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Brussels & The European Bioeconomy

October 9th-12th, 2017

Known for their waffles, fries, and beer despite other motives I made my way up to the heart of the European political scene before the roaster’s song as I was greeted by the more familiar tune of my neighbor’s Saturday night indulgences.

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Taking the “pro-tip” I found at the bus-stop I miraculously slept soundly on another green bus trecking across the autobahn until the cargo had to be unloaded in Cologne waiting upon the next connection heading north to London.

As soon as I arrived in Brussels I quickly found myself disoriented in an unfamiliar city stunned with the refreshing feeling of being an outsider not knowing a lick of French or Dutch despite what my bloodline might tell.

For hours I miraculously seemed to be really successful at walking in circles as I attempted to find my way to Hostel Bruegel from the North Station.

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Too afraid to ask anyone for directions in the “red-light” district I made my way back to where I started and decided to ask a young woman using her phone that seemed to be miraculously connected to the Starbucks WiFi my phone felt so foreign to if she could give me directions. Shocked by my abrupt appearance she immediately told me she didn’t know where the location was although I had not mentioned it. I proceeded to ask her what she was doing with a pocket-sized computer in her hand and if her friend Google would be kind enough to answer my question instead. With a sigh of embarrassment, she looked up the address and pointed me in the right direction out of the train station.

And so I embarked on my journey once more with a fresh hope of finding my hostel hours after I arrived to then what proceeded to become some sort of social experiment as I asked dozens of strangers off of the street the same question all initially hesitating to give me one ounce of their attention away from their hand-held computers.

Making my way in and out of shops, crowds and my frustration, my focus was taken away by the admiration of the old city architecture which seemed to have become popular grounds to hang out at.

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My salvation soon came when I ironically found myself at the grand gardens of the Monts des Arts where a whole family came to my rescue pointing towards a bowling alley where I found my temporary home stuck between Brussel’s old and the new situated next to a cathedral.

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Settling myself into my new home I spread my sheets and laid out my clothes for the morning as my bunkmate discussed his life story with me shortly after introducing himself. Chowing down on bread and butter and slurping a little milk carton given to him as a breakfast replacement for leaving the hostel early the next morning he explained that he came to the city to interview for as a cook, however, in the meantime was developing patents for AI technology. Apparently, he would have been a millionaire by now if his ideas weren’t stolen.

Longing to clear my head after what I had just heard I continued to explore the city finding my way back to the conference center just a kilometer away from crazy bread dude as dusk broke across the skyline.

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Forgetting to bring a towel I dried myself with my bedsheets the next morning as I prepared to dress for success in attending the European Forum for Industrial Biotechnology and the Bioeconomy’s (EFIB) workshop held for a project supported by dozens of universities and industries alike across Europe who are utilizing generic-engineering to mitigate Europe’s dependence on foreign palm-oil which is used to produce an array of products manufactured by their international oleochemical industry.

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As I got myself situated in the front row a quirky gentlemen rushed in through the door and proceeded to jump in line taking the hand-outs that were laid on the table in front me. His accent catching my attention sounded similar to Deutsch but I could not quite put my finger on it. Ironically taking the empty seat next to me we soon introduced ourselves and I soon learned that he traveled from the Netherlands for the conference as we both spoke in broken German to each other.

After pondering presentation after presentation that was given I found a way to squeeze in a quick question for every speaker forcing to inject myself into the conversation guided only by my curiosity that seemed to be more confusing than French. As if the call for lunch wasn’t enough to break people’s patience I was interrupted by the team’s principal scientist leading their genetics portion of the project who not only answered all of my questions but gave me a run around of ideas to think about over the catering.

As if I had thought I had heard it all we gathered back in the conference room divided up into random teams to give an input to what we thought about the social, economic and scientifical challenges the team is currently up against flavored by our various backgrounds. Intercultural and interdisciplinary communication was certainly at the forefront driving conversation between groups and the moderator as we used our imagination to envision what the future might hold for the group.

Clatching onto the conference center’s WLAN (Wifi in Europe) I caught up with friends and family after the workshop as I knew heading back to the hostel would mean tracking back on the Oregon Trail so to say.  With warnings of a strike at the train station the next day I felt like I was walking through a military encampment with patrols stationed throughout the city.

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The next morning I filled up on toast and coffee being served at the hotel for breakfast and made my way downtown for the first day of the conference. Zooming past the check in with my press pass I acquired the day before I was tempted by a bit more scrumptious treats being served in the exhibition hall where I spontaneously met people of all sorts of backgrounds all coming together under one common purpose: the desire for Belgium chocolate filled croissants.

From listening to policymakers to entrepreneurs it was clear the Europe was demanding a greener future as they make plans to develop the world’s first circular bio-economy utilizing waste as a feedstock for the manufacture of products that we take for granted today from the Pandora’s box also known as oil.

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Sifting through my recordings I wondered around the city afterward searching for inspiration. Stumbling into the plaza of the Grand Palace was where everything seemed to come together as my mind was taken away by the mystic bliss the lights seemed to portray glistening in the night sky.

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The story goes that before these buildings were renovated into decadent chocolate bétiques and restaurants they belonged to a range of guilds whose progress was burned down during a city fire but pride remained as they used their wealth to erect the lavious courtyard that is found today.

Despite other motives as previously mentioned I couldn’t be caught dead leaving Brussels without trying an authentic Belgium Waffle; of course, convinced to order it smothered with my choice of Nutella and ice cream.

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The fun and games soon came to an end as I miraculously slept through my morning alarm who was smart enough to think I would wake up before the rooster’s call to make the first bus out of the city leaving for Germany. Scurrying out of the hostel with my breakfast bag I made my way to the south train station where I left Belgium in style on an ICE preparing to depart to Cologne.

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