Ok, so Brussels completely exceeded my expectations. Some would argue that this was not so much of a difficult task, the bar was pretty low to begin with.
I mean, after spending time in Paris – and being as smitten as I am about this beautiful city – I left for Brussels with an acute sense of superiority. The kind that condescends on all places and things that do not match up to the standards of oh-so-very sophisticated Paris. I was prepared to stoop low and graciously learn the banal ways of Brussels. Boy was I wrong.
Behind Brussels’ ramshackle, quirky exterior is a city that I ended up falling completely in love with. Sure, it does not have any of Paris’ small things conveniences that make life here beautiful: No boulangeries on each corner, the charming neurosis of Paris commuters (well, this depends on which end of this neurosis you find yourself on!), metro stops literally everywhere you turn, the list goes on…
Nonetheless, there are several things that I ended up loving about darling Brussels – the waffles, frites, the stroppy service people, the gardens, small unknown cafes, the grimy statues that litter the centre of the city, the generally relaxed atmosphere, the hidden and little known historical richness of the city itself and Belgian towns and cities which are all within an hour’s ride. It could also be that the time I spent there was during the summer – although I must say that most of the ‘summer’ was in actual fact grey, raining or simply just overcast. So, it certainly not the sunshine that made the experience in Brussels as pleasant as I found it to be!
In terms of the real reason that I was there for – to perform an internship – Brussels was a very stimulating environment for me as a student of public policy and International Relations. This was the summer of the eurozone crisis, the Arab Spring – so this added a tinge of excitement into the political atmosphere. It was fascinating interacting with very engaging bureaucrats, diplomats and veteran NGOers – an altogether fascinating and well spent time.
Who knows, perhaps my future studies will take me to Brussels, if God and the saints and angels of Academia allow. There is a strong case, in my mind of going back there. The cost of living is nowhere near as high as it is here in Paris. (And, oh, the credit rating of Belgium is among the best in Europe at the moment. I am not sure if the situation with Dexia changes this… anywho…) The quality of life is to my mind – good. While it certainly lacks the sophistication of Paris, it is close enough to Paris to pay a visit when things begin to feel desperately un-cultured. It also lies at a very central geographic location within the country itself – which makes travel throughout Belgium a breeze. Associated to this is the ease of access to the rest of the ‘low countries’ which are also great to explore for their history. To my mind, this makes it perfect for a Doctoral student’s lifestyle. With the EU as an object of study, this makes Brussels infinitely interesting.
Long story short, I surprisingly fell in love with the city, and would consider living there for a couple of years!
For now, though, it is a pleasure being back in beautiful, beautiful Paris!