Brussels - Our First Impressions
Our flight to Brussels from Madrid was uneventful, except for some nice sightseeing along the beaches on the west coast of France, but mostly it was cloudy. Brussels Airport is an easy place to arrive at; as we were coming from another EU country, there was little formality. The Tourist Desk was good - they gave us map, a transit map, made a hotel reservation for us, and directed us to the airport train station. We easily bought a ticket and caught the next train down to Gare du Nord (a 15 minute ride). Our hotel was a short walk away.
From here we began the task of learning about Brussels.
Our first task was seeing about a new cell phone number as calling is quite expensive with our Spanish phone number now that we've left Spain. We first went to a Proximas office (Vodafone's associate company in Belgium) to see if we could move the money from our Spanish cell phone number to a new number here in Belgium. Predictably they say no, so we will keep our Spanish phone number until we use up the money on our account. We will then get a new Sim card (the little chip that goes in the phone that defines your phone number - this is different than in the US). We will then have a Belgian phone number. We will again buy a 'prepaid' plan, rather than a 'so much a month' plan as we will not need to make that many calls and incoming calls are free.
We got the key to our new apartment and moved in on Sunday the 1st of July; the address is Rue de Laeken 10, apartment #1. Compared with the apartment in Madrid, our new place is a bit bigger, nicer and better equipped, with a microwave, stove with an oven, cable TV with FM radio stations, a dishwasher, washer/dryer and high speed internet (pictures below). The only downside is it's on the ground floor and faces the street so we get street noise and Rue de Laeken is a fairly busy street, especially during the day.
Our building is fairly new (below left) and the location is close to the center of the old city, about 400 meters west of the Grand Place. It is on the edge of the 'touristy' and main shopping areas, so we can easily go there when we want. In the other direction, it's quieter with nice residential areas and small squares with cafes (below right, which is right around the corner from our place).
The old part of the city is not very large (2 km from side to side) and easily walkable. Some of the other sights and the EU buildings are further out, but on transit, not a long trip.
We have found two markets within a couple of blocks. Both are good size and have a good selection as well as a nice fresh produce section, so we should be in good shape food-wise.
We are finding restaurant food to be very good, but a bit expensive to very expensive (at least 20 euros and up for a meal for 2). Toward the Grand Place, the places are more 'Belgian' with wood decor and sometimes fireplaces; yet these places are fairly expensive because of the proximity to the 'tourist' area. In the other direction, there are smaller nice looking places, but also a bit expensive. We haven't yet found the local taverns where we can get a beer and simpler food for a bit less money - we hope there are such places. The one place we have found so far is two doors down - a small cafe that serves breakfast and lunch only, with nice food at good prices; we may end up eating lunch out more frequently and eating dinner at home and then going out for a drink - we'll see.
The transit system is quite good here. There is a:
So far, the weather has not been that nice. It's fairly cool with highs only in the low 70's. It goes from sunny to cloudy to raining lightly (and sometimes heavily or with thunder) and in a relatively short time so an umbrella and light jacket are essential. It sure is a change from the mid to high 80's and sun we were having in southern Spain. We'd like to think this will improve as we go into the middle of summer but we're not sure it will.
One of our challenges continues to be new languages. We've left Spanish (in which we had gained a modest level of compentence) and must now deal with French (mostly) and/or Dutch. More people we encounter speak English for us, but most of the time the conversation only covers the transaction of the moment, with no depth. We will hopefully find more people to have real conversations with.
Now settled in our new 'home' we've spent most of our time catching up with email etal that we hadn't attended to for the past two weeks. We also resisted the urge to run out and see Brussels and instead took the time to 'finish' Spain - writing our stories, finishing our journals, storing our pictures and updating our website stories about Spain. If we don't do it now, we may never do it.
The one excursion we did take was to the Atomium, the wellknown landmark of the 1958 International Exposition.
Well that's our thoughts for the moment, but we'll have more later, so stop back soon.
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