate shops. When I discovered that some sort that chocolate was generally available on every block, I knew this was the place to be!
We’ve had quite an eventful weekend so far. We arrived at the Pittsburgh airport only to find our first flight to Washington, D.C. was cancelled. After some wonderful finagling our fearless leaders from the Council were able to get us to D.C. on time, and we had an uneventful, although a bit uncomfortable, seven-hour trek across the Atlantic Ocean to Belgium. I have to admit, when I reached land, I visualized Pope John Paul II kissing the ground and understood a bit more about that need to take such an action! We took the train to our hotel which was right in the middle of everything that is significant in Brussels (Hotel Ibis), stored our luggage until our room was ready, and off we went on our adventures for our first day. Sleep? No way! Who needs sleep? We had way too much to experience!
We began our first day in Europe with an amazing breakfast of specialty breads, rolls and croissants at Le Pain Quotidien. This brightened our plane weary souls and gave us the energy to walk for the next several hours. Who wouldn’t benefit from warm bread, delectable spreads, and strong coffee?! From this point we toured the church of Notre Dame and its gorgeous stained glass windows, sculptures and gothic architecture. This was a high point for me — to see a church this beautiful and not have it be digital or in print was wonderful. We continued to walk around Brussels to locate key points of interest that we could earmark for return to later. This included for me, and several of my fellow educators, a trip to the Fine Arts Museum, an amazing Belgian waffle with chocolate and whipped cream (which sadly found its way onto the pant leg of my jeans) and some interesting shopping.
While the afternoon was ours for further exploration, we met again as a group for dinner and discussion with Dr. William L. Chew and Virginie Goffaux of Vesalius College. We had a lively discussion regarding Belgian history, politics, culture and the background and nature of Vesalius College. This was followed by authentic Belgian cuisine. My fish waterzooi was the perfect meal to end a long, but rewarding, day. As I sign off feeling like I have been up for twenty four hours (wait-we have!) yet feeling like I have experienced a week’s worth of adventure in one day, I say thank you for letting an inexperienced traveler participate in what is proving to be a rewarding week of life long learning opportunities!
Teacher, North East High School
On these sites you will find everything from photos, first person reports, videos, links to local blogs, etc. If you’re looking for a way to incorporate currents events into the classroom, you must check out the following sites:
- CNN Students News – Resources for both students and teachers.
- New York Times Learning Network – A news quiz and lesson plans.
- The Cyber School Bus – United Nations education portal with information and activities for both current events and geography.
- Time for Kids – Teacher’s page. By Time magazine.
But if you are looking for the basic country facts, the CIAWorld Factbook is one of the best.
Want to help? Don’t know how? Below are resources that will allow you to donate responsibly and effectively.
- The U.S. Department of State
- CharityNavigator – a nonprofit, independent evaluator of charities. It’s based on effectiveness and financial stability. It’s also the largest and is used by various news media outlets.
The World Affairs Council does not endorse any specific organization. We feel that selecting a relief organization is a personal decision that should be made after researching the various options. Below is a brief overview of resources.
- Red Cross: Text HAITI to 90999 ($10 donation)
- Yéle Haiti: Text YELE to 501501 ($5 donation)
- United Way: Text HAITI to 864833 ($5 donation)
- Intl Medical Corps: Text HAITI to 85944 ($10 donation)
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The morning sessions continued with a list of experienced, bright and heavy “players” here at NATO. It was beyond interesting and informative for our group. Specific topics included th Afghan situation and the Holbrook Coherent Plan. We also discussed the pirate activity off the coast of Somalia and other current “hot spots”.
Our lunch was elegant and delicious in the executive dining room. Our hosts were gracious and the conversation moved quickly from sport to travel, and then back to international affairs and Darfur, What a memorable day!
This is our last night in Bruxelles—–we better have a few more beers and more chocolate! Off to Vienna in the morning!
>Another beautiful morning in Brussels! Spending my birthday in such a beautiful country was a present I will not forget. We only had one meeting to prepare for and the rest of the day was ours to spend as we wished. Perfect!
He was an excellent speaker, touching on topics from current missions linked with NATO (such as piracy off of the coast of Somalia, instituting the Rule of Law in Kosovo, and the police mission in Afghanistan). On matters of finances, Germany weilds 25% of production which accounts for 20% of the GDP of the EU, but has been outvoted on financial issues in the seven year budgets frequently. This, according to Herr is one of the problems the EU faces: consensus is needed in the Parliament in order to pass legislation. Consensus means unanimity. It is extremely difficult to get all 27 Member States on board on an issue in order to move forward as a collective group. As one of the largest and most powerful of the EU States, Germany has much power and, along with France and the UK, can use a “qualified majority” to discipline and negotiate with contentious Member States. Despite the special interests of the Member States that can keep consensus from occurring, the EU has been politically and economically successful. The EU is a haven of stability; Europe has experienced sixty years of relative peace and prosperity. To those who know History, that is a fait accompli that the Congress of Vienna boasted in the 19th century. Legitimacy and equilibrium are used to deter war instead of the threat of force. The Germans call this “Soft Power.” (Of interesting note: in 1815, Prussia (Germany) was only given 2/5 of a critical piece of land, Saxony, so as to keep them disjointed as the world was fearful of a unified Germany even then). This is a historic first that Germany gets along with its neighbors.
