January 11, 2018 / 2:40PM
I’ve consumed an ungodly amount of chocolate today (chewing a chocolate croissant as I type this), and it’s safe to say I’m living my best life. I’m oddly energized despite the lack of sleep and jetlag, which probably has something to do with the excess of chocolate and espresso currently in my body.
The past two days have been wonderfully packed, here are some of my highlights…
Wednesday, January 10
We toured the European Parliament and European Council buildings, where some of the most important decisions in the European Union are made.
The European Parliament is comprised of officials directly elected by citizens of EU member states, totaling 751 members (each state’s number of representatives is determined by its population).
In order to keep this body as democratic as possible, there are 24 different official languages spoken during the sessions so that the representatives elected do not have to speak a certain language like English or German. This means that there is a huge staff of interpreters working for the Parliament, and our guide said the stress levels of these interpreters are comparable to those of military pilots. They must translate words, phrases and ideas as they are being spoken, while trying to preserve the speaker’s original message and intention as best they can. Jokes are generally not made in this body, as they do not translate well across languages.
During lunch, we visited the Parliamentarium, which is essentially a museum of EU history. It reminded me how incredible of a concept the European Union is — vastly different nations uniting under one set of ideals and values in order to preserve peace and collectively prosper. Despite mounting euroskepticism, manifested in recent events like Brexit, the EU has been largely successful thus far in achieving its original objective.
Thursday, January 11
Today started with a guided walking tour of Brussels. Our guide showed us a map of Brussels from the 12th century, and pointed out a few structures still standing from that time period (all pictured below).
In the city now known for its chocolate, Neuhaus was the first Belgian chocolatier. The founder Jean Neuhaus was a pharmacist that started wrapping pills in chocolate to make them more palatable, and then decided to go into the chocolate candy business. This shop is also the birthplace of the Belgian praline.
A historical fun fact: chocolate became popular in Belgium because of the Spaniards bringing cocoa back from South America, and the economic boom of chocolate in the 19th century was from Belgium’s possession of the Congo (a big producer of cocoa).
After the tour, we went shopping at Hema (which is a lot like Target except cheaper and cuter), Primark (I think of it as a higher quality Forever 21), and a vintage clothing store (where you pay for clothes by the kilogram). The prices here are cheap compared to the United States, and I snagged some sweet deals. My favorite of the day, however, is a vintage wool knit sweater — less than 12 euros. Second favorite, a recipe notebook with a squid on the front.