Brussels is a mix.
Parts of the city are old and beautiful—full of baroque balconies and gothic towers and quaint little cafes, with charming graffiti on the walls.
Parts of the city really aren’t—the EU Quarter and the nearby business district, both filled with concrete cubes and jagged glass skyscrapers. In the EU Quarter, the European Parliament sits surrounded by car-clogged roads and construction sites, drawing visitors from all over the world.
The number of hotels is frankly startling.
I’m spending quite a lot of time in one of them.
Brussels is a city of 11.5 million people. Overall, 30% of Brussels’ inhabitants are foreign residents. There are more foreign ambassadors in Brussels than in Washington DC. There are an estimated 30,000 political lobbyists working in the city, and 1200 accredited journalists (only 200 of whom are from Belgium).
Think of all those interns, diplomats and reporters, just passing through on business.
It’s a nice hotel, of course.
That took some getting used to. My usual travel budget allows for hovels and hostels that sometimes lack luxuries like, say, hot running water.
But I’m here to work, so I get a big bed, a proper shower, and very little time to see the sights.
Looking out my hotel window, I glimpse office blocks and traffic lights, an endless procession of headlights crawling up the Rue de la Loi. Horns blare and engines grumble. It’s funny how the EU Quarter feels so much like a bubble of its own; a vaguely dystopian colony planted in the middle of rococo streets, full of people who are only here on business.
I ought to come back and visit properly one day.
But for now, I’m just passing through.
What work am I doing? A freelance gig writing minutes for a financial reporting group, which advises the European Commission.
Some bits of Brussels I have managed to see, and recommend:
>The Atomium, near Heysel Metro. If you like science, you'll like this.
>The Grand Marketplace, which is just as pretty as it looks on the postcards.
>There's a little stand that sells chips in Place Jourdan. It's called Maison Antoine. It's really worth finding.