There are a lot of things about Paris that I did not miss while in Belgium. For starters, my unemployed-and-living-on-a-fixed-budget wallet noticed that everything was cheaper up north. Beer for 2 euros a pint, a hearty main dish for 7 and museum entrance fees at 3 euros 50 cents made me wonder why so many students choose to study in Paris when Brussels has universities too. Belgium was also noticeably cleaner than Paris. The Brussels metro was nearly spotless while the streets were surprisingly devoid of proof that Belgians own dogs. Lastly, spending time in Belgium allowed me to stretch my legs a little. Staying at a friends' house in the suburbs of Brussels was a dream; complete with a roomy backyard and a two-car garage. Everything in Paris feels crowded - the metro, apartments and sidewalks - while in Belgium it felt like there was room to spare.
Of course, there were also things that I did miss about Paris. For example, I missed speaking French. Yes, part of Belgium is French-speaking, but part of it is not. While spending time in Flemish-speaking Belgium I was reminded how frustrating it can be when you're unable to communicate in a foreign country. I also missed the beautiful architecture that is so characteristic of Paris. Bruge and Gent were charming to be sure, but Brussels lacked inspiration and the country just can't compare to architecturally stunning Paris. What's more, I didn't see a single bakery that looked or smelled as good as the endless boulangeries I pass by everyday in Paris. A life without pain au chocolat? Quelle horreur!
But most importantly, I missed that one of a kind Parisian atmosphere. I missed the vibe, the feeling you get just walking around this city. Paris knows it's special, and everyone who lives here knows it too. Yes, we put up with a filthy metro, sky-high prices and cramped spaces, but we do it out of love; love for a city that we just can't bear to leave.