I know this might come as a surprise for those of you who have heard me say all those nasty things about Brussels, but yes, there are some things about this city that I appreciate. Maybe it’s the flu that’s been bothering me over the past few days, or maybe it’s just that sometimes you need to let a bit of time pass until you see the good things you’ve had when they’re gone. Anyways, after three months of being apart, I do need to admit that Brussels like any other place that I’ve lived in so far has become part of my home and it haunts me like any other experience abroad with never ending homesickness. I wonder if this weird feeling of constant nostalgia – be it for Australia, France, Hungary, Belgium or Austria – will ever end, I have my doubts, but you may prove me wrong if you have made other experiences. I know Brussels will never be my favourite city on earth because well let’s face it, Vienna has taken up number one a long time ago and it’s very difficult to beat, but it’s part of my life journey so I want to share the good things of this city with you. Here comes my number 10 list:
- Grand Place:
I guess the reason why Brussels was never really on my number one travel list is because well, let’s be honest there are not that many interesting sights to see. This absence of monuments made it quite difficult for me at the start to get an orientation in the city. If I had to pick one major sight and must see when in Brussels, it’s of course Grand Place, perhaps the most beautiful spot in the city. Beautiful Art Nouveau architecture covered in gold, quite breathtaking and worth a visit.
2. The European Union:
The presence of the European institutions and the positive European vibe is definitely something that makes living in Brussels worth it. I don’t think I’ve ever lived in a city with such a positive attitude towards the European Union. I still don’t quite understand why the European founding fathers (sadly no mothers) chose Brussels as the European ‘capital’, but having left quite a big part of my heart in Strasbourg, I still like to see Strasbourg as the real capital of Europe, no offense. I’ve been a supporter of the European project ever since I can remember. I am a proud believer in European values and in the fact that working together as closely as possible makes us stronger. The European Union has brought so many advantages into our lives and I personally admit that I have profited a lot as a typical Erasmus generation stereotype. The EU has made it possible for me not to do just one but two exchanges, do internships in different countries without having to get a visa, pay extra fees, even without having to change my currency. So yes, I have enjoyed the European atmosphere in Brussels, meeting likeminded people and seeing them fight for their career within an EU institution.
Brussels is perfectly connected to many other cities including Paris, London, Amsterdam, Luxembourg etc. It’s so easy to travel from Brussels – be it by train, bus, airplane, perhaps even by bike. I enjoyed being able to do day trips on weekends and I didn’t even manage to tick off all the destinations on my list, including Bruges, no, I did not make it to Bruges. I have, however, managed to visit Strasbourg, Lille, Luxembourg, Ghent, Antwerp, Knokke, Rotterdam, The Hague and Amsterdam, which I do find a lot considering that I only stayed there for five months.
Well, it’s quite unbelievable how much love one can have for a square this hideous. I remember the first time I was at Flagey and Café Belga, I was seriously wondering why my flatmate loved coming to this place, it was not appealing to me at all. But then somehow I always kept coming back, especially on Sundays for Flagey market, which became one of our Sunday rituals. We would first get brunch somewhere nearby and then go for the cheap wine at the market and maybe some oysters, or waffles. Despite the cheap price, the wine was actually tasty, or it might have been the fact that I hadn’t had wine in such a long time because Belgium – let’s face it – is a beer country. No but seriously, beer’s a religion. We would spend hours at this place getting tipsy, joking around, having coffees at Café Belga and just have a good time. I actually spent my last hours at Flagey with my close friend T, that’s how holy this place has become. When I think of Flagey today, I remember all the good times we had there and wish I could go back every once in a while.
When it comes to architecture and art, Vienna and Brussels are two complete opposites. Vienna is this clean glamorous city, where you can still smell the monarchy, even though it ended 100 years ago. Everything is very well preserved and has to look perfect. Well Brussels has its very own way of doing things. There’s not one particular type of architecture you would spot in this city, even though it is quite well-know for its Art Nouveau. It took me quite some time to get used to this variety of architectural styles in one place. You can spot the most beautiful baroque building next to a modern skyscraper. Whilst this would be illegal in Vienna and would probably cost us the UNESCO World Heritage title, it is the most common thing in Brussels.
6. Street Art:
Talking architecture probably takes me to my next reason why to fall in love with Brussels: street art. Well-done street art is something I really admire, as I am not talented at all when it comes to painting or drawing. The colourful wall paintings, particularly of comics, are very typical Belgian, or at least that’s something I was told. To me Brussels is a city of diversity and I think the street art reflects this diversity very well.
7. The people:
Brussels is a very young, dynamic and multicultural city. Of course, this is mainly thanks to the European Union. Many young people move to Brussels to do traineeships (like myself), build a career, or a network, fall in love. If you take a ride on the metro, you will quickly realise that you’re surrounded by a multilingual audience. This makes living in Brussels without speaking a word of Dutch very easy. Even though I speak French fluently, I hardly ever had to use it outside of work, everybody speaks good English, or even German. This city is made of hungry young professionals dying to meet other people for different reasons. I was very lucky to have found friends close like these and more.
8. Waffles, beer, fries, chocolate and again beer:
I once asked a Belgian what his favourite Belgian meal was and his answer was fries. Even though I still don’t consider fries as a real ‘meal’, I guess he had a point, especially given the amount of fries I ate when I was in Belgium. I admit that Belgian cuisine is probably not the healthiest one and definitely not good for your beach body, haha. I have never seen a variety of sauces this big that you can choose with your fries (my personal favourite is ‘Andalouse’), or a beer menu this long. I don’t think I’ve had a beer that I didn’t enjoy, which is probably something my Belgian friends will be very proud of when they read this. I’ve even become very picky with my Waffles and I have caught myself rolling my eyes at Austrian waffles because having had the real deal, I don’t want to have some overpriced, Austrian mock up waffle. It’s like having Nutella and then changing to hazelnut cream. I mean who does that?
9. Parc Cinquantenaire:
Living in Brussels has made me realise how important greenery is to me. I need some sort of park, forest or anything else that is green around me. Living on the other end of Parc Cinquantenaire was one of the greatest things in Brussels. I spent so much free time there running, drinking, eating, hanging out with friends, talking on the phone to mum, or just crossing the park on my way to work. It’s probably my favourite park in Brussels and I have some good memories there.
10. Restaurants/ Bars/ Cafés:
Brussels surprised me with its good choice of places to eat and drink. I’ve had tons of really good food and drinks in this city. If I had to choose some of my favourite places it would be:
- Nona, best pizza in town.
- Makisu, best maki in town.
- Living Room, best chai in town.
- Fabrique en Ville, best breakfast/brunch in town.
- Café Capitale, favourite coffee place.
- Musée des Instruments de Musique (MIM), best terrace with a view.
- Bao Bang Bang, best baos in town.
Don’t forget to check out my post on my favourite Brussels Brunch Locations.
My personal conclusion of living in Brussels is that it’s more of a city you go to for the vibe and atmosphere, the restaurants, cafés, bars, food, rather than the monuments that you would expect to see in Paris or London. You need to know your way around in Brussels to really enjoy the city and of course the greatest friends really do make a huge difference as well because as long as you’re with the right people, it doesn’t matter where you are.