Day 7 – Moving

I’ve done far too much moving in the past year. First from Bruntsfield to Leith and now from Leith all the way to Etterbeck, one of the municipalities of Brussels. Despite being on a large junction and near a school and a large supermarket, the area is quite quiet.

There are also lots of shops around, although I still haven’t quite managed to get myself a pillow. Instead I’m using a second duvet wrapped into a cylinder. Luckily, the Brussels Ikea has Sunday opening in the 12th, so I think I’ll take the Metro out there and buy some bits and pieces.

The flat has it’s oddities – for example, the oven doesn’t actually open because the doorframe around the kitchen area prevents it from opening. I’m also not convinced by the adult sized bunk-bed. They seem to be pretty common in cheap accommodation in Brussels, probably due to the common combination of high ceilings and little floorspace, but it just doesn’t seem right to be sleeping 6 feet off the floor. I’m also terrified that I’ll drop my phone out of it. Still, despite the hight and lack of oven, the place is comfortable enough and apparently pretty decent by the low end of Brussels flat prices.

Day 6 – Buying Stuff

Today I leased a flat and bought an Aloe Vera plant. These two things are related: on the route to and from my flat is a very nice little plant shop with very reasonably priced plants. If it wasn’t unreasonably hard to transport plants, I’d probably end up buying several. As is, I think I’ll have to content myself with buying a spider plant, lavender or another aloe vera.

Despite comments I made on Twitter a few nights ago, it’s not a bad flat. Small, awkward and possibly not as secure as I’d like it, but the view is fantastic and I’m sure I can cope with the annoyance that is the raised bed. Hopefully I’ll manage to avoid falling out of it and breaking my neck.

Things at Parliament are getting very interesting now the workload is ramping up. I’ve got to remember that I’ve got some Uni stuff still to finish off before next month and not just sit at home thinking about the projects I’ve been working on during the day, even if they are far more interesting. Sadly, I can’t really talk about anything I am working on due to confidentiality agreements, but next week I’m planning to attend a few workshops which I will be able to talk about.

Day 5 – Need More Caffine

Through my entire University career, I’ve abhorred coffee, other then the occasional expresso after the sort of dinner then involved a different drink with each course (and at last count, there were only four such occasions). Tea, I drank much more of, but generally in the afore mentioned T’chai Ovna.

In Europe though, coffee takes on almost a ritual quality, to the extent that it’s near impossible to find a decent cup of tea (well brewed, no mik, no suger, left to cool for five minutes or so) in the Parliament. This saddens me, particuarly when I start to flag between breakfast and lunch and between lunch and home time.

For now, I’m reliant on the poor substitute that is Lipton’s Ice Tea. Soon, though, I must procure a teapot, for while I abhor the ‘British’ label, I do love my tea.

NB: No photos today because it was grey and rainy. Maybe tomorrow!

Day 2 – The Quiet Before The Euro-Storm

Today’s main task was to respond to the replies I received after I sent queries to various flat adverts on Friday. This did not take long, since out of around thirty adverts responded to, only three then sent me further information. It is, of course, the weekend and I expect some more replies on Monday. but it’s still disheartening.

On the other hand, I was able to start the process to book a room with LesRooms.com, a flexible letting agent which seems to specialise in students and stagiaires from abroad. I’ve also got a room viewing booked in case that falls through, so hopefully all will progress well from here now that I have a plan and a back-up plan.

After spending the morning sorting out flat stuff, I decided that I’d better take a walk up to the European Parliament, to familiarise myself with the area and so that I know how long it takes to get there on Monday. The answer is not long – even from else where in the city centre, the transport links to the EP are excellent with metro, tram, train and bus routes surrounding the area, so getting there should be no problem.

What today also afforded was the opportunity to see the Parliament complex in a near deserted state. I was also able to see the new buildings, which were constructed for the 12 states who joined in the 2004/2007 EU expansion. These buildings were still under construction the last time I was in the EU Quarter, back in 2003.

It really did feel like the quiet before the storm. There was barely a soul to be seen in Place de Luxembourg. Next week, the European Parliament is sitting in Strasbourg, which means that MEPs and a lot of parliament staff will be in France rather in Belgium, but I suspect the streets, plazas and bars will still be quiet, but busier then they were today.

It’s quite strange seeing the buildings now. Last time I saw them in person, and indeed, last time I was inside them, was in 2003, during the closing sessions of the Convention on the Future of Europe. I was even allowed into the hemicycle to see the rather fearsome former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing preside over the session.

It’s rather strange to think that just seven years later, I’m about to start working in this place, even if it’s only as an intern. It truly is a wonderful opportunity.

I also took a series of pictures on the way to and from the Parliament and around the Parliament itself, which can be found on Flickr.

