Long time no post. I personally feel like I haven’t written something about my life on this blog forever. The last time you have heard from me was after my parisian weekend. But I have have been up to quite a few things after France. And while the post on our class’ excursion to Rotterdam will have to wait till next week to be published, I wanted to talk about my recent trip to another (kind of) French speaking capital: Brussels. My classmate Evan and I are working on a very interesting Honours Project for our university and have chosen to do more research on European initiatives to reduce pollution in Airports. We found, just by googling, a project and a related conference which was set to be held in Brussels On October 13th, exactly on the “decarbonisation of Airports”, as the last event of a 2-year project called “dAir”. The conference, sarcastically named “Getting dAir”, was held in one of the buildings of Brussels’ financial district. It was extremely interesting, both for the relevant information and contacts we got for our project and for the free food and coffee which were served throughout the day (I’ll get to the Cocktail Party later on). But what we just thought would have been an ordinary event, turned out to be one where business-men and -women gathered from around Europe. The CEO of Eindhoven Airport was there, as well as the president of Sweden’s Airport Association Swedavia. But Evan and I did not have any idea of what this was about before heading there on Monday. Therefore I showed up with a casual striped Primark shirt and Evan was wearing his Oktoberfest hoodie. We had definitely nailed the dress code.
At the end of the conference, to “simply kill time” before a NS train (Nederlands Spoor – the Ducth rail) would take us back home, we decided to head to the so-called Cocktail Party which was scheduled to start an hour after the conference ended. We took out time to get to the venue, called “Vienna Hotel”, which to us simply sounded like a normal high-standard hotel in the center of the city. The name of the Austian capital would have given the hotel that extra charm, we thought. Instead, we were completely wrong. We ended at the “Vienna House”, which is part of the Austrian Embassy in Brussels and it is a very beautiful venue. It felt like suddenly entering the Renassiance, with the old baroquesque architecture in the interiors and the waiters opening the doors, serving expensive wine (loads for free!!) and delicious nibbles (very british word meaning food bites at social events).
The day before however, the scene was completely different. Beer, pubs and sneakily getting on public transport without tickets. Just as we got to Brussels, we noticed that we could get on the underground without validating a ticket at the classic “gates”, just like in Berlin (for those who have been there). Little did we know, though, that at the exit there would be gates that required a valid ticket to exit. After hanging around there for a while, eventually an old Belgian man just tapped his transport card on the magnetic board, and let me and Evan out of the station. As a first impression of the city’s inhabitants, well a pretty good one.
Overnight, as we could not find any couchsurfer to host us, we stayed at the super-cheap but extremely “high class hostel” called Meininger in the centre of the city. The dorm was just €15 and it came with awesome roommates. How weird could it possibly be that one of them was from Rome and attended my same High School? Such a small world. She was travelling with her dutch friend around Europe and stopped in Brussels before heading to Croatia the following morning. The other roommate was an American guy who is doing an exchange programme at Rome’s John Cabot University. As a matter of fact, three of the people in a dorm in the middle of Brussels had connections to Rome. I could not believe it.
The city itself is nothing special in my opinion. Apart from the very nice “Grande Place” and the areas surrounding it, including the place where I took the picture at the top of the post, the rest of it felt quite “grey” and somehow abandoned. When walking to the conference on Monday morning through what was meant to be the “financial district”, I was expecting to see a London-like (almost) stream of men and women in business-wear frenetically heading to work with a cup of coffee in one had and their iPhone in the other. But, instead, the streets were empty and most of the buildings looked pretty empty and forgotten. Maybe the whole “financial district” revolves around the European Union’s buildings and the rest of the city just used to be a busy financial hub. I have never seen a world capital that deserted ona Monday morning. And while the Canadians were celebrating thanksgiving on the same day, no public holiday was keeping Brusselians at home. On our first (and only) night out, we went pub-crawling near La Grande Place. We headed to a place called “Delirium”, which apparently sells more than 3,000 different kinds of beers. How remarkable is that? Also, we discovered a very nice and unique street fish restaurant. A bunch of guys, one of which was from Ancona, Italy, and had moved to Brussels to find a job, were selling deliciously cooked fish small meals. Evan and I had very nice fried herring. I would definitely suggest it to anyone visiting the city! I am off to Eindhoven to check out Dutch Design Week on Monday, and a post on a “Different Holland” (including thoughts on Rotterdam) will follow up, so stay tuned and enjoy your weekend!