With all of its shortcomings, Herr and all of the dignitaries we spoke with agree that, while not giving up sovereignty totally, the supranationality that is the European Union is a good thing for Europe and those that are not called to be in this Union can be included in the ‘neighborhood policy’ and have friendly relations with Member States of the EU.
After our meeting concluded, Joanne, Joe and I walked back to our hotel and boarded a train for Bruges, a small town about 65 miles outside of Brussels. A quaint little town surrounded by canals, Bruges had the signature cobblestone streets laden with candy stores full of Belgian Chocolates. In order to see the town, we took a boatride through the canals. The architecture was magnificent; stone and brick buildings painted in brilliant colors lined the canals. Restaurants with balconies and opened windows overlooking the canals, were full of people enjoying the warm sunshine, cool breezes and delicious food. After our boatride, we visited many shops and walked to the outskirts of the town—where the indigenous Dutch and residents lived. How clean and neat their homes and streets were. Every home and shop had baskets and planters of gorgeous flowers, and everyone was so friendly. We must have walked six or seven miles, through commercial streets and parks. By 6:30, we were ready for dinner. Choosing a restaurant was not an easy task; there were way too many to choose just one! We opted for a little Belgian Restaurant on a back street. The large windows were raised to allow the cool breezes in. We ordered the local fare: vegetable soup and salade chevron chaude (salad with warm goat cheese). After our repas, we headed back to the train and back to Brussels. What a memorable birthday!
Thanks World Affairs Council, Sky, Christina, and the European Union; I am forever grateful.
~ Mary Ellen
>In my first blog post from our trip, you may recall that I mentioned a few of us were marveling over the view from our hotel room windows. Here is a picture I just took from my window that might help explain why:
We’re right behind the Grand Place, and the view is spectacular. In addition, we can hear the music from the Ommegang festival that’s taking place here right now. What a beautiful city!
Among the multitude of shops in Lower Town, one grabbed our collective attention…Chocopolis. Where else will you find customer service that matches your taste to the perfect chocolate? The friendly clerk invited in for samples and told us that we can come and see them make the chocolate later this week. I think that many of us will be heading back there before the week is over.
By 1:30pm we were on our way to the US mission to the European Union. Our meeting there was a great way to start off the official part of the trip. The meeting cast an illuminating light on the ever-evolving relationship between the US and the European Union. Pay attention to this part, students: We talked about how you can get involved in the US Foreign Service with an internship in college. If you are interested in doing this, come and talk to us and we can tell all about it. It’s certainly a small world. We were introduced to one of the current interns who, as it happens, is a student at Pitt.
After a quick race through the metro (and to the old UK mission which, unbeknownst to us, was closed for construction) we hurried to the interim offices and had an excellent time at the British Embassy. Our hosts were gracious enough to look past our lateness and we ended up having a great time with Helen and Tim as they answered our questions about everything from security and anti-terrorism to currency and EU expansion issues in the session.
On the way back to the hotel after the briefings Christina and I (Rich) made a quick visit to the US Embassy to track down the Marine Security Guard Detachment and get our hands on some Marine Challenge Coins. The Corporal on duty was happy to tell Chris and I about what it is like here in Brussels while on Embassy Detail. He told us that he enjoys seeing the other countries but that he misses his other Marines in the fleet. Its great to know people like him are out there to protect the rest of us. Semper Fi Devil Dog, and thanks for the coins!
This evening we wandered away from the Grand Place to find some more authentic Belgian cuisine…and somehow that turned into a trip to Little Italy for pizza. Once we overrode our American tendency for quick in and out service we enjoyed a leisurely meal where our group spent some time getting to know each other. If there is one early conclusion that we can come to, its that there are some amazing teachers on this trip. We redeemed ourselves and stopped at a stand to enjoy some Belgian Waffles covered in strawberries for dessert. Amazingly enough, the waffle stand had a very large picture of President Obama.
The sense of history that suffuses everyday interactions impressed us at every turn. Every new street brought new exposure to buildings and customs that have been in place for hundreds of years. At times it overwhelmed the senses. By the end of our second day, however, we had begun to acquaint ourselves with the rhythms and flows of the city.
-Rich and Jeff
After departing Pittsburgh around 6:15 PM last night, the group landed in Paris around 8:00 AM. This new nonstop flight is very convenient and highly recommended. Following adventures with immigration, baggage collection, and customs, we headed to Paris Gare du Nord (the north train station) to stow our luggage. After a few challenges with the storage lockers, we were set to see Paris!
Upon arrival at the Royal Windsor Hotel in Brussels, we checked in, marveled at the view from our hotel windows (well…some of us did, in any case), and traveled down the street to the Grand Place. After having dinner at a lovely outdoor cafe — mussels were big hit with our group this evening — we did a bit more sightseeing in the neighborhood and headed back to our rooms for an “early” bedtime. Though — it’s 10:30 PM, and still light outside! Very strange for bedtime, don’t you think??
More updates later. Ciao!