I find myself in Brussels on this delightful spring morning sitting in a charming square/piazza/whatever they call this in Flemish/French. There’s a pretty fountain in the centre of what is a roundabout and there are many typical Belgian buildings with lacey iron work balustrades and dormer windows and cute little details on facades such as cornucopias and flowers and curlicues. And I have just spotted one of my favourite architectural elements of this city, the art nouveau windows, large wooden circles with beveled glass, they evoke in me some nostalgia of an elegant romantic time.
Its a public holiday today in Belgium, and in fact a lot of Europe. I am not sure why, but I am benefitting from the slower pace of the city life if in no other way than with far fewer cars zooming past. Mostly it is other tourists who are out at such an early time, but the sun has been up for hours and the day is warming, despite the breeze whipping up. We will spend most of the day here before we board the Eurostar for London. It was a stroke of genius of Rosie’s to suggest we make our way to London via Brussels, rather than do the schlep via air travel. The advantages besides the interlude here, include avoiding the airport time-wasting and our arrival in London, in London proper, not nearly 2 hours away from our accommodation.
We had a 3 hour bus trip from Nijmegen yesterday that was mostly unremarkable (although how can any travel in a foreign country be thus?) but there were a few highlights worthy of note. One was the arrival at Antwerp which included the rather grand domed building of the centraal station and of particular interest to me, the zoological society building with a very large verdigris camel perched atop a turret. I’m not sure what all the grandeur was about but it felt exotic to me. I am sure that back in the 1800s in Flemish Europe it had an even more potent effect. The other noteworthy event on the bus trip was the passing of some tankers, you know the ones like petrol tankers… “so what” you say, but imagine my disbelief when I realised what they were carrying. At first it was the word “Barry” on the side that sparked my attention… but as I read further… oh my goodness! It’s carrying schoklade, chocolat, Chocolate!! Thirty thousand litres of couverture. I knew I was in Belgium then!
So it’s a few days later now and I’m in London. The weather has been exceptionally summery especially considering it is still officially spring. We have been enjoying the sun and park life of London often and with nearly as much fervour as the locals. But their capacity to embrace the city sun rivals any beach going Aussie. It is obvious that they will not let an opportunity to soak up some rays (and Vitamin D) be hampered by living in a metropolis. That said there are many beautiful green spaces to enjoy and connect with nature.
Today we left the house early (by Sunday standards) and headed, via the local coffee shop, down the street to Victoria Park (locally known as Vicky Park). Despite a large part of the park cordoned off for a music festival, we ambled around the perimeter of which a side is adjacent to Regent’s Canal, and enjoyed the green space, large trees in the throes of shedding their winter slumber and the humans, dogs and wildlife all out enjoying the mild sunny morning. Rosie sat and read philosophy while I did some yoga on soft grass and beds of cute little daisies. Who needs a yoga mat when you can cushion yourself on such loveliness.
Our accommodation is in a great spot, East London near Bethnal Green. Our hosts live in a spacious penthouse 5th floor apartment with views to the city centre. You can see the Shard and the Gherkin and other skyscrapers and in the foreground the roofs and chimneypots of Victorian era homes. We also have access to the rooftop where there are vegie garden beds, solar panels and a 360 degree view which we enjoyed at sunset (pretty much 9pm) while having a supper with beer chaser. That was a fitting end to a day full of family fun with our extended London family.
We had a brief time in Brussels but it was more than adequate to develop an appreciation of the architecture, the mix of Flemish and French culture… and their beer. I feel like we did a lot of walking there… but I had already got blisters after walking out to Rosie’s university the day before. So with Compeed on my feet when I spied a brass Camino shell in the footpath and then shortly after a large stone monument that had a hole through which you can “see” your destination, Santiago de Compostela, I felt an added sense of connection to the place.
I particularly fell in love with remains of La Belle Époque. Even the buses had Art Nouveau flourishes. I found myself taking many photos of different architectural embellishments on our wandering through the streets. We did happen upon a peace rally on the evening we were there, which was exciting and energising, and due to our personal media blackout we did not know that the NATO peeps were in town. But there was no escaping the fact that something big was going down the following day, when we and all the other plebs were excluded from any of the large parks and gardens and there was Politie tape everywhere prohibiting parking along the city streets, helicopters flying overhead and many sirens and police-led cavalcades stopping the traffic, both pedestrian and motor. With the heat we were inclined to find shade and rest, and determined to not be deterred by the political maelstrom occurring around us, so we continued our search and happened upon a small local square with pleasant espaliered plane trees, a verdigris statue of some important person and the locals out enjoying their ascension day holiday. The quaint local creperie was irrestible so we succumbed to its charm and enjoyed the hospitality of the grandmotherly owner and her galettes (a savoury buckwheat crepe…. mmmmm).
It is difficult to capture the essence of my experience of Brussels now that I am in another place and 4 days have passed and been filled with lots of family and familiar environments in London. But I keep coming back to the significant feeling that for such a short time, such that it was, I might have developed a bit of a crush on Brussels. So I’ll leave it at that, and I’ll include some more photos that best evoke this denouement.