The recent bombings in Brussels have jolted me from my carefree study abroad experience and into the world of terror. I know that I am hypocritical for mentioning this attack and not the countless others occurring around the globe, and I hate the media and our society’s priorities for the unequal coverage of each attack, but I am going to talk about Brussels because it is more personal to my experience here.
A little over a week before the bombs exploded, I visited Brussels for a weekend trip. My friends and I took a day trip to Bruges on Saturday, and on Sunday we explored different churches and museums in Brussels. We ate our way through the country’s supply of waffles and fries, and I had a fun time freely exploring the city. A few people mentioned to me that they felt tension when they traveled to Brussels, but I didn’t.
I heard of the attack in one of my classes when a classmate blurted out the news right before a test. I checked the news the first chance I had and soon after began to feel physically sick. My feeling of safety in Western Europe was quickly crumbling. I still have a vision of Copenhagen as different from the rest of Europe because it is part of nice, safe Scandinavia, but that could of course change in a second, especially with Denmark’s recent trend toward treating refugees so poorly.
My saga with Brussels did not stop there, though. We had a travel break for Easter, and I was planning to go to Amsterdam and Paris with my friends. Thrifty as we were, we decided to find what we thought would be the cheapest way to get to Amsterdam and to come back from Paris. And where does RyanAir travel to that is near both of these cities? Brussels. The itinerary for my trip was to leave Copenhagen on Thursday (two days after bombing) to fly into Charleroi airport, take a one-hour bus into Brussels Midi station, take a taxi to Brussels North station, and take a two-and-a-half-hour bus into Amsterdam. On Saturday, we would take a train from Amsterdam to Paris, passing right through the heart of Brussels. On Monday, we were to leave Paris via a four hour bus back to Brussels Midi station, take a one hour shuttle to Charleroi airport, and fly back to Copenhagen. Great trip planning.
I was anxious about my vacation and the possibility of long delays, but I did not think another attack would happen, especially in Brussels considering their increased security. I only became scared after reading emails from DIS and Vassar encouraging students to avoid Brussels. I only became fearful when I Skyped my parents and saw my mom about to break into tears. But they say that you shouldn’t hide away and let the terrorists win. So on Thursday morning, I left for my vacation.
And everything was fine. With all of our modes of transportation to Amsterdam, we definitely paid more than a direct flight would have been, but we didn’t know any better, and now we do. The atmosphere at Brussels Midi station was the worst of it: the building was roped off except for one entrance guarded by soldiers checking the bags of the hundred people waiting in line to enter. There were large military vehicles and soldiers around the entire building. With all of this security, we were clearly safe, but the presence of the military was unsettling, and we left as quickly as possible.
There wasn’t that much police presence in Amsterdam, and only a little more than normal at the Netherlands versus France soccer game I attended. The game was amazing, and I had so much fun, but every time someone threw a paper plane into the sky, which happened often, my body became rigid and I had a moment of panic. Paris had more security, especially on Easter outside the Notre-Dame Cathedral, where soldiers were keeping us away from the building and checking the bags of those who entered. Upon returning to Charleroi airport for our flight out, we had our passport and ticket checked by soldiers at two different points before even entering the airport.
I have never experienced a country on high alert before, and I don’t think I want to ever again. Because of the military presence I never once felt truly in danger, but their presence was also ominous and a sad reminder of all the lives lost. I am happy that I was able to still take this vacation and enjoy my time there, but I am also sad for all the worrying and anxiety I caused my family.
Maybe I am just too young to remember, but were there always terrorist attacks of this large of a scale this often? These bombings seem to be the norm now, and they are creating an environment where everyone could be in danger. The Department of State actually said last year that extremists target, and therefore you should use caution or avoid going to, “sporting events, residential areas, business offices, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, public areas, shopping malls, and other tourist destinations.” Staying inside just isn’t an option, though, and it is not the way I want to live the rest of my life.