>Europe, Day 2 (Brussels)


Our second day in Belgium started with a very nice breakfast meeting at the hotel at 9am. Many of us took time after breakfast to do a little exploring in the Lower Town section of Brussels. Mandy felt great knowing that she was able to find a lovely gift for her mom at a Belgian lace store. Laura and Jaimie found an eclectic little art shop that was a mix of local Belgian art, American Jazz, and some unusual little gifts. If you want to get an affordable Vespa, they have one that’s about seven inches tall.

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


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