Sunday 16 May 2010

The travel

What a perfect European day was yesterday!

Getting up way too early in my home village, the day began cold and rainy. Not the perfect start, but who cares?! Since non of my family members was at home, one of the neighbours was so kind to get up early, too, and to bring me and my luggage to the train station in the neighbouring city (the bus goes there just once a day!). Big thanks again!

The only person that I came across in the regional train at that time was a man searching for empty bottles in the litter boxes. He turned to me asking very carefully whether I had a Euro for him. Which I had.

Later on, in the next train, a young mother and her young child were walking through the wagon in what was apparently a train discovery tour of the little child. Since the mother talked Russian to the infant, I said "privyet" (one of the few Russian words I know) to the girl when it discovered that it could fold down the seat next to me and climb on it.

This one Russian word made that the mother began speaking in Russian to me, so I had to interrupt her with two more words I know in Russian: "Nye panymayou..." ("I don't understand.") She then told me in German that they were on their way to grandma and grandpa, which reminded the child that there was still a lot to discover before the train arrived. And so it left, taking the mother with her.

In the next city where I had to change trains I used the time to drink a coffee and to read the regional newspaper. Interestingly, the first page of the cultural part of the newspaper was a full page about John Malkovich playing a serial killer on scene in Brussels. They seemed to know where I was heading...

Arriving in Cologne, I had to rush to get my connection train to Brussels.

A lady in front of me was also rushing, which her scarf didn't appreciate and so he decided to leave her in favour of the platform floor. I picked him up and had to rush even quicker behind the woman to catch her, which I only managed two wagons later when she was already entering the train. Handing the scarf over to her saying in German that I supposed that it belonged to her, she turned around, smiled, and thanked with a loud and cordial "Bedankt!" (which is Dutch). I think she and her pink scarf will be able to continue living a fulfilled life together!

The high speed train from Cologne to Brussels was packed, but I had reserved a seat and so I could relax after the rush and sit down at the table with three (still unknown) passengers after helping another lady with her luggage (I wouldn't mention that also if it wasn't part of the story, as you will see).

I was kind of tired but still tried to read the Spanish novel that I had taken with me to practice my Spanish (since I was moving in with a Spanish). But I realised that it's kind of hard to read a foreign language that you haven't used for a while, especially when you are tired and people around you chat in 4-5 different languages including Finnish (the woman on the other side of the corridor was reading a Finnish newspaper). So I plugged in my earphones and listened to spheric techno music provided by one of the train's radio channels.

At some point, the woman next to me and the man on the other side of the table started chatting, apparently in Spanish and soon later I became part of the conversation because my neighbour had concluded, seeing my novel, that I must also speak Spanish (she wasn't aware that I had just failed to concentrate on the book).

So the conversation continued for a moment in Spanish until we realised that he was actually an American who had just moved to Germany and she and me were Germans, so we changed to English which allowed the fourth passenger on the table, an Austrian living in Brussels, to also join the conversation.

Two main topics evolved for the rest of the trip: German culture and dialects (because the American wanted to visit Germany in the weeks to come and asked for advice) and Brussels sightseeing tips (because he wanted to visit Brussels but only had the rest of Saturday and Sunday).

Arriving at Bruxelles-Midi the conversation ended and we wished us goodbye.

But the woman whom I had helped with her luggage when entering the train had heard that I was moving to Brussels and thus she asked where I would start working (probably assuming that I'd be heading into one of the EU institutions). I told her why I was coming.

She then grabbed into her pocket and handed me her business card - she is, as I learned, the assistant of a German MEP - and told me: "Here you see the first Brussels habit: Everybody will give you their business card. Contact me - we have all started small here in Brussels!"

I realised that I don't have business cards yet. I probably need some not to be regarded as an outcast here in Brussels.

The American and I left the train together and I walked through the train station with him. Since I still had time until I could move into my apartment in the evening and since the sun was shining I decided to join him for his sightseeing tour.

We left the metro at the stock exchange and were received by the loud techno music of the last wagon of the Brussels gay pride parade. We had a drink on the central place (yeah, like real tourists!), talked about Europe (he has been around for a while already) and then left towards the European Parliament where I gave a rapid tour in EU politics. Hardest question: Who is the most important person in the EU?

In front of the Spaak building of the European Parliament we met three Algerians, one from Belgium, one from France, and a senator from Algeria, who were also on a visiting tour, and entered into a friendly discussion (in French) about European history and intercultural relations with them, a discussion that went on for about 15 minutes. The Algerian from Belgium told that it was the first time in the 40 years he was living in Belgium that he came to see the institutions, but he wanted to show his friends what we Europeans were able to develop over the last decades, which he thought could be a model for the Arab world, too (though he had doubts that this was possible).

The American and I ended our tour on Place Jourdain with Belgian fries and a drink in one of the cafés before we finally separated.

I walked to my apartment not very far from the place and finally got to know my Spanish housemate (Bruxelloise for several years