It’s the third day. At 10:30 am, we all met in the lobby. Me and Joep decided to get some coffee. We ended walking for 10 minutes through town, under the cover of light clouds. The place itself, Chicago Café was very nice. From the outside it didn’t call for too much attention, one could easily mistake it for yet another regular corner coffee place. However, from the inside, it looked like a giant canteen, made specifically for breakfast and brunches. It was full of people, something hard to notice from outside. All of them seemed to be enjoying the start of their day. The smell of pancakes and fresh coffee was comforting, to say the least.
Us two decided to just get a small coffee and head back as the plan was to regroup at 11am. On the way back I revealed chocolate cookies I was carrying with me for my breakfast. We dipped them in our coffee as we shared a nice conversation.
We returned to the hotel, we regrouped with everyone who was already awake and were informed about the plan: come back by 6:30 pm, and do whatever you want until then. Whilst the lack of a board member to accompany us and guide us through this city is unsettling and leaves me very nervous, I was glad that we managed to convince a sizable group of people to come with us to the same Chicago Café me and Joep were just in.
As we waited inside for a table, I was looking at all the other people there. There were at least 70 strangers, and I ponder what their day will be like. School? Work? A trip to the Bahamas? The writing of a book inspired by a dream they once had?
When we sat down, me, Fabi, Sylke, Estala, Joep and Max, the group I was with, made our orders. We ordered brunch. The food took its time. Until it arrived, however, me and Joep made Mancala proud by challenging everyone for a game of Shit Head (a cards game)!
At 11:45, we got our food. It’s expensive, but damn is it good. Everyone is very quiet, as they are occupied with their food.
We decided to go to the European parliament. On the way, we saw so much of the city. We even did a pit stop at the park’s “gym”: a collection of machines that had neither weight nor any challenge to them.
It took us more than 30 minutes, but at 1:20 we had finally arrived.
After a few photos outside, we decided to visit the nearby info hub at around 1:30 pm. Inside, we found the “Iconic”, an exhibition with all the photos that had been awarded the “world press photo of the year” between 1955 to 2022.
All these photos… they stirred emotions within me. Emotions of fear, sadness and anger. They represent, according to the exhibition’s description, “a selection photographs that capture some of the most defining moments in history”. From depictions of the Vietnam War, to protests in Sudan, to the “red dresses that symbolize the lost indigenous children from canadian boarding schools” (something that our sibling Max remembers experiencing during the first “truth and reconciliation day” during his stay in Canada in September 30, 2021).
I could go on about all the other pictures. However, you should look into them yourself, and feel what you need to feel from them… Be warned that they are not easy pictures to look at.After learning all our hearts could muster from the exhibition, we decided to leave this metaphorically heavy place.
At 2:15 pm, we decided to enter the European parliament museum (the Parlamentarium). I wondered what the rest of our SIBlings were up to and hoped that they were having an enjoyable day.
Inside, we were all given individual electronic guides that spoke in our own languages that explained the different pieces in the exhibition. “This is amazing!”, I remembered thinking. I find it to be so interesting that these pieces, from models of the different buildings throughout Europe that work for the EU to the myriad of people that had an influence in the creation of the EU, are all being explained by a familiar Portuguese voice, a sentiment that my Dutch, Lithuanian and German friends that accompanied me also agreed on. Languages truly are a blessing.
Never have I seen so much information condensed in such a place. Several pictures, all with their meaning and story, are accompanied by quotes by people important to the eventual creation of the “United States of Europe” (USE).
The amount of information in this building was, frankly, overwhelming. I think that adjective can also describe the EU as well: the amount of history, the amount of systems needed for it to work, assuming they work, the amount of people involved… everything is so overwhelming. I am not surprised that some things go wrong. Yet, it still feels possible to know it all. I now see Brussels as an extremely European city. If you love the EU as much as I do, you should come here. From the waffles and beer to the incredibly interesting conversations you can have with people from countries you never got the chance to visit. It truly is amazing to be an European and being able to experience this and say: “this is part of my culture, after millennia of wars and uncountable deaths, we have been working hard to make sure there is peace where there was once war”. I can only guess what tomorrow will bring, but if there’s one thing that makes my mind at ease is that: the EU will be there to try its best. If the countries of Europe managed to create the EU, than anything is possible (reading back, I realize that this paragraph will sound very fanboy-ish and, therefore, it might be alienating to those who do not align themselves with what the EU has done or represents, I understand and respect that the EU is not something that everyone enjoys).
