Sitting on the windowsill, enjoying the breeze, the sounds of the few cars passing by, the chatter of my flatmates, talking about what they are most looking forward to when they return to their respective home countries. Smelling the rhubarb crumble that Louise made this afternoon, trying to imagine what the flat will be like when she leaves on Wednesday and returns to her Irish homeland. She was my first flatmate. The core flatmate. The quick and witty, barely comprehensible, but hilarious staple element of life chez Titien.
Since my cheeky jaunt to Greece in mid-June, time has flown by. The entire five months in Brussels have flown by. Friends from home have visited. Friends from Brussels have departed forever. German #5 came and went. In the flat, 6 became 5, soon to be 4. “My friends are dropping like flies,” I commented to Jon, days before he left himself.
Brussels is a funny place. Few people seem to love it; more people seem to have a “meh” attitude towards their lives here. I had a Brussels haircut experience about a month ago where my hairdresser, from Manchester (of course), stated that the only reason people come to Brussels is for work. “No one is here out of choice,” he laughed, though he went on to tell me he’d been here for over ten years. I guess I can relate. Brussels was barely on my radar until James mentioned the job at Scotland Europa and I figured applying was worth a shot. I hadn’t ever wanted to visit here, never mind live here.
However, I’ve grown to love Brussels. It probably helps that it’s been sunny for the past three weeks. There are so many parks, so many green spaces, so many locations to chill out. I’m discovering new neighbourhoods, with quirky cafés and bars; I’m also discovering cool parts of my own neighbourhood, way later than I should have (shout out to Marine and the tapas restaurant round the corner – not just because you requested an “apparition” in my blog post!). I love the grandeur of the Grand Place, despite the herds of tourists who gravitate towards it on a daily basis. Every time I walk through the European Parliament, I’m reminded of how much I’ve learned since coming here five months ago. My work, church and flat networks of friends have ensured that I’ve never been bored or lonely. In recent days, I feel like I’ve bonded with Belgium as a whole. I visited the city of Antwerp with the coolest train station in the world and a unique docks/old town combo unrivalled elsewhere in the country. Sunny weekends saw me visiting beach-side towns Oostende and Knokke, where I discovered that my snobbish “how good can the Belgian coast possibly be?” attitude was very ignorant, and given sunshine, the sand and sea of Belgium can rival the best of Europe’s beaches. Last weekend, I had the opportunity to partake in the Belgian celebrations of their new monarchy as former king Albert abdicated the throne and son Philippe took over the reign. The Belgian/expat masses joined forces, lining the streets to celebrate Belgium’s independence and try to catch a glimpse of their new royal head.
To be honest, it was going to be a tough call for any foreign country to host me following my two years in my beloved Japan. But hats off to you Belgium. I’ve loved it.