5 months in Brussels in 5 Moments

Hi, I’m Ruth, a finalist in French and German. I spent five months of my year abroad in Brussels and it has easily become one of my favourite cities. The Belgian capital has a really special atmosphere because it’s so vibrant and multicultural and it was an absolute joy to get to know it a little over my time there. Here are five of my favourite spots in Brussels!

#5 Molenbeek Street Art

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The Molenbeek quarter of Brussels isn’t somewhere you’d necessarily visit on the tourist trail but it’s well worth a visit if you love modern art. The canal especially is a hotspot for street art as I discovered when I was exploring the city with friends. The walls of the canal and many of the buildings are covered in amazing graffiti and paintings, which gleamed in the summer sun!

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#4 Parking 58

At a first glance, Parking 58 is just an unassuming car park in the centre of Brussels. However, the highest storey of the car park is open air and basically acts as a giant viewing platform right in the middle of Brussels’ beautiful skyline. From the top of the car park, you can see the Town Hall in the Grand Place and the Cathedral on one side, and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the other. The ideal time to visit is at sunset, but the Brussels skyline is really special at night-time too. If you look closely, you can even see St. Michael standing on the spire of the town hall!

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#3 Parc du Cinquantenaire

The Parc du Cinquantenaire or the Jubelpark is in the east of Brussel’s European Quarter. The park is the ideal place to hang out with friends on a warm summer’s day. As well as a relaxing atmosphere in the middle of the big city, there is also a stunning backdrop – the Arcade du Cinquantenaire. The triumphal triple arch was completed in 1905 and, together with the park, commemorates Belgian independence.

#2 MIM Restaurant

The Mont des Arts has made it onto our top 5 because the view over Grand Place and the rest of the city is absolutely stunning! The hill is the traditional art hub of the city as it’s home to the Musée des Beaux Arts where I spent quite a lot of my time. The Musical Instrument Museum is also located here in a former department store called Old England. I never plucked up the courage to wander around this 9-storey museum but I did make my way to the 10th floor. Instead I preferred to sit and take in the gorgeous views of Brussels from the terrace over a coffee or lunch in the fantastic restaurant (which does an amazing all-you-can-eat brunch with bubbly on Sundays).

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#1 La Grand Place (after dark)

La Grand Place de Bruxelles (or Grote Markt) is absolutely stunning and it only gets better after dark! The square in the centre of the oldest part of the capital is definitely my favourite spot in the city. It’s also arguably the most beautiful square in the world (although I’ve yet to meet someone who can argue against this convincingly!).

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In May each year the square is lit up for Pride. The rainbow colours adorn the town hall and all the former guild halls and it looks absolutely gorgeous. It’s an amazing display of solidarity and love for all in the most beautiful square in the world!

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This article has been adapted from my own blog anitemabroad.com. All my year abroad adventures and travels since are documented on an.item.abroad, if you’d like to see more!

Home and Away

By Caragh Aylett

Last year, I was lucky enough to take a year abroad, this year I’ve been lucky enough to be elected as the SJCR year abroad rep.

Many students choose to take a year abroad for a variety of reasons: a chance to develop language skills for their degree or otherwise, to see the world, to make new friends from tonnes of different places or maybe even just to extend their degree by a year!

It can be difficult to leave the lovely community in John’s, especially if you know that many friends will graduate before you return. As a result, I’ve worked hard this year to ensure that students abroad feel a part of the community even while they’re a thousand miles (or more!) away.

At the beginning of the year, I, along with other students who had just returned from a Year Abroad and the welfare team created a Year Abroad Handbook to help students if things don’t go so well during the year. It covered key topics such as homesickness, loneliness and culture shock, as well as more positive things such as sharing people’s favourite parts of their Year Abroad.

In Michaelmas term, I ran an event to allow first and second year John’s students to consider whether they might want to take a year abroad. As always, John’s students were quick to support this idea and those who had already done their year away were ready to answer any questions and encourage other students.

Last term, I hosted a postcard writing event where students in Durham could write a postcard to those on their Year Abroad. It was great to see first year students writing postcards to people that they had never even met, as well as older students using this as a great opportunity to keep in touch with their friends. To me, this event really reflected the welcoming and friendly community of the college and reminded me of why I’m so proud to be a Johnian!

At the end of Epiphany term, Ruth took over as Year Abroad Rep and has been continuing to send out postcards and encouraging emails to those away. Alongside this, she is currently working on updating the handbook as well as planning another information event at the end of this term.

Looking forward, I hope that the SJCR will continue to find new ways to support students on their Year Abroad and ensure that they continue to feel part of the great community that we have in John’s.

