A Changed Space

By alison - July 12, 2006 (Updated: November 28, 2014)

It’s funny how, in a year, you can grow accustomed to something, without even noticing.

My trip back home to Halifax last week made me realise that living in Brussels is changing some of my perspectives. Most noticeably, my concept of personal space is shrinking.

I’ve always disliked crowds. I blame it on my vertically challenged stature. When I’m boxed in a swarm of people, I start to get antsy and have trouble breathing. It’s not long before I’m looking for a way out.

In Canada, the second largest country in the world (after Russia), with a population of only 33 million, personal space doesn’t become an issue that often.

But here in Belgium, there are 10 million people in a country the size of my tiny home province. To put that into better perspective, Canada has three people per square km to Belgium’s 341 — let the claustrophobia begin.

I can’t say that I’ve ever felt that Belgium is overcrowded. I know when I’ve had my fill of people moments (Rue Neuve on a Saturday or fighting my way through a produce market), but I hadn’t really stopped to think about how many people are actually packed into this tiny country.

But by being in Halifax last week, it started to hit home.

As you are landing at Halifax International Airport, all you can see for miles (except for a couple of airport hotels and the ubiquitous Tim Horton’s Coffee shop) are trees.

Driving the half hour from the airport to the city (through the aforementioned trees), I couldn’t help thinking ‘this place is really empty’.

It was a strange thought for me to have since Halifax was ‘The Big City’ that I moved to for university.

The highway we were travelling on is one of the busier routes in the province, but even though it was mid-day on a work day, the roads seemed empty.

As we travelled through the city I wondered: ‘Where is the traffic that I was so quick to complain about on my commute to work?’

The size of Halifax homes and yards started to baffle me. ‘Do people really need this much space,’ I wondered. Then I recalled our former three-acre property and compared it to our current living situation.

Our Belgian home seems huge for our needs, but it is actually roughly the same area as our old Halifax home — a home which we felt was quite small. Not to mention you could fit 10 of our Belgian yards into our Canadian one.

I had always thought of myself as someone who needed to be isolated and I’m shocked to discover that may not be entirely the case.

There is one vastness that I do miss however — Atlantic Canadian coastline.

This rugged coast, with its crashing waves, can make me feel like a tiny speck in an empty world. The sound of the waves is meditative for me. I fear I will never find this sort of calm on the 66km of crowded Belgian coastline.

I may not be clamouring to hit the shopping streets on a Saturday in Brussels anytime soon and I may long for those endless stretches of Canadian coast, but I am surprised to find that I’m not quite the hermit I always thought I was meant to be.

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Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
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