Saturday, April 16, 2016

Brussels: it's not so bad

Obviously, the terror attacks were awful, and I don't want to minimise the pain and suffering of anyone who went through them, particularly those directly affected. They have certainly disrupted everyday life even for those of us lucky enough not to be personally involved - the metro and bus/tram network has only just opened fully up again this last week (other than Maelbeek station), and it has become not all that unusual to hear of roads blocked off and areas "locked down" due to police activity. One night a couple of weeks ago, there were three or four police cars parked outside our apartment, doing some sort of search of the houses opposite us. There seemed to be far too much chatting and eating of chips for it to be a terror raid, but it came just a few days after they shot a guy where I often take the tram (I've never heard what came of that?) so we were a bit on edge seeing so many cops right outside.

But life goes on, and as far as I can tell, other than for those whose lives were tragically cut short or forever changed by the attacks, it's back to normal for most people. It's really not possible to go on every day worrying about something which, in reality, is very unlikely to affect you anyway. No offence to anyone, but the sentiment that we've got to keep on as usual "or the terrorists win" makes me roll my eyes a little. I take a more pragmatic view of the situation: there's really not much of an alternative to carrying on as usual, because what else are you going to do?

It helps that spring is busy springing, the birds are singing in annoying fashion outside my window early in the morning, the sun has been shining most days, except today since it's a Saturday and that would be too convenient, and life in Brussels is really not as bad as sensationalist headlines would have you believe. Last weekend, we discovered a whole new (to us) area of Brussels, which I'm kicking myself at never having visited before. The Marolles district is surrounded by areas we have visited plenty of times, like Sablon, Louise, and the Mont des Arts, yet for some reason we had never strayed in to it before. But, googling good places in Brussels to go antiquing, we came across it. It was described as full of antique shops, in the process of gentrification, and less chichi (and expensive) than the neighbouring Sablon area. This pretty much nails it, and it turns out to be a really cool place to browse through antique and design shops, visit a huge flea market on the Place de Jeu de Balle, and visit a café or two.
The creatively named Chapel Church, on the edge of the Marolles

Inside one of the area's huge antiques shops

A beautiful shopfront 


One of the more interesting items for sale

Me and a sculpture of Brueghel, who apparently lived/worked around here in the Middle Ages

Sadly, our budget didn't stretch to any new acquisitions (half the time was spent going, *how* much?!?, half reflecting that you can actually pick up a lot of chunky old antique furniture for about the same price as something from IKEA, but that's because it's dated and impractical), other than a new handbag for me. But I think we will definitely be back. It's a fun part of town with a great vibe, and when the weather gets warmer there are plenty of nice cafés on the main square where you could sit quite happily and watch the world go by. We felt kind of dumb not having been there before, but that means we had the fun of discovery, so it evens out.

Our other "discovery" was actually somewhere we'd known about for a long time, but never been to. There's a Friday night food market in the neighbourhood that we've talked about going to for ages, but when Jules was living in Luxembourg, he wouldn't get here until around 9pm, and then he moved here right at the start of winter last year, so we were not so motivated to be out hitting the open-air market. But last night, we finally went, on a sunny spring evening, and found a place with a really nice atmosphere: a mix of young families using the playground facilities and young professionals unwinding after work. There's a great selection of food from around the world (we shared a Cornish pasty and dim sum), and you can grab a wine or beer and stand around drinking it, which would probably be banned back home. 


Other than that, I am in an organisado (organisation tornado) because we will be moving house next month. We gave our notice before going to New Zealand, which was a bit scary, but we were pretty confident of finding something new. In the end, we're moving only one street away, into a duplex apartment which is more than three times the size of the present place. Particularly looking forward to not having a freakishly clodhopping toddler running around on our ceiling (we will have the top two floors), having a full-sized refrigerator instead of the tiny one we have now, and having a south-facing terrace. Exciting! It's maybe not quite as elegant as my current place, but the rent is not so much more expensive (and less between two than I used to pay by myself, of course), that we can sacrifice a wee bit of style for much more space. Farewell, old flat!

One last (?) photo from here. A souvenir from NZ - vase with stylised pohutakawa flowers

8 comments:

  1. I understand that you must carry on as normal, but it's sad that your 'normal' is a place on constant alert. Nice vase, and I love the tulips! xxx

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    1. It's really not on constant alert, or at least we're not, that's the point. Jules got the tulips a week ago now, they're holding up well, if not upright

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  2. I was a bit surprised by how many people did change their lives after the attacks in Paris. Like you, I figured I didn't have much choice about the biggest thing, like where we live, and taking the RER every day, so whether I went into a shopping centre or out to a bar on occasion wasn't going to make much difference. On the other hand, while going out didn't seem particularly defiant, sitting at home would definitely have felt like defeat.

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    1. That's a good way to put it. I think it's understandable to be afraid, and understandable to deal with that by adopting an attitude of defiance. But I think we've all heard people trotting out the "terrorists win" line as though they deserve a medal for bravery for going to the supermarket a couple of weeks after an attack or something. Yeah, no.

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  3. It's nice to read about what Brussels is like now from someone who lives there and not the media. The media makes it sound like life isn't continuing, which is definitely hard to believe.

    Good luck with your move!!

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    1. Thanks! Moving is never fun, but we have an overlap where we have both apartments, so should hopefully make it less stressful!

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  4. Was glad to read about how you’re doing there. I read the news but have been wondering how individual residents are going about daily life and what the atmosphere is like.

    Oooo a duplex.

    So I guess the animal with the hanging tongue will not be adorning your new place.

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    1. Thanks! Yes, we're excited to have more space, I think still not enough for the dead deer though. I would probably have to be a lot more hipster to pull that one off.

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