Au revoir, Bruxelles

Cracker of a day before I leave Brussels

Today I leave the place I’ve called home for the last year and trip across the Channel to start a new life in London. I realised this will be the fifth time in eight years I’ve done a move like this, after stints in Melbourne and France before here – crazy (am I?!).

I can’t wait to catch up with old friends who have settled in London, and to experience the Olympic atmosphere. But first I want to say my goodbyes to Brussels. So here’s the big and small of what I’ll miss and what I won’t about living in the heart of Europe.

Sad to leave…

  • The friends I’ve made. They are such amazing people and it’s hard to believe I won’t be seeing them regularly from now on! I’ve been so impressed with the openness of the expat community here, and grateful for the warmth with which I’ve been welcomed. There’s also a budding (expat) Brussels blogger community that was great to be a part of.

Leaving dinner and drinks at L’Amour Fou with the girls

Man am I gonna miss these ladies!

Spoilt on my last day of work

  • The opportunities for and ease of travel to European destinations. Train connections are fantastic from Brussels, and there’s cheap flights too. I’ve travelled to London, Amsterdam, LuxembourgCologneRome, Egypt, Berlin, France (all with minimal passport checks!), as well as other parts of Belgium, with very little hassle.
  • The fresh produce markets at Place Jourdan, Châtelain, Place Flagey, the Parvis de St Gilles (I never made it to the Midi markets unfortunately). Not only is there a bit of thrill in discovering the best stall for veges, for eggs and so on, but there’s always delicious take-away food, like the Italian caravan and its filled breads.

Italian grilled sandwiches at Flagey

Fresh pasta selection au marché

  • The parks. Cinquantenaire, Royal, Léopold, Abbaye, Bois de la Cambre – these are urban sanctuaries for the landlocked Kiwi. While we have beautiful gardens in Wellington, they are wild, and not grand and ordered and majestic in the way that European parks are (I like both though!). And I just discovered another one on my second-to-last day, Parc d’Egmont hidden between Avenue Toison d’Or and the Palace.

The many parks of Brussels: clockwise from top left, Cinquantenaire, Parc Leopold, Parc Tenbosch, Bois de la Cambre

Cinquantenaire through the seasons

Parc d’Egmont

Bruxelles les bains – the Brussels “beach”

  • Not understanding conversations going on around me in other languages. Ignorance is bliss is peace and thinking time.
  • The politeness and courtesy shown in elevators. It’s the norm for people to greet you with a bonjour and farewell you with a bonne journée, bon après-midi, bon weekend as you step out of the lift. It’s a nice touch.
  • The art nouveau architecture. When you start looking for it, it’s amazing how much there is in Brussels. You may look up for whatever reason and suddenly see, amid a street of awfully boring brick, a delightful swirling mural à la Mucha, or a building designed by local favourite Horta. There’s a great cluster in St-Gilles, and walking around discovering them is a lovely way to spend a sunny afternoon.

Art nouveau architecture in St-Gilles

Street art in Ixelles

  • The sunset from my room. I never tire of this view.

Sunset in June

New moon rising in July

Sundown on a storm

I’ll miss these things less…

  • Places not being open on Sundays. It’s the 21st century, and I want the option to do my groceries on Sundays. It’d make Saturday shopping a lot less stressful for everyone. (Still, Brussels is much better than France on this point.)
  • The ‘hard’ water (high levels of calcium in it) and the dominant UHT milk (if it doesn’t need to go in the fridge, it shouldn’t be drunk). Basically, impossible to make a decent cup of tea.
  • Not being offered free tap water in restaurants. Even if it doesn’t taste that nice, I’d still like the opportunity to drink free water rather than pricey bottled stuff.
  • The terrifically awful bus and tram drivers. They cannot drive smoothly. They speed and brake, you fall over. They almost run you over when you’re midway through a crossing.
  • The likelihood of transport strikes. Actually, this hasn’t been so bad the last few months, but it was pretty regular for a while, and very disruptive. What’s more, the taxis grumble too – you’d think they’d be happy to be getting all these extra fares!
  • The high rates of pickpocketing. It’s happened to me and several others I know. It’s very annoying.
  • The dirtiness of the streets. Not in the nicer suburbs, but in the centre for sure. It just gets worse on rubbish day.

I’m pleased to see my first list is longer!

It’s been real Brussels. So long.

© May Guise’s wundiverse, 2012

3 thoughts on “Au revoir, Bruxelles

  1. Lovely post and photos! We will miss you to be sure! Love the one of Cinquantenaire through the seasons! I had to laugh at the bus/tram driver point. I had a classic brussels tram driver this morning who was pumping on the breaks and gas and I swear getting pleasure out of watching the people go tumbling. Makes for a lovely way to wake up in the morning!

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