It was an early start, as an intrepid 24 students and 3 staff ventured onto the coach to make their way to Brussels... and some 8 hours later, they arrived in a wet and grey looking Brussels. But the hotel was clean and comfortable and was to prove to be a good base for the visit.
After a little rest and a good evening meal of beef stew and fries, the group had a little walking tour of the city centre, especially into Le Grand Place, to soak in the atmosphere and culture of the city. It was then time for a good rest.
Our first full day in Brussels turned out to be a busy, full on one. It started with a little stroll up to The Bank of Belgium. Here, we learned about the role and workings of the EU, the euro and The European Central Bank and had an excellent talk on the history of money and banking. All of this was aided by good video presentations and displays.
From there, we took the bus to the Atomium. This is a recent tourist landmark which was built to celebrate Brussels as a city of culture. Sadly there wasn’t a slide from the top, but it did go fairly high into the sky. Here we learned about how this tourist attraction contributes to the economy of the city since it was built to this day.
Then we moved on towards Antwerp and Coca Cola Enterprise where we had a big presentation on the history of Coca Cola, its marketing techniques, alongside a tour of the production and distribution facilities where we saw thousands of bottles and cans whizzing around the production lines and saw even more stocked up in aisles waiting delivery to the shops around Belgium, Northern France and Western Germany. A truly amazing plant, showing how technology is so important in manufacturing nowadays. And we did have the opportunity to sample a few of the products on offer as well, as they opened up a vast vending machine for us to pick and choose our drinks... A long day had come to its end.
Friday was equally as busy and just as enlightening. In the morning, we split into two groups – one went to The European Parliament and met up with the assistant to Graham Watson. She led the group around the buildings explaining the role of an MEP and the parliament in setting policies and laws that govern business and economies across Europe. This proved to be a very interesting and informative visit for those who went on it. The second group went to the Audi factory, where the A1’s are made for the whole world. It was a massive plant. The tour was a long one, but good. We learned a lot about the manufacturing process of cars, seeing firsthand the use of technology, R & D, and just-in-time production – even with the production line at a standstill, a lot was gleaned, but sadly there were no freebies to be had here! After here, the 2 groups joined forces again and went on to Le Chocolaterie Duval – a small, low tech factory producing some of Belgium’s famous delicious chocolate. We witnessed the manufacture of chocolate pralines from start to finish, through the use of simple machinery and a lot of labour – a compete difference to the Coca Cola and Audi factories. And we couldn’t resist sampling a few of the white, milk and yummy dark chocolates on offer. We returned to the hotel using the local tram and underground system –a joy for some, but a concern for others... In the evening, we went out for an evening’s entertainment of ten pin bowling and pool – all a bit of fun for the night.
Saturday rolled on and quite a few were looking forward to it, as it entailed a little drive out to Leuven and a visit to the Stella Artois Brewery – another iconic brand and product of Belgium. We were met by a very chirpy guide, who happily showed us round the massive plant. We looked at the production process from start to finish, smelling the oats and maize, feeling the heat in the fermentation area, watching the bottles and cans whizz around the production line, and all the time learning about the history of Stella Artois. From there, we drove down to Antwerp and to the diamond capital of the world. We visited the famous diamond museum, and learned about how Antwerp’s local economy had developed due to this little gem. We returned to the hotel in the late afternoon, before our last evening meal.
Our final day in Belgium involved a lot of driving... up to Antwerp to hear about the port – the second largest in Europe – and it is big! We drove for miles, up and down straight roads, looking at massive cranes plying their trade, huge container ships chugging up and down the river and marvelling at how much trade goes on there.
After lunch in Antwerp, we headed home via Calais, with a tired group of staff and students aboard the coach and arrived back at Gloucester at 10pm. An excellent time was had by all, some great economic, business and politics visits, full of information and interest and ones to be remembered for quite a while.