I never really liked Brussels. I’ve tried long and hard to give the city a chance but it has just about as much charm as a Maltese village lady all dolled up for festa night. More often than not I get to town by train. It is as though a guided tour of the human body were to start from the backside. You travel through the entrails and uglier sides of the city quietly hoping that it will, at some point, get better. Little do you know that that’s it… a sort of railroad WISYWIG tour before you hit the streets. You should have known it after all – this is the town whose main highlights are a pissing boy, a giant monument of an atom and of course a square that gets covered in flowers every now and then.
Yet tourists hit Brussels in droves. The cram every nook and cranny of the garish streets shopping for hideous souvenirs, stuffing themselves with chocolates and downing the beer. It’s not Ibiza because there’s no sun and there’s no sea. There’s grey building after grey building, badly signed roads (don’t think of driving in this mess) and unhelpful citizens with a chip on their shoulder about the other half of their country depending one whether you meet a Flemish or a Walloon.
Then there’s the smell. There’s a particular whiff to Brussels. Every big city has its particular smell. Rome, London, New York.. they all smell of big cities in their own particular way. Brussels smells of its stations. Whatever station you get you immediately greets you with a “let me knock you out” kind of stink that threatens to hang around until you’ve left. It’s unwelcoming and it’s there to stay. You’re screwed.
The smell hit me this time round even before I stepped off the train. When the doors opened in station “Luxembourg” the whiff reminded me of why I cannot stand Brussels. If scraped the dirt off a hundred tramps and created a concentrated perfume out of that you could definitely market it as Eau de Bruxelles. I had promised to try and give it the umpteenth chance. To let it charm me and show me its beautiful underneath that makes so many people wax lyrical about its cosmopolitan qualities.
I tried. I really tried. Promise. It was really the bastard taxi driver who sent me on a wild goose chase in the opposite direction of the hotel I was meant to go to. “Walking distance” became long slog and trek in the frozen stink of Brussels at sunset. Sunset at minus a couple of degrees with the sun’s playful rays nowhere in sight.
So. There it is. I’m here…. still waiting for the charm to hit me. I think I’ll go get some fries…. not that they’re as good as the ones in Brugge (yep.. Brugge) but they’ll have to do.