Recently, my political science class went to Brussels to visit the various EU institutional buildings. In class, we have been learning about the EU institutions, their impact on Europe as a whole, and how they relate to the United States. We have discussed the most recent US election and its impact, the migrant/immigration crisis compared to the US, the founding ideas of the EU and their similarities to the US, and so much more comparing my new temporary home to my original one. It was incredible to be able to take a relatively quick flight there to experience the things that we have been learning about here in Rome and to put them into context. We walked past the EU Commissions building and spent time in the Parlimentarium museum which is the single-most interactive museum I have ever been to (excluding the Please Touch Museum in Philly, of course). They had audioguides that explained major events in Europe and the US per decade, maps you could touch and highlight, many different electronic interfaces with even more information, and so much more. It was cool to see lots of other people there involving themselves in the information presented to them in various ways. Also, as an English major (not a Political Science major), I found it helpful to go through the museum and have the lessons we learned in class be presented in a different way.
Brussels is an interesting city that is different from Rome in a lot of ways. First, mainly considering size. Brussels is a lot smaller than Rome (although we didn’t have much time to experience the whole expanse of Brussels, the size difference was still evident), and the cultural and historical backgrounds of the city are entirely different as well. The main thing about Rome that seems incomparable to any other city that I have visited is the sense of history that Rome has. While walking through the city, you can feel yourself walking on 2,000+ years of history. What was cool about Brussels was the history that was evident there, but in a more modern frame. Going to the Museum of the City of Brussels in the Grand Place was a great way to feel the history of the city that can’t be as obviously felt as in Rome when you can casually walk by monuments like the Colosseum.
It was also interesting to see the amount of Italian restaurants or restaurants that served some sort of Italian food in Brussels. I noticed the same thing in Vienna, though that makes a bit more sense considering that Austria shares a border with Italy. It seems no matter where I go, I can’t get away from carbonara pasta (although I’m not sure I’d necessarily want to). I enjoy seeing the overlap of European countries’ cultures in other cities. Things like finding Belgian beer and chocolate in other countries besides Brussels, or carbonara in other countries besides Italy is really cool to me. We also discussed in my political science class, the idea of being European and how that doesn’t hold much weight in terms of its nationalism or unifying power as being an “American” does, but I find in very subtle ways that this sentiment may not be true or the difference may not be as polarized. I think Europe is integrated and proud in many different ways, sometimes reflected in the restaurants you just happen to walk into.