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Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Alone Among Merry People

It is so strange being alone among crowds of merry people on a Saturday night. This happened to me after I arrived from Luxembourg around 11 pm, settled in the hotel and jumped out on the street to have a bite, a drink and a walk.

The streets of Brussels, especially those around the Grande Place were bustling with live, love and laughter. Sometimes, in Budapest, in a similar situation, I have not had the desire to mix with an obviously drunk, vulgar and boring crowd. This, it seemed to me, was not the case now.

Most people were just having fun, laughing and enjoying company and friendship. And in such a situation I had absolutely no access to this fun and laughter. I was walking alone, full of unrealized potential for merry time and a late night out.

I went to a bar which I liked during my walk two days ago. The crowd there did not disappoint me: intelligent and artistic people. I had a quick Kriek (cherry beer), listened to some lovely music and went back to the shabby hotel.


I spent the whole Saturday with Dana and Radu in Luxembourg. It’s funny it made me think of a winter evening at least four years ago when I was in Buacharest and we went out to a bar. That’s when I met Radu in fact.

The trip from Brussels to Luxembourg was quite pleasant. The two-storey train was full of students going back home for the weekend. Most of them descended in all those towns along the line, Namur being the biggest. I remembered my student years when I used to make a very similar trip from Sofia to Sliven with the 4 pm express. This trip could be such fun depending on the company. It could be long and boring of course.

The Belgium train was clean fast and comfortable, a real pleasure. However, I was thinking that some of the early 1990s Bulgarian trains fun was rooted in the compartment system. Several friends could occupy a compartment and create great atmosphere for four hours. This wouldn’t be possible in the modern types of trains which incite you to quietly discuss things.

Luxembourg is a very strange town situated in a valley and the hills and plateaus around. It’s not very densely built so in the centre - very elusive - there are huge areas of green that allow the city to breathe. Luxembourg is plagued by striking poverty, its inhabitants still being far from the EUR 50,000 per capita GDP. Not all of these poor people can afford to change their BMWs annually or to buy a big house overlooking the valley.

Today we had a fun trip around the country, first north to a nice town by the river Sure, then east to Sure’s confluent with Mosel and then south along the Mosel. The road was on the verge of being romantic but not quite so. They say the German side is better. It was great though - driving slowly, cracking jokes and listening to Bob Dylan’s Saaarah. There were small hilly vineyards by the road and the landscape used to turn more impressive when the sun managed to pierce the clouds.

In the late afternoon we hurried back to Luxembourg to visit the European Court of Justice and the European Investment Bank where there was an open doors day. It was curious but not impressive. The architecture of those buildings depresses me a bit. It smells of inefficiency and rigidity. I hope I am wrong. The important thing is that Dana feels ok there.

I liked a lot Dana’s apartment looking at a nice quiet park. And very importantly, she has a great baby foot table. I had a steep learning curve yesterday and even managed to beat them a couple of times.

I had a great weekend with friends. I hope Radu is not angry that asked him questions about my knee. It turned out that he has operated cruciate ligaments and knows things about my cartilage problem. Sorry, Radu. Thanks for everything, Dana.


Recently when people around me mention they are going to Brussels they emphasize how boring this city is and how very unappealing their trip would be. I don’t agree with this at all. I find Brussels a very interesting place to be.

I have been in Brussels for the last several days and I have enjoyed it a lot. First, the weather was excellent – sunny with a slight breeze. Then I followed Wiolka’s advise and I went to Mozart Hotel, a nice and very funny place, 50 m. away from La Grande Place. In this hotel everything is kind of fake Mozart style – sofas, chairs, walls but it is not irritating, strangely. And very importantly, there is a strong wi-fi signal in the lobby and this was very important to me knowing that I has important staff to send.

Yesterday, I saw an old friend of mine – Albena – who lives in Brussels with her son and her mother and works for the World Health Organisation. They live in a beautiful part of the city resembling a lot Paris. The evening was great and there was ‘supa topceta’ (a Bulgarian meatball soup) and steak with Bordeaux wine. Then, we all watched the Sarkozy-Royale debate which was absolutely captivating to me. No matter that they both have bouts of demagogy now and again, we have to admit that they are both very high quality politicians.

Today we finished earlier and I had a very long walk in the streets or so it felt to my ailing knee. What is very special about Brussels is that it is the perfect border city between two cultures. One enjoys the frenchness of the cafes and the restaurants as well as some parts of the architecture. However, this elegance is strictly controlled by the more austere Dutch air of some of the architecture and some of the churches. What is different in Brussels is that it doesn’t have an architectural coherence; it is a mixture of French and Dutch, Walloon and Flemish. On top of it, there is this huge European ‘quarter’ that gives it a third dimension.

I have to review the history lessons about the establishment of Belgium and the development of Brussels. It would be interesting to know how the Belgium nation has been formed after the creation of a new country in 1830 following the Napoleonic wars. I also remember that Belgium was often the freer and more liberal neighbour of France. I think Emile Zola spent some time here as well as Verlain and Rimbeaud. This evening I was looking for this pub where they shot at each other and Verlain slightly wounded Rimbeaud. Crazy people. What I found great tonight while wondering in the small winding streets is that there are so many houses that feel kind of really old not and are not fully renovated. They are not run down or dilapidated but they have some patina on them. With a little bit of imagination one goes back to the end of the 19th century or at least to the 1920s when my grandfather - Zaharia - used to stroll those streets for 5 years while studying at the Brussels Technical University. I would like so much to know where exactly he lived as well as other details from these times. It is such a pity that there are no traces from this period of his life: a time completely gone.

I find it also very cool that the city is completely bilingual. Everybody changes Flemish and French just like that. Street names are also in both languages. Hotel Mozart is on the street Marche au Fromage which is Kaasmarkt in Dutch (Cheese Market). In fact there are many streets that bear the names of different markets: coal market, fish market, etc.. I also saw a street called ‘Chair and Pain’ (Flesh and Bread). Isn’t it great? And La Grande Place: despite being such a touristic place it is also a beautiful old square. I read today on one of the main buildings that some of the houses were rebuild in the 19th century replacing buildings that were destroyed in the 1687 bombardment…….

Unfortunately, I could not go to any museum today. I tried to visit the Museum of Instruments following Albena’s advice but I was too late. I would also revisit again the Musee des Beaux Arts where I have been in 1995. I remember it had a great collection of Dutch paintings which I like a lot.

I had another positive experience today. I had to find another hotel as all the rooms were taken in my hotel for tonight. I saw a sign ‘Rooms’ and I entered. The price was suspiciously low. An African man gave me a key for room 22. It turned out to be an excellent spacious room under the roof looking at a beautiful square.