In the summer of 2009, I took my first trip across the Atlantic. It was something I wanted to do for years, but never really had the money or motivation. When you fall in love, however, you somehow invent the money, time, and energy to do things.
I was able to visit Antwerp, Brugge, Bredene, Oostende, and Turnhout where I observed a lot of graffiti, smokers, public toilets you have to pay for, tons of bikers, great transport system, and the early closure of stores. By 6:00pm, most stores in the smaller towns were closed except for bars, nightshops (small convenience stores), and fritz (french fries) shops. In America, I have strolled through the aisles of Walmart at ungodly hours for no reason other than a late night snack, last minute item for work, or I just wanted to knock out my shopping during a quiet time. I am spoiled by the 24 hour convenience of Walmart and other stores. When I moved to London in 2010, I had to reacclimate myself to not having 24 hour access.
As we are approaching Black Friday in the United States, the yearly debate comes up surrounding the need for stores to be open on Thanksgiving. One side of the debate is anchored on the amount of money companies stand to make if they remain open during the holidays. I side with the other argument: people should be home with their families. The Blue Laws have just about all disappeared in the United States and retailers continue to extend their day by opening up earlier and staying open late. I think if we didn’t have 24 hour instant access, we would be forced to stay home and perhaps spend more time with our family instead of strolling the aisles of some retailer at 10:00pm.
Prior to my first trip to Europe, I believed the rest of the world disliked Americans without cause. I often engaged in playful banter with my boyfriend at the time about the sentiment towards Americans. Yes, superficial was thrown in there on several occassions as well as lazy. As I gazed at all the bikes, I thought that there is no way Americans are giving up the comfort of their Suvs for bikes. One of the greatest pictures I captured was rows and rows of bikes at a bike garage – something I have never seen before in the United States. A garage – just for Bikes? Not only do people bike in Europe, they also catch public transport in ways I have not seen in the United States except for New York. Fast forward 5 years later and biking has become popular in major cities including Philadelphia where I live.
Since my trip to Belgium in 2009 was in pursuit of romantic interests, I was in awe at all the couples I saw and public displays of affection. I previously heard that Paris was the capital of romance, but I found Belgians to be very romantic as well. Everywhere I went from the trains, walking the streets, or in restaurants, I was able to witness people of all ages and races stealing kisses, walking hand-in-hand, or displaying an amount of affection barely witnessed in the United States.
I will always remember my first trip across the Atlantic. After the breakup I didn’t think I would ever find myself back in Belgium. It simply wasn’t on my bucket list of places to visit. So when I was told I would be making a stop in Belgium on my way to Italy, I was excited and nervous. I never got to spend any time in Brussels, but I also thought that returning to the country would conjure up too many painful memories. Stepping off of the plane was strange. I was in “his” backyard. But I had to push on and try to create new memories of Belgium. My time was very limited since I was simply killing time during a long layover. The weather was perfect and my guide said our group summoned the sun. We walked around the city center of Brussels and had a nice lunch at Chez Leon. We even managed to stop at the Atomium for a quick photo opp and visit the original Mannekin Pis.
I wish I had more time to walk the cobbled streets, peek in the shops, sit at a cafe and enjoy some fine Belgian beer. I even wish I had the opportunity to see my ex and perhaps bring closure to a situation that I felt was not closed properly. Perhaps next time. For now Italy is calling…