From Tourist, To Traveler
Courtesy of Sophie Stickelmaier Sophie, right, and Graci left, found each other in Belgium after years of being apart.

From Tourist, To Traveler

When I was a junior in high school, an adorable, absolutely hilarious Belgium girl named Graci came to study at my school. During her year in America we became good friends, so when it came time for her to go back to Belgium we promised to keep in touch.

We made a point of reaching out to one another periodically throughout the years, and with no thought as to how or when, I promised I would visit soon. Five years later, I finally had the opportunity.
I spent this past weekend tromping around Leuven and Brussels with my wonderful Belgium friend Graci, leaving hundreds of spent chocolate wrappers in my wake.

I was also able to gaze upon Belgium’s pride and glory, Manneken-Pis, which directly translates to “little peeing man” in Dutch. Yes, a statue of a little boy peeing in the center of Brussels attracts thousands of tourists each year. As impressive as this was, the food was far more appealing to me.

We all know Belgium is known for its decadent chocolates and buttery waffles, but I discovered that the citizens also take pride in their delicious frites, which are basically crispy, greaseless French fries doused in an array of sauces ranging from curry ketchup to spicy aioli. I’ve had a lot of French fries in my 21 years, and even though these ones pushed me out of my Heinz ketchup comfort zone, they turned out to be the best I’ve ever had.

Needless to say, my belly ached in punishment on the train ride home. During that time I thought about how thankful I was to have a Leuven local as my friend and tour guide. Without Graci, I would have been completely lost on the metro, I wouldn’t have found the little peeing statue in Brussels and I definitely wouldn’t have tried the strange and savory Belgian frites.

The importance of keeping connections isn’t only beneficial in the working world, but in the travelling world as well. Not only did I learn about the people and culture of Belgium, but I was given a place to stay, crispy fries to eat and as much Belgium beer as I could drink.

I’ve come to the conclusion that foreign friends are the best hosts, and I cannot wait to return the favor.


Sophie Stickelmaier



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