Brussels is a Comfortable, Livable City!
We have lived here for five weeks now and we are enjoying it thoroughly!
Several years ago, we wrote, "Imagine a place where shops selling a wide range of goods and services alternate with offices and entrances to apartments above the stores. A wide sidewalk fronts the shops and as you walk from shop to shop, there are trees to provide shade and benches for sitting to watch the street life flow. Your car is parked conveniently just up the street but other folks have walked from their apartments in the neighborhood or arrived by bus to shop. Just up the street is a small park where the neighborhood kids play while parents chat. Within a few blocks there are single family homes, courtyard apartments and even high rise loft apartments - a real mix of housing choices."
We were describing a possible urban lifestyle that might someday be possible in Albuquerque. Now, in Brussels, we are living that urban lifestyle, except, our car (truck) is parked back in Phoenix, completely unneeded here, and there are no single family homes nearby, and for us they are not missed!
It is difficult to describe the way we live here because it is so different from the typical American way of life. We have only been in a car once since we left the US back in April and that was a taxi that we used to move a box of our stuff, that was too heavy to take on the Metro, to our Brussels apartment. We have used planes a little, and trains, trams, subways and buses a lot to travel everywhere easily and conveniently. We have even had a couple of boat rides.
The range of things to do - from museums (below, top left), to urban walks to country hikes (below, top right) to concerts (below, bottom left) to festivals to just hanging out at a tavern or cafe (below, bottom right) is amazing! We have a long list of places we still want to visit and doubt we will see them all before we leave.
We have walked many neighborhoods of Brussels, observing the range of styles, from "classic Brussels" (below, top left) to Art Nouveau (below, top right) to Art Deco. Some of the more recent developments fit with the charm and charisma of Brussels (below, bottom left), but others clash (below, bottom right), at least to our eyes.
We have talked with folks to learn more about the history of redevelopment here since the 1890s and especially to learn about the coming of the European Union in 1957 when Brussels was designated as the Capital of Europe. We'll tell more about that later.
Belgium is a rather small country so there are other cities to visit that are just an hour or two away by train. We have visited Ostend, Bruges, and Antwerp twice. We'll tell more about these visits later!
Our major challenge continues to be our lack of fluency in French. Most people speak French here, so we must ask people to please speak English and most are happy to oblige if they can. Thankfully our new Belgium phone service has instructions in English, and bier sounds just like beer and cafe' sounds pretty much like coffee so we can deal with the essentials! We have only found a few people with whom we can have real conversations and these have been very rewarding!
There are no local papers or newscasts in English so it is difficult to learn about local news. There is a library that offers an array of newspapers and magazines, some in English, so we go there several times a week to read. Our cable TV/radio has BBC TV and a radio station that broadcasts NPR programs. Add the internet to these sources and we feel we are doing fairly well at keeping up with world events, but local news still eludes us!
As we said, we find life here exhilarating as there is always so much to do. All the walking we are doing, sometimes carrying groceries or other stuff, is healthful. Riding transit is fun and also healthful (there are lots of stairs in the subway stations, but usually with an escalator alternative). We are able to travel anywhere easily, with trams (pictures below) being an enjoyable option. The system here serves us very well - from our central location most trips can be taken with no transfers. Of course, it takes a person with Blair's bus map interpretive skills to figure out the best mode and route!
If we had to select one lifestyle to live for the rest of our lives, we'd pick this urban one! We believe that even as we become older and less able, we could keep living this way as evidenced by the number of older people we see on the bus, shopping or just walking from place to place! Yet for the moment, we hope to avoid having to pick just one lifestyle, but if we had to do so, this would be it!
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