Day 1 – Flat Hunting & Observing The Nightlife

Despite having no real complaints with the hotel I am currently ensconced in, it is not sustainable to live in it indefinitely. Not without selling off my internal organs anyway. With that in mind, I spent my first Friday in Brussels shooting off as many emails as possible to adverts on Appartager.be and Immoweb.be.

It being a Friday, when most sensible Europeans were out watching the UEFA Euro 2012 qualifiers (Belgium lost 1-0 to Germany, while Scotland and Lithuania drew with no goals), I didn’t get any immediate replies, although I was put in touch with two previous interns who offered me some advice and pointed me in the direction of some sites which I hadn’t seen before.

Hopefully, I can once again put the flat-hunting saga behind me in the near future, because quite frankly I’m rubbish at it. When I lived in Glasgow, I stayed in the same Maryhill flat for nearly five years, while my current flat in Edinburgh belongs to a friend. My pervious flat-hunting extravaganza saw me spend 9 months living in an unloved Bruntisfield student dump, with no carpets, no working hot water and bizarrely high electricity bills. So, yes, I’m not really good at this sort of thing.

Having exhausted the flat-hunting probabilities for the evening, I went out for a walk. Avoiding the Grand Place after the previous night’s excesses, I headed south towards the gigantic Palace of Justice. As I got closer, I realised there was music coming from the steps of the Palace and massive crowds of people standing around chatting and drinking around the base of the building. Slightly further along Quarte Brasstraat was a bar with and outside disco, although the larger party at the Palace of Justice seemed to have robbed it of much of it’s custom.

After this, I headed north up Avenue de la Toison d’Or, doing a bit of window shopping as I massed the designer boutiques which line this rather up-market boulevard. Close to the Trone metro station, I came across more Brussels natives enjoying their Friday night. While drink was as much in evidence as it had been at the Palace of Justice, these young people were busy playing Cycle Polo on the plaza in-front of a large bank.

Seeing the people of Brussels at play really made me think about how people in Scotland would react if we did the same things as the Belgians do for entertainment on a Friday night. I’m sure getting permission to have a public a bar outside West Registry House, in Parliament Square, outside GoMA or on the steps of Glasgow City Chambers would require a hell of a lot of hoop-jumping and more security men then you could shake a stick at. In comparison, what ever was going on at the Place of Justice had no visible security and fences which could be easily jumped over.

Cycle Polo, on the other hand, seems like the ideal game for the Edinburgh student masses. Bristo Square or even the Meadows would provide a perfect place to play, and I suspect with the number of bikes and hipsters in the city, it would be enthusiastically adopted. A Glasgow equivalent could maybe be played in the car park of the Gilbert Scott Building.

But this is humorous aside really. What I want to know is why, in the largest city in Belgium, people are able to consume large quantities of alcohol, without the same drink-related violence and other problems which plague Scotland. The police and security presence on the streets of Brussels is minimal compared to that in Edinburgh and Glasgow, with little evidence of any public problems. That is not to say that Belgium has no such problems, but they certainly don’t seem to be as commonplace as they are in Scottish cities. Certainly a matter which I’d like to investigate more before I leave Belgium.

NB: Due to photos taken outside the Palace of Justice at night not coming out well, I’ve included a picture I took today of the Palace in daylight.

Day 0 – Too Much Beer, Not Enough Sleep

Disappointedly, my journey from Edinburgh to Brussels was uneventful. The bus to the airport was very quick and comfortable, I got through security without my suspicious packages of loose-leaf tea being inspected and the flight was quick and pleasant. I through recommend flying out of Edinburgh airport at some point since the view of the Forth and it’s bridges from above is absolutely spectacular. It, and the patchwork landscape of the Lothians, studded with windfarms and villages, reminded me just how much I love my native country.

I encountered one problem at the airport station: the lack of French signage. Despite the fact that I can read some Flemish, I was still taken aback, since I’ve only been practising my French. Despite my weary confusion, I managed to find the right platform and train to take me to, the stunning art nouveau-style Bruxelles-Central Station. From there, it was a five minute walk to my rather nice hotel.

After checking my email and housing adverts, I took a short nap and went for a walk to the Grand Place in the hope of finding some beer and dinner. Alas, I had forgotten to take account of the strength of Belgian beers, in particular the amazing Rochefort 10. Possibly not the best example to be setting on the day the Scottish Government announced the 45p minimum unit pricing, but c’est la vie. Coupled with lack of sleep the previous night and a day of travelling, I thought I had best return to the hotel.

Which was easier said then done. I only got slightly lost, having to eventually get a taxi back to the hotel.

Still, if I get lost on my first day in the city, it gets it out of the way quickly and enabled me to discover a rather bizarre piece of art.