Brussels Midi Station isn’t the nicest place to arrive. For starters, it’s huge – combining training, metro, tram and bus services. That makes finding the exit difficult enough – never mind the correct exit closest to my hotel.
“To be honest I wouldn’t have recommended you stay in that neighbourhood,” says Jack, being completely open about his distaste for the area. He’s been working in Brussels for four years for a news agency serving global broadcasters. Like many here, he loves the culture – and who wouldn’t be impressed by the sights of the Grand Place?
Of course, public open spaces should absolutely be used for impressive artwork, like the ones celebrating Chinese New Year. But having seem several picture of the square without its exhibitions, it’s all a bit overwhelming. The sculpture of Brussels’ 1950s expo piece – The Atomium – looks a bit tacky among these historic gilded buildings.
The second thing I notice among the launguages of the world is a distinctive shift from Dutch Flemish to French. And while in France I’m happy to have a go at using my schoolboy grasp of “J’ai voudrez une bier, the accent here is slightly different from what I’m used to. And much quicker. It’s good to have Jack as my guide for the evening.
And like Bruges, Brussels is known for its beer, together with an array of cocktail bars hidden on the back streets. Not far from the Grand Place is A La Morte Subibe – Sudden Death. Thankfully it’s named after a card game (and also a local beer) and has all the charm of the cafe culture people come here for.
The main talking point throughout this week has been the extreme cold weather which has swept across Europe. And it’s slightly alarming to receive a text saying that my scheduled Eurostar home has been cancelled, two days in advance. Speed restrictions and unspecified “operational difficulties” are being blamed.
However, the good news is that the company doesn’t faff about when it comes to disruption. The text and website give me clear instructions on how to book a seat on an alternative train and – if I’m stranded – they’ll sort out a taxi and hotel for an extra night. It’s exactly what should happen whenever there are issues like this. There’s even talk of a refund for my fare on top of the alternative train home.