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.
- 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, Luxembourg, Cologne, Rome, 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.
- 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 relative ease of getting around this compact city. A monthly unlimited transport card costs almost the same as a week will cost for the central city zones in London. I’ve managed to live in places where I can walk to work.
- The free (or cheap) festivals and events. Be it the Nuit Blanche, heritage days, a wine festival, an art auction, Christmas markets and sound and light shows, there’s always something on.
- 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.
- Fruit beer. Pêcheresse, Kriek, framboise – the answer for a girl who doesn’t really like beer that much.
- The street art. Bob Dylan and other musicians, the dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural Sciences, the mural on Chaussée de Wavre or the yarnbombing in Ixelles.
- The sunset from my room. I never tire of this view.
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