At 3:40 pm we left. It was one of the best experiences in my life. My companions all enjoyed their time very much as well. Afterwards, we went to the center of town for some snacks and shopping. I, however, decided to visit an old friend.
Visiting a local Portuguese.
At 4:15 pm I call a Portuguese friend that had lived here in Brussels for most of his life. Him being in town, I decided to go see him. I got immersed in the Public Transports system in Brussels by riding the Metro by myself and everything went smoothly. I got to see more of the city and finally reached my amigo.
What did we do? We drank beers and watched the world cup match between Portugal and Morocco, of course.
After 15 minutes, I decided to go back to the Grote mark/Christmas market to join my SIBlings who were either eating there or in the nearby McDonald’s. I ate a pretty good chili com carne and Estela didn’t want the rest of her hot chocolate, I had it with my chili, which I am pretty sure goes against the Geneva convention… It was a decent dinner and surprisingly, I did not feel indisposed!
It’s 5:50 pm and it is time to go home. We’ll meet up with everyone at the hotel and then we will depart back to Groningen.
Me and Estela started walking back and saw very heavily armored police officers:
We did not pay much attention to it, so, we kept going with our 15 minutes-ish walk between the grote markt and the hotel.
It’s 6:00 pm and we suddenly hear a lot of commotion throughout the whole town. A lot of shouting and car horns. I am not one to get scared easily but I confess that all of it left me uneasy. We asked a passerby who was happily skipping in the middle of an otherwise empty street what happened and Morocco had just won the match against Portugal. Neat! People throughout town were celebrating! How nice. Apparently it was the first time any African nation reached the semi-finals in a World cup.
Being Portuguese, I decided to keep quiet. We thanked him and somewhat accelerated our pace. The happiness was definitely nice to see but I recalled how football fans tend to go overboard every so often, which could explain the police we saw earlier. Not a problem, I am sure. Just let them have their night, as long as they let us have ours.
As we walked through a busy street filled with cars, pretty much every other car suddenly pulled out a Moroccan flag and started honking non stop. People were running with flags.
We met at the hotel, and by 6:35 pm we were beginning to leave. Even though I loved the city, I confess that the commotion outside did soothe the idea of leaving.
Everyone goes to their rooms to grab their things, we rendezvous with all of our bags in hand or in our backs. We went outside, made pairs so we wouldn’t get lost, which was a nice idea by the board.
The end of the good part of the trip.
Disaster has struck.. Brussels has erected a wall of police that blocked us from the center of town (so we couldn’t cross the bridge to reach our tram). This day goes to show how nationalism doesn’t exist only inside its nation. Football can spark a lot of emotions. And now SIB has retreated to the hotel, until we figure out what we can do. Comments such as “had we grabbed the previous train, we wouldn’t have this problem” can be heard throughout the SIB encampment that has settled in the hotel’s lobby.
Let this be an experience SIB must never forget. The lesson to be learned is that we need to check who is playing football throughout future SIB trips, and aim to not have to leave as soon as a match this big ends.
It’s 7:00 pm. I’m pretty sure our train leaves soon. Our plans for leaving had to be shifted around and the board is trying their best to come up with a plan.
The exodus of sib.
(this part has the original script intact as we did not know if the commotion outside would turn into riots or not)
Our president, Saoirse, explained the plan. The severity of the situation suddenly fell upon us, the only things on my mind was: No photos, no pictures, people are scared. Metro station, gotta make it to the metro station. (Edit: the board essentially told us to follow them to the metro station that was about 15 minutes away. From there we would go to the train station)
7:15 pm, Scary is how I would describe the run we did from our hotel to the nearby metro station. In a tight road, all 27 of us had to pass by honking cars all waving flags. It took around 10 minutes though it felt like hours. The bridges we passed by were blocked by police ready for action. They all looked scary, according to Aria, due to their faces being covered by masks. Music, shouting, honking. Nothing dangerous. But it feels very close to it.
We made it to the metro. Very few of us are talking. The board is showing an amazing level of leadership. It really is inspiring.
However, the unknowingness of whether this new plan will work or not has us not interested in having laughs. I look around and see nervous faces on our siblings.
Nearby people are laughing, the metro is rather full. Yet we did not cared. We arrive to our destination, we all leave as a packed family with our bags close to us, just following the person in front of us. The board, again, showing that they are trying their best. We all follow them silently for 5 minutes throughout this new station we haven’t been yet.
