31 December 2008, 21:05
Pulling into Brussels Midi as 2009 rapidly approached I was not sure what to expect, if much at all.
Just the mention of certain cities conjures up emotion, instinctive recognition and an excited sense of anticipation. Just think of Tokyo, Rome, Jerusalem or New York. Images spark into your mind. If you’ve been there, the senses bristle with remembrance. On hearing “Brussels”, I have to admit my mind just goes drip.
Such thoughts were soon forgotten on meeting the Swede (Felix) and his lovely wife Fumie – my hosts. A slightly odd, but pleasant night ensued chatting to various EU secondment ex-pats about our similarities (everyone finds the French arrogant and annoying) and differences (my word north and eastern Europeans drink more than the rest).
Walking around the centre of the city I was taken aback by how charming it was. Tight little streets lined with cafes and chocolate shops. We came across overly quaint and, to be frank, odd features such as the pissing boy and girl statues. The core is dominated by the fine medieval square. Encircled by high gaudy buildings whose impressive masonry is shown up after dark by hundreds of lights. The frosty mid-winter air added atmosphere as we mulled around with the coated massed.
Brussels is famous for beer and waffles and in this regard - if not otherwise - I had high expectations. The waffles were good, but the beer.......oh wow, that was something else.
We spent one night on the Delirium. Former “best beer in the world”, it is difficult to explain just how sumptuous it is. Rich, smooth and dangerously alcoholic. It went down a treat, making all of you smile from the taste buds on. That they served it in 2 litre glasses was quite simply the shit. Good times!
A ramble past the EU institutions got me thinking. These amassed white elephants both cast a shadow over the city with their dull self-obsessed bearucracy and add colour through the people who are drawn (or sent) to it from across the continent.
Brussels seems a strange and understated place, but I liked it. The pity is – like most ex-pats I spoke to – apart from sampling food and drink I did not gain much of an impression of who or what the local culture is. I mean, I barely remember meeting or noticing a Belgian. Perhaps this is the root of the cities unremarkable reputation. In the cities that grab hold of you, it is the locals that are the draw - who can ignore Parisian attitude or Capetonian brashness. Not here. Or perhaps I just did not look hard enough.
[Those with an eye for detail may have noted the famous Belgian sense of humour in the waffle picture above...oh dear]