A few days ago I had an overnight trip to Brusssels, the city known as the administrative heart of the EU and of course known for it’s amazing fries! Last time I had been here I had a great tour guide in Sharmi, who took me to the best fries in the world and also experienced being snowed on for the first time. Nothing but great memories here. This time I was there for a quick work trip so the experience was very rushed and very different.
On arrival in Brussels, the first thing that struck me was how grey everything was. Amsterdam, in comparison to the dark grey buildings of Brussels, was a city of rainbow coloured bricks and bouncing lights. I also saw many more homeless people littered around the stations, much more than I would have come across in Amsterdam. The streets here would curve and angle into twisting hills and the zooming cars seemed to care not for any cyclists on the road – I had only travelled an hour away, but it was already so different. I hadn’t noticed these things my first time to Brussels; perhaps now after spending more time in Amsterdam, my tourist goggles had worn off and I saw things more clearly now.
I arrived quite late, around 8pm, so headed straight to meet 2 of my colleagues for a beer and chat. The walk from the hotel was calming in the cool but not cold night air. It was strange but welcoming experience to walk unimpeded by bicycles in the night and I found myself looking around much more than I usually would, with no fear of being flattened by a flying Dutchman. There are many more neon signs and flashing lights found in these Streets then back home in Amsterdam. Against the greys everywhere, it created a strange battle between light and shadows…
Navigating my way around Brussels was at times a little bit confusing. Being a country with 2 official languages, the signs, made for the Flemish and the French populations were often both in Dutch and French. For example, on the maps and signs I saw Gare Midi/Zuid, which made me question at times whether I was heading to the right spot – so which was it? Midi or Zuid? Well turns out it’s both. I would have to double check every street and every landmark just in case I got lost. At first it was utterly confusing for my simple one languaged Australian mind, but after a while I worked it out. I’m not complaining, I was after all, on a free trip to Brussels :).
Having worked out the navigation, I was glad to finally meet my colleagues in a nice bar on the corner of an open square. We shared a quick beer, some cheese and some office chit chat, but due to our early starts in the morning, didn’t have time to kick it and really enjoy the night as we would have perhaps in other circumstances. It was great to catch up with my colleagues and learn that one of them (the one based in Brussels) spent nearly her whole life, in school, her house, her university, within just metres of the best fries in Brussels which Sharmi and I had previously gone. Sadly, on the way back to the hotel, I encountered no such wonderful fries, and settled for a quiet dinner at the hotel before sleeping.
The day’s work went well, nothing really to report, however during the event, I was impressed again with the Multi-lingual nature of Europe and Europeans. The attendees, who arrived from different corners of Europe, from Germany, France, The Netherlands and England conducted themselves in perfect English. If I try to compare and think about a conference in Australia where everybody conducts themselves in perfect…let’s say Indonesian, it’s unimaginable. For more emphasis, the hostess, working at the event greeted the guests and organised her way around the room in an equally smooth and Multi lingual manner. As I saw her effortless change from French to Dutch to English, I couldn’t help be reminded of Europe’s incredible linguistic advantages and how much Australia needs to emphasise and improve the language skills of the next generation to keep up. Even though Sharmi continually amazes me every day with this effortless switching, seeing it in a business environment once again amazed me.
After the event, I quickly gathered my things and besides from a few moments of panic when I thought I was going to miss my train home, I arrived safe and sound in The Netherlands in time for dinner. Damn, it still amazes me how close and easy travel between countries here is.
A few random snaps of Brussels below :). Hopefully next time I go to Brussels I can explore a bit more! And of course have fries!
ps. Countdown to Portugal is 6 days!