Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Brussels, land of Beer and Politics!!

During the first week of March I was fortunate enough to travel with my European Politics class. We went to the beautiful city of Brussels where many of the institutions of the European Union are located.

Day 1: Sunday
We flew out of Copenhagen early Sunday morning. The flight was extreamly short and when we landed there was a distinct air of excitement amongst the group. After taking a bus to our airport and dropping off our bags we had lunch and split into tour groups. Our first belgain waffel was dessert at lunch.
 I chose the bike tour which lasted 3 hours, seeing some of the most beautiful views of Brussels and learning that Copenhagen might be the only city without hills. Dinner that night was on our own so some friends and I meandered in the blocks around the mideval city center. Later we found a bar that our professor suggested to us, and I highly suggest to you; Delirium. There I had my first Belgain beer, called Barbar Blonde, which was delicious!

Day 2: Monday
The day started with a visit to NATO and continued with fantastic food related activities. For lunch we had a traditional meal of mussles at a restaurant just a few blocks from the charming mideval city center.  For dessert we were treated to a lesson in chocolate making, and its history. We learned that there are 3 main ingrediants in chocolate and 4 major providers of the basic formulas. Once they determine their recipie, chocolatiers send their specific recipies to one of those companies with their order. The rest of the evening was spent meandering around Brussels with my fellow students.

Day 3: Tuesday
We visited the European Commission on Tuesday and were treated to a discussion on European Policy and the relationship between US policy makers and their counterparts in the European Union. In their lobby they had a mobile (pictured above) depicting all the different institutions of the EU. Afterwards we split into groups to our interviews of lobbyists. Interestingly, in the EU lobbyiests are more respectful than lobbyists in the US are generally considered. My group interviewd a lobbyist for the agriculture sector in the Netherlands. Their office works to make sure that everyone in the production chain has a voice in EU policy decisions regarding agriculture. Our next tour was of the European Parliament, similar to the US House of Representatives. 

Day 4: Wednesday
The day started with a visit from representatives of the US mission to the EU, which was inspiring since that's where I hope to work someday. Later we split into smaller groups to go intervew permanent representatives from EU member states to the European Council. Interestingly we actually interviewed the public relations/spokesperson for the Netherlands rather than the minister. That being said, the interview gave me some insight into how diplomats must make a clear distinction between their opininons and the official decisions in discussions. After the interviews we went to the charming Magritte Museam. Though they didn't have the most famous paintings by the surealist painter their collection was beautiful and intreguing. That night found me once again hanging out with friends at Delirium for after-dinner drinks, this time I had a grapefruit beer called Pink Killer. It tasted like a Blue Moon, pink lemonade shandy and was posatively fantastic. 

Day 5: Thursday
Sadly this was our last day in Brussels as we were moving on to visiting The Hague. We had a group visit to the European Union External Action Service, essentialy the foreign service of the EU. It was intresting to learn about how and why the EEAS was created and the various complications that arise in working with the individual foreign services of EU member states. Fortunately we were allowed a few hours of free time before we had to load up on a bus and leave. During that time I meandered around and found this lovely sculpture of a Smurf. Prior to this trip I didnt know that the Smurfs originated in Belgum, along with several other well known cartoon characters. 
After leaving Brussels we bussed to a Trappist monistary in The Netherlands. At this monistary they brewed beer in order to help their community and particluarly those with troubled  backgrounds. That night we stayed in a lovely hotel in The Hague. 

Day 6: Friday
We started our last day of traveling with a visit to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. We were breifed on what the lawyers and such have done regarding the apprehending and trying of war criminals. Surprisingly they are currently involved in the final trial of war criminals and will be shutting down as soon as appeals are finished, which they expect will be in 2015. From there we traveled to the beautiful city of Amsterdam! After a delightful lunch at a small cafe we were given a few hours free time before meeting up for our flight. I chose to join a group for a quick tour of the Red Light district and some background information. It was interesting to learn about how the system works with police protection for the workers and how they get their spots or 'windows'. After meandering around near the central station for an hour or two it was time to head to the airport and return to lovely Copenhagen. 

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