Journey through Europe provides experience of a lifetime

The first place we visited in Brussels was the Grand Place, which was by far my favorite.

After two long days of being transported by car, train, plane, you name it, I was officially on the other side of the world.

From the beginning of my trip, the places I visited were entirely different from anywhere I had previously visited in the United States. In the airport, people spoke French around me, and every part of my brain screamed, “Foreign!” As we left the train station and flagged down a cab, I began to notice how compact everything was. The buildings stood together with no space between them, the cars were small and the people were crowded together on their commute. I was in Brussels, Belgium, and I had never felt farther from Canyon, Texas in my entire life.

The following 10 days, I ate food I did not know even existed, learned how beautiful many cities in Europe are (especially at night) and met some of the friendliest people who did not even speak the same language as me.

We spent our first three nights in Brussels, and our apartment had a beautiful balcony view of the bustling street and the city in the distance. Standing in the cold and peering out, I remember thinking, “This is it. This is what you always see in the movies.”

The first night, after waking up from a jet-lag rescuing nap, we wandered until we found ourselves in the Grand Place, the central square of Brussels, and I wish any photos I took could have described how small I felt compared to the towering buildings on all sides. They were lit up like a Christmas tree and some had gold accents, but the locals were not as in awe as I was. I couldn’t imagine a life in which I had gotten to stand in the square almost every night.

Standing in the cold and peering out, I remember thinking, ‘This is it. This is what you always see in the movies.’

— Jamie Abbott, 11

In small alleyways, employees and restaurant cooks will typically stand outside and pester pedestrians into coming into their establishment, and these restaurants typically sell the same thing–seafood. We stopped to eat in one restaurant, Le Petite Bedon (which means “The Little Stomach” in French), where there were almost no patrons. In fact, there was only one couple in the back. The only light was from a light in the back kitchen and the lit candles on each table. The owner, Sam, waited on us and was a pleasant, friendly man. He and my dad got along well and easily. When we came back on our last night in Brussels, he treated us–especially my dad–as if we were old friends.

I discovered four things about Europe while I was in Brussels. First, cashiers at the grocery stores sat and scanned the items while the customer bagged their items. Second, the pigeons were exceedingly fat from all the food dropped by locals and tourists alike. Third, people must pay to get into most bathrooms. Fourth, there are not many fast food restaurants in Europe, besides Quick, which is the European McDonald’s but with practically salt-less fries.

Amsterdam was one of my favorite places we visited except for the insane traffic. There is a designated street for the huge population of bicycle riders, but they will slow down for no man. The cars are less frequent and more careful, but drivers will also go very fast due to there being less traffic in their street. With all the bikes, cars, trolleys, trains and buses, traveling around Amsterdam essentially becomes a game of Frogger. Despite the traffic of Amsterdam, the scenery and cool weather was very pleasant.

Paris was a very touristy place as one might expect, but some of the architecture and landmarks there make that fact forgivable. Some of the structures had been there since the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte and even further back in history, which really excited a nerd like me. Important and historical buildings, such as Notre Dame, had such intricate detailing one couldn’t possibly notice every single bit of it. There were statues made from gold and buildings accented with the substance. The grandeur of it all made me think “if I was a French peasant, I probably would’ve revolted as well.”

It was simply stupefying. I was staring down at the Paris streets, as night owls still bustled through, lights disappearing as quickly as they had appeared.

— Jamie Abbott, 11

Near the shopping center, there is the Academie Nationale de Musique, which sounds pretentious, but what doesn’t in French? The front of the building has busts of talented musicians and composers, such Mozart and Beethoven, in between each set of columns. I didn’t notice it at first when we drove by in the tour bus, but when I did, I considered it one of the coolest things I had seen there.

When we back to the apartment at night, I had yet another experience of surrealism on the balcony, which occurred often when I stared at the skyline of any European city. It was simply stupefying. I was staring down at the Paris streets, as night owls still bustled through, lights disappearing as quickly as they had appeared.

Finally, we spent two nights in Germany, after traveling through the countryside for an entire day. The first night was in Bonn, and it was the first time I had seen rain throughout the entire trip. The second night was in Cologne, which was much like Bonn. As we were not in a large city such as Brussels or Paris, the trip had quieted down much by that time. As did most places in Europe, the towns both had large cathedrals which their busy activity usually surrounded.

Even the train rides through the countryside, which were a large portion of the trip, were extremely charming and beautiful. I discovered and saw many things I would never dreamed of having the opportunity to see in my youth. My parents made it all possible, and I am extremely grateful.