(shame we were scared and just trying to avoid any other complications, otherwise we could have stayed and enjoyed the architecture)
Other people around us are enjoying their lives like normal down here. We even see two musicians having a good time in exchange for pennies. A good distraction from the chaos we experienced outside just a few minutes prior.
We made it to a train station. I now know what we’re doing: getting on the same train as the original plan though now from a different station.
We arrive to where the train will stop to let us in. A moment of respite ensues as we await for the correct train. Conversation, jokes and relaxation spreads as we begin to be sure we are on the right track to go home. Yet, we all know that if ain’t over until it is over.
7:45 pm, the train arrives and we all cheer! We get inside and the best scenario is what we are faced: empty seats enough for everyone!
Inside, I talked with Kian.
He explained how he came up with this plan. He phoned the NS, the Dutch national train company. The NS lady explained how our original train would eventually stop at a station that had a metro station.
Kian then made the point that no one can never disagree with him regarding Brussels again, something he, fairly, wanted me to note down: “we effectively had to leave the city whilst fireworks, riots and heavy riot police were happening around us”. Next time he complains about the city, all we should say is “yea, justified”.
We eventually found out that we managed to get the last train that was allowed to get out of Brussels. We literally escaped Brussels as it caught on fire (Edit: yea… I think I was just being dramatic here…).
We are all inside the train. We made it. In hindsight, our voyage from the hotel to where we are now took only an hour. I don’t know what to feel. On one hand, it looked like a scene from a movie. On the other, we were just 27 tourists trying to make it to the station whilst people were cheering around us. Thankfully nothing happened. The fact that something could have easily happened is what was most unsettling. We are all good now. Train is quite nice, we’re heading home!
After an hour of just chilling, it’s 9:15 and we’re about to leave in Breda. We will be waiting there for 30 minutes
God dammit. I just wanted to wake up in Groningen. Instead we, of course, had to stop at 11:45 pm in the middle of nowhere, in a city named Deventer (Edit: I meant no offense to people from Deventer, we were all just extremely tired at this point…)
(Deventer still looked nice though)
According to our lovely board, who are, inspiringly, still managing to keep it together, we will wait 30 minutes in Deventer, then go to Zwolle, and, “hopefully” (SIB’s board, 2022), catch the last train to Groningen.
It is 12:20 am. We saw the train that would take us to Zwolle. Apparently it is also the last train doing this voyage for today, well, at this point it was tomorrow…
We get inside, and it is full of people. At this point, our level of tiredness and perplexedness with our current predicament, lead us to just laugh to our situation: the train stopped shortly after starting its trip (because of course it did) to add a new carriage…
I decided to get some quotes from our SIBlings, to check up on the current mood:
“The petrol station existed. It was the best thing about the last 15 minutes, apart from the tattoo we gave Annemijn on the platform.” – Clara M.
“Today, the existence of Belgium and NS tried to compete with each other for which is worse. However, Brussels deciding to close every bridge in the west of the city beats NS in pure incompetency.” – Kian
“Zwolle has a lot of nightshops, so, worst case scenario, we buy a lot of alcohol.” – Kian
“Even though we survived the purge back in Brussels, the trains have absolutely killed us” – Aria
“I’m downloading tinder just in case I need to find a place to sleep in tonight” – Sylke
“I wanted to kill myself but there are no trains to jump in front of” – Kian/Cj
Deventer should be the new hell. “go to Deventer” – Pedro (Edit: again, sorry to any Deventerian)
“It is the medium place” – Annemijn
“Most people from the UK aren’t like you” said a random guy to Kian, for some reason (Edit: yea, I have no idea why this is here…)
Rest of the voyage.
“We’re in limbo, in purgatory. We needed to go to bed 2 hours ago”, I thought to myself.
12:45 am, we get news that there will be a train waiting for us in Zwolle. We start moving. Hopefully this day can finally end. I’ll be honest. I am extremely tired and completely lost for words. It is 1:15 am. Everyone is super tired. Some are still having fun and talking but everyone is ready to fall asleep in a moments notice.
We finally arrived at 2:25 am to Groningen. Everyone was happy to be at the iconic Central Station. We all went on our separate ways. I went home and wrote finally close my phone after writing non stop for 3 days.
All in all, it was an amazing experience. I can easily recommend anyone to do it. Just know that some things might not go according to plan and that the tighter the bond between you and your peers the more likely you will have a good time anywhere. I will always remember this trip we did.
I would like to thank SIB, the Board and the Editorial Committee. I would also like to apologise to everyone in SIB for taking close to 3 months to finally publish this article.
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