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The View From My Window: Brussels

Brussels is rough, well-worn, and integral world city, which is exactly what I’m looking for in a place.

This is the view from my window in Brussels. It’s the intersection of Boulevard Maurice Lemonnier and Rue Woeringen. There’s a good scene out there. Moroccans sitting out on the sidewalk drinking mint tea like they do in Morocco, locals walking by doing local things, the now ubiquitous throngs of independent Chinese tourists duck walking by.
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From the looks of things here it’s almost unfathomable that this city was selected as a site for a non-discriminatory-style attack — half of the place seems to be Muslim. Although fathomable probably isn’t really the word to describe this to begin with.

I arrived in Brussels three days ago. I did not mean to stay this long. I had a meeting canceled here so I figured that I would hang of out for a day or so. Then getting my next meeting set up proved to be a little more time consuming than I previously imagined. It’s to go to the prime NSR dry port and logistics area in Western Europe, so I can’t leave it out.

So I’m basically just sitting here in Belgium waiting for the green light, then I will go over to Germany and begin traveling east: Duisburg, Berlin, Lodz, Warsaw, Riga, Vilnius, Minsk, Brest, Ukraine. 

Then I don’t know. I believe my family is going to make a move to join me in Belgrade. I was there with my wife when she was pregnant with our first daughter in 2009. Now the place is trying hard to become a regional hub on the New Silk Road. It would be interesting to watch how this develops for a couple of months.

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I like Brussels. The place is rough, though not a shit hole. It is like old wooden chair: the ass prints and arm rubs of ages wears it in and makes it comfortable. No matter how old and worn it gets it’s never an eyesore; there is something about the dinged legs and the rubbed off lacquer that makes it look better in fact — like a steady fixture than can measure the passing of time. You never get rid of an old wooden chair, you pass these things down for generations.

“Brussels is like really doggy,” an Australian woman said to me.

“It’s what?” I queried, believing that her attempt at saying dodgey may have been bastardized by her accent.

“Doggy.”

“Dodgey?”

“No, doggy, like a dog,” she replied sharply while pantomiming a dog begging and sticking out its tongue. “In Berlin everybody was like all grown up and they knew what they were doing and they were all arty. Here people are just like whatever the fuck, I came here to be me!! It’s just doggy.”

I suppose that’s another way to put it.

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This Australian was 26 years old, covered in tattoos, clad in boots, and had short cropped, spikey-ish hair. She’s a medical doctor, working in emergency rooms and refugee camps. She seemed to enjoy the reaction that people give her when her profession doesn’t quite match her appearance. I kind of enjoy that too. A medical doctor and a financial journalist…If we ever went out together and told people what we did for work we’d more than likely be branded with another title: liars.

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The buildings of Brussels are worn and stained. There are bums in the street — some are all fucked up and scream out insults at passersby in French. There is garbage blowing by on the sidewalks. There are people in the streets hanging out, connecting, talking.

The worst places in the world for travel are those where the streets are mere transit corridors, thoroughfares for people who are only looking to get from point A to B. How can you engage a place if its essential elements are always in motion?

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Brussels is highly engage-able. After my daily work is finished I’ve been spending these days drinking beer and tea in the streets. Talking with whoever — a Spanish artist who choreographs public performances of naked people, an Israeli techie who has designed a secure Android smartphone and was then hosed by a factory in Shenzhen.

There’s a good gathering of people here, a good mix from about everywhere doing about everything. That’s what makes a place a world city, which is what Brussels without a doubt is.

Perhaps the Australian doctor was right, maybe this place really is “doggy.”

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Filed under: Belgium, Travel Diary, View from Window

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 83 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3212 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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