Pamplona’s Top 5

By Andrew Dean

When I was told last June that I’d spend the next 8 months of my life living in Pamplona, the first question I asked myself was ‘where on Earth is it?’ The capital of Navarre (in Northern Spain) was made famous by Hemingway’s novel ‘The Sun Also Rises’ and is now known throughout the world as the location of the annual bull run at the San Fermín Festival. Apart from that, I knew nothing about Pamplona, but there’s so much to see and do!

Not only do tourists flock to the city for the July fiesta, but pilgrims make their way through the town on their journey along the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) to Santiago de Compostela.  After being back in Durham for a year, looking back on my time abroad, here’s my top 5 things to do in Pamplona!


1. Bull Ring

The end point of the Encierro (Bull Race), the bull ring is an excellent place to visit to really understand the local culture and the historic traditions of bull fighting. With an audio guide, you are taken round the arena and the supporting buildings, including the corrals. A highlight is the Bullfighters’ chapel, where you can really imagine what it must feel like for the bullfighters in the minutes before they enter the ring!

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The Plaza de Toros


2. Paseo

What is more Spanish than having an evening stroll? And what better place to do it than Pamplona’s old town? We recommend starting in the Plaza del Castillo (the main square and former bull ring). This is where most people meet if they’re heading out for the evening and in the summer it feels like the whole town’s come out to be together!

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The Plaza del Castillo

The Casa Consistorial (Town Hall) is also a must on your wander round of the city. It was first built in 1423 by order of King Carlos III in an attempt to unite the people of the three different districts of Pamplona, although its current appearance is much more recent. Its façade is a mix of baroque and neoclassical.

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The Town Hall by night

The Murallas or city walls are an excellent way of getting to know more about Pamplona’s history. Starting in the Taconera Park, you can admire the Portal de San Nicolás (one of the city’s former gated entrances) and the menagerie of different animals! From the Taconera, you can walk all around the existing wall, towards the Portal de Francia, the pilgrims’ entrance to the city on the way to Santiago de Compostela. The Baluarte del Redín, which follows, is the oldest Bastion in the walls and has a wonderful old bar, the Caballo Blanco (White Horse), which is open mostly in the summer. From there, you can walk around the back of the Cathedral to the San Bartolomé Fort, which houses a museum about the walls.

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The Portal Nuevo

The Ciudadela (or Citadel) is also a lovely place to wander around at any time of day. Usually, there are some temporary exhibitions in the buildings and quite often there is live music. It was used for military purposes until 1964 when it was turned into a park.


3. Museums

The San Bartolomé Fort houses a museum about the city’s fortifications and gives a great insight into Pamplona’s history, particularly during the 18th and 19th Centuries.

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The fortifications at the San Bartolomé Fort

The Museum of Navarre is a great place to start to find out more about the region’s history. Free to get into, it contains artwork and artefacts dating from prehistory to the 20th Century. Highlights include a huge Roman mosaic and a portrait by famous Spanish painter, Francisco Goya.

A little further out of town is the Museum of the University of Navarre, which contains lots of artwork, including one of Picasso’s famous Mosqueteros. A short bus journey or a 20 minute walk from the city centres, it’s definitely worth paying a visit to the university’s beautiful campus!

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Picasso’s Mosquetero in the Museo de la Universidad de Navarra


4. Cathedral

The Catedral de Santa María la Real is one of the most significant buildings in the city. Although its neoclassical façade was constructed in the 17th Century, its cloister is Gothic and dates from the 13th Century. As well as exploring the church, with its magnificent collection of art and sculptures (including the tombs of King Carlos III and Eleanor of Castille), you can also visit the refectory, kitchen and cloister. At 11 am, there is also a tour of one of the bell towers, where there is an excellent exhibition and stunning views over Pamplona.

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The Cathedral’s Baroque Façada


5. Juevintxo

Perhaps the highlight of the week for many locals, Juevintxo is an initiative to encourage people to go out on a Thursday evening to the old town. Many bars offer a special deal of pintxo (a small bite to eat) and a drink (either a glass of wine or beer) for an incredibly cheap price! The best deal is around 2€ but anything up to 3€ is reasonable. The best locations for Juevintxo is the Calle de la Estafeta and the Calle San Nicolás. We recommend trying as many different pintxos as you can but absolute musts include tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette) and txistorra (a spicy sausage). Lots of bars have their own specialities and it’s definitely worth spending some time looking down the bar to see what there is before ordering!

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Trying some house specialities!


These are only a few selections of things to do in Pamplona; the city and region offers so much more and it’s definitely worth a visit!