Lost in a capital

I am lost, in this big city that I don’t know. Huffing and puffing because of the weight that I carry. Why did I even bring all of this? Half of the things that I had packed were actually unnecessary. Maybe that’s partially because of who I am: in a constant state of stress, worrying for “what if”. What if I need a certain item today? For as far as I can remember, I have always been like this. Since elementary school, I always was the tiny girl with the huge backpack. I mean, there’s a reason why I got the nickname “The Little Turtle” among my classmates.

 I start to sweat a bit because of the low late-September sun. This is why you shouldn’t put your trust in technology, such as Google Maps. I am at the point of giving up and just going home, trying to enjoy the possible last rays of sun of the year. It has been a long day for me and I start to grow tired, not used to getting up early and being active for a whole day. I get more and more thirsty with every step I take. When searching in my backpack for a bottle of water, making my way through the unnecessary stuff, I pull out an empty water bottle. I suddenly remember that I had taken my last gulp of water from the bottle at noon. First, I have to finish my task; I could reward myself later with a drink. And for the fifth time I see the same square in front of me…

Source: Bruzz

When I decided that I was going to study in Brussels, I was a bit a scared. The same counts for my family, who tend to see Brussels in a bad light, just as so many other people living in Flanders do. However, I have studied in two major cities already, so Brussels shouldn’t be a big problem. At first, I studied in Ghent, the city I live closest to. I loved my time in Ghent and when looking back, I kind of miss it. A certain atmosphere hangs in the skies, as if it’s a close community of students, all in a student city. The following year, I went to Bruges, the “Venice of the North”. It is not a student city and you can feel it. You don’t have any convenient shops in the proximity such as a copy center, so you are really dependent on what your environment has to offer you. Needed school supplies? The local small Carrefour was the only place close to the school help you out. I loved going to the centre, trying to push myself a way through the groups of tourists that swarmed the place from the first beams of sunlight to the very last ones. Bruges was a city that I had never visited before so I really had to find my own way there. So I figured that Brussels would be a combination of the previous cities I studied in.

©Lotte De Craecker

As I have implied before, I have had my fair share of subjects after high school. You could say that I was a bit lost in my life. You see, at a given moment in your life, you have to start building your future. The moment that you are spending your last year in high school, you realize that whatever you will choose, is going to form your future. Of course, this goes hand to hand with a bit of stress and uncertainty. A lot of students in my school didn’t know what to do after they graduated. Whenever the question “What will you be studying after your graduation from this school?” was asked, you could see a few students turning pale, as white as the pages of their workbooks, lying in front of them. Some of them had clammy hands and shifted from one side to the other in their chairs. Most of them still didn’t know what they wanted to do.

I already knew what I was going to study: archaeology. I have dreamt of becoming an archaeologist ever since I was a small girl. After a year of studying it, I decided that it was too difficult for me and I didn’t want the uncertainty that is entangled with the job as an archaeologist. You see, finding a job in the archaeology field is difficult and it is a job that is very hard physically. I decided to become a laboratory worker. I spent two years of my life trying to memorize all the scientific terms, which was a challenge, as someone who doesn’t have “the science-brain”. So after second failure, I was a bit down, because I felt that I had spent three years of my life, trying to find something that fit me, whilst my friends and former classmates, the ones who started to sweat when they were asked what they wanted to study, were starting their last year or graduating.

After a bit of soul-searching, I had finally found the studies that fitted me perfectly: Brussels. The very first day of school was already a struggle, kind of. I had already walked and memorized the route that I needed to take from the Central station to school with my mother so I thought it was going to be easy. However, I still had screenshots from Google Maps with the directions just in case. And, well, you guessed it, I got lost the second that I walked outside of the Central station. I decided to use my screenshotted version of Google Maps to try to figure out which direction I should go to, thinking I would find my way eventually. In front of me was a square, with four ways to go. After not knowing which one to take, I decided to ask a soldier who stood nearby. One thing I knew is: when in Brussels, ask a soldier for help. They are always cheerful and they often know the city better than the locals, since locals mostly don’t know street names, but only nearby shops and monuments. After a while I remembered the way again. It suddenly hit me that Brussels wasn’t the Brussels that I envisioned. I thought that it was going to be me between all those gigantic cold-looking skyscrapers made out of glass, burning everything on the streets as soon as sun shone upon those windows, like ants burning under a loop when you let a beam of sunlight through. It was not. There were no signs of all those business-related buildings or skyscrapers, at least not in the part of the city where I was. It was just rows of houses attached to each other with three levels. All of the sudden, this city that always had been looking cold and business-related to me, felt like a cozy city…

Source: Verizon
Source: VisitBrussels

Now, let’s go back to the start… The square is packed with bars, tormenting me. One of those bars is one that I have read about in a booklet I got and I was dying to try it one day. The bar makes homemade iced tea, which is ideal in this type of weather. Well, seems like I am not the only one who thought this, as the bar is packed. Students and teenagers everywhere with their fancy, oversized sunglasses, chatting and laughing, sharing their first days of the new academic year with their friends, whilst enjoying the sun. There is a line to get drinks. Going there is not an option for now. I would try again later in the year, maybe after my final exams. I have spent an hour and a half now, trying to find my way to the bookshop, to get my books. I have been walking in circles, I have taken small, forgotten alleys. Here I am, desperate to find my way through the maze of streets that form Brussels. I have walked the road that lead to my destination a hundred times, up and down, but the road doesn’t seem to end. All of the sudden, I find a square with rows of people, waiting for something. There, in the middle of the square, there are a few men handing out bottles of a new brand of iced tea, as a promotion stunt. “Finally, this will give me some refreshment in this hot sun”, I think. After taking a big sip of the fruity flavored drink, I decide to walk the road the again. I think that I will eventually find the shop, even if I have to walk the road for several meters. And yes, there it is, eventually, the bookshop that I have been looking for…

I noticed that studying in a new city, an unknown environment is always tricky and is entangled with difficulties, one of them being: you are alone, surrounded by new things, finding your way through unknown streets, leading to unknown things. The atmosphere is different from what you’re used to. After a few weeks, I started to find my way and got used to a few things. An example: when you are lost in Brussels, you shouldn’t ask for streets, as the locals hardly know any street names. Instead, it is better to ask for buildings or places. 

Getting lost is part of the learning process. In fact, I have lost my way many times in the first month. Now, it doesn’t happen that often anymore. The best way is to take some walks, discover some new areas from the city, put your phone in your pocket for once, that’s the only advice that I can give you to not get lost. Well, I still get lost; I lost my heart in Brussels, that cozy capital that is fighting against the many prejudgments that has been going around in its own country for years. That capital in the grey, rainy country with its friendly people with many different backgrounds. The small cafés filled with the smell of Belgian beer, the hip restaurants with bright, modern furniture and different eating concepts and the classic Belgian eateries, all trying to lure in some tourists to let them taste “the real Belgium”. That is the city that I fell in love with.

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