University of Wisconsin–Madison

Episode 8-Lessons Learned in Belgium

January 29th, 2017

Well friends and followers, life is a never-ending adventure and my latest one this past weekend has taught me some very valuable lessons that I feel obligated to share with you all…

#1-What NOT to do when traveling

While the overall weekend without a doubt ended up being a success, the first night made me, Ciaran, Ahna and Emma realize how unprepared and naïve we had been in our preparation. In fact, for a solid two hours it was an honest to god nightmare…the opening scene to a criminal minds episode. Excited to embark on our first European adventure while abroad, the four of us were so proud of ourselves after successfully booking the flights, our accommodation and doing some (very minimal as it turns out) research on Belgium. Little did we know that was only the beginning, and we failed to take into account some crucial factors. Our first big mistake was booking an Airbnb that ended up being 30 minutes outside of the city. Trying to be fiscally responsible (as slightly broke, on a budget, college students) we opted for the cheapest option available without looking much further into it (aside from the alleged 4 star review)…definitely something NOT to do when traveling somewhere for the very first time. As a result (parents close your eyes for this part), 4 girls were left trying to navigate, on foot, to an unknown, poorly marked apartment building…at midnight…luggage in hand…after hours of traveling…in an unknown country… in an unknown town filled with unknown people…who didn’t speak our language…with no wifi, internet or phone service. Which brings me to my next point…

#2-What you SHOULD do when traveling

As soon as we stepped off the plane in Brussels, we realized we had also failed to take into account the fact that there was going to be a VERY clear language barrier. Yes…they speak French in Brussels and the only word I know in that darn language is “Wi” (which, come to find out, isn’t even the correct pronunciation). As you can imagine using the word “yes” to express all your questions and concerns doesn’t go over very well. This made trying to ask for directions or read street signs a bit of a struggle. The only reason it was a bit of a struggle rather than a massive one was because, thankfully, Emma took a couple years of French and was able to act as somewhat of a translator. Without her we would have been completely screwed, but even so we most definitely should have better prepared to spend a whole weekend in a country that didn’t speak our language. Navigating through the airport with workers capable of at least some broken English is one thing, but trying to get directions in the middle of the night from a limited supply of locals (which, by the way, I wouldn’t recommend because of stranger danger and all, but hey we were desperate) is a whole other story. You are probably all thinking hey, why didn’t you just Google maps the place or call a Taxi? Well my friends, that is yet another factor that slipped our young and naïve minds. We overlooked the fact that our Ireland-provided cell phone service was useless in another country, which left us phoneless, Internet-less and, in turn, helpless. No googling, no calling, no texting, no contacting our airbnb provider…we were simply stranded. So, note to self: you should always travel with a HARDCOPY map of the area you are staying in (and preferably study it a bit beforehand). I know paper now a day is practically archaic, but boy-oh-boy a good, old-fashioned, reliable map would’ve really come in handy at the moment. We might have even shaved a little time off of the 2 or more hours we spent wandering around in circles. Now you can see why that Thursday night quickly made us feel like we would soon be the victims in an episode of criminal minds. But lo and behold, we made it out alive. Eventually the four of us miraculously stumbled across an open bar, and when we went in to ask for help a man sitting at the bar who (thank the lord) spoke English overheard us and was able to call us a taxi. Our supposed 10-minute walk from the train station turned 2-½ hour escapade was finally over. At 2:30 am we were in our apartment and declared ourselves safe, sound, but forever scarred. But with our nightmare over, auspiciously it was all uphill from there. Which brings me to lesson number…

#3-Belgium is beautiful

The next 2 days spent exploring Belgium made the first night totally worth it. In my short time as a worldly traveler, I have come to realize that no matter how long, hard, or inconvenient a trip is the sights and experiences that come out of it have a way of making that all disappear. If I have learned anything from studying abroad so far, it’s why some people decide to spend their lives traveling the world. There are so many incredible things to see in this big, wide world of ours…and (while somewhat underrated) Belgium is definitely one of them. The Galway girls took on 2 of Belgium’s hotspots in our short 3-day trip: Brussels and Brugge. Brussels was more of the hustling and bustling big city type, while Brugge was the cutest and most charming little town I ever did see. Both were spectacular in their own ways, but long story short our weekend was filled with incredible architecture, rich culture and (much more importantly) all of the pallet-pleasing staples: waffles, chocolate, frites and beer. And let me tell you, there’s a reason why Belgium is known for all of the above. I will never look at a waffle the same way again.

Moral of the story people: Every experience is a learning experience. The good, the bad, the ugly (and the delicious) all contribute to making you a more well rounded, cultured and knowledgeable person. Appreciate every experience for what it is worth, because this crazy thing called life is too short not to. Belgium was yet another stepping stone on my journey to becoming that cultured and knowledgeable person that I strive to be, and I can’t wait to see where the next step takes me…

Something tells me its Wicklow, Ireland…but stay tuned to find out 🙂

 

1 thought on “Episode 8-Lessons Learned in Belgium”

  1. Wow, honey…..
    Suffice it to say, u have definitely abandoned your comfort zone, & are forging through & learning valuable lessons that will serve u well going forward. Always enjoy reading your blogs & your wonderful writing makes me feel that I am right there, keep up the good work & experiences. At the same time, be safe, be prepared & be happy. Take care, honey Love ❤️ u.

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