Poster in Rue Chaufferette in Brussels gay quarter promoting tolerance
Beyond Brexit :: Could Brussels be the new London?
10 reasons to move to Brussels
For at least 40 years, the British press has been hammering Brussels with scathing criticism. Everything bad in the United Kingdom is blamed on Brussels, from the shape of bananas to the national health system. As a result, it might seem folly even to consider moving to such a place. But here are ten reasons why Brussels might just have the edge on London if Britain finally decides to pull the plug.
1. IT'S EXCITING
It's the capital of Europe dammit. That makes it one of the most powerful cities in the world. As I write this post, 28 European leaders are gathered in Brussels to discuss the future of Europe. Along with dozens of party leaders. And Nigel Farage of course. But he won't always be here. Let's hope.
2. IT'S AT THE HEART OF EUROPE
Imagine. You can get to Paris in 90 minutes. Rotterdam in 2 hours. Frankfurt in 3 hours. No passport. No need to change currency. How brilliant is that?
3. IT'S TOUGH TO FIND THE DAILY MAIL ANYWHERE
No more tabloid headlines screaming in your face as you walk to work. I'm not saying that Belgium doesn't have any tabloids, but they mostly spend their time investigating the sex lives of Belgian TV celebrities you probably won't know. Like Hanne. And Klaasje. And Marthe. All of them big in Belgium, let me tell you.
4. NO MORE UKIP
The UKIP MEPs are heading back to Britain. Mission accomplished. Thank bloody heavens, you might be saying. I couldn't possibly comment.
5. POLISH PLUMBERS
We love Polish plumbers here in Brussels because they come when you call them. And plumbing in Brussels can be quite eccentric, so we are all damned grateful to find someone competent who can fix a broken hot-water tap before an overflowing bathtup floods the entire apartment building.
We also love Danish dentists, Bulgarian baristas, Estonian ecologists and Swedish ski instructors.
6. GREAT FOOTBALL
Hate to bring this up, but the English national team is kind of disappointing. Come to Belgium where we have produced some of the world's best players. Most of them now play for English teams, true, but we still have an inspiring national team and supporters get to wear weird hats with bells.
7. BELGIUM DIDN'T WIN THE WAR
Belgiums are really modest. They don't spend all their time bragging about how great their country is/was/will be when the EU shackles are thrown off. They will even join you in a game of 'name ten famous Belgians' because they have a weird sense of humour which I don't really understand.
But not just Stromae. Brussels has a fantastic music scene. Jazz. Chanson. Techno. You name it. And don't forget festivals. These guys know how to have a good time. Honestly. You'll be up every night.
Complicated. Sure. But interesting. And reasonably competent compared to the current UK government which appears to have brought the entire global ecomomy crashing down with no clear plan on how to clean up the mess.
Waffle vans. And beer of course. And chocolate. And the best frites in the world, I swear.
You will of course miss some things, like free museums, and Brixton market and that little coffee shop in Hoxton with the lovely Australian barista.
And you will hate the Brussels traffic, and the absence of summer, and the potholed cycle lanes.
But I still reckon that Brussels could be the new London, if the UK government really goes ahead with its plan to leave the European Union.
My secret vote: local elections
Here in Brussels, Belgians have just gone to the polling stations to vote for new city councillors. The campaigns have been interesting to follow, with virtually every candidate promising an almost identical list of policies. They all promise us cleaner streets, safer neighbourhoods, better schools. And we, the voters, know that things will go on much the same as always once the new councillors are comfortably installed in the town halls.
The reality of life in Brussels is seen in the Rue de la Paix, where road works have dragged on interminably, destroying the livability of one of the neighourhood's most appealing streets. We have watched in dismay as the construction workers have turned a lively urban street into a scarred landscape of earth mounds, trenches and fallen signs.
Some shopkeepers have simply pulled down the shutters in despair. But there is also a fighting spirit in Brussels which means that some people find creative ways to fight back. The fashion designer Nina Meert has created a window display that takes its inspiration from the road works. So the mannequins stand in the window surrounded by planners' drawings, battered road signs and concrete drain pipes, a subtle way of mocking the administrative incompetence that is such a depressing feature of Brussels civic life.
Waiting in line in the cold school hall to cast my vote, I noticed a large Tintin mural on the wall above the polling booths. A plaque nearby explained that Hergé, the famous Belgian cartoonist, has attended this school from 1913 to 1919, while the Germany army occupied the city. It made the voting experience somehow richer.
My secret rooftop: Institute Saint Louis
Here is one of the most striking views in Brussels seen from the roof terrace of the St Louis University. I like the contrast of old and new, and the way the sloping line of the shiny glass office building to the left is almost a continuation of the roofline of the grey Brussels town house.
Photographs: Marie-France Plissart
My secret hotel: Le Berger
Oh, la la! An old Ixelles hotel where couples once rented rooms
by the hour has been tastefully renovated.
My secret secondhand shop: Les Enfants d'Edouard
Les Enfants d'Edouard has been selling women's designer clothes at sharply reduced prices in this grand town house for the past 40 years. The men's shop, a little less grand, is next door.
Avenue Louise 175 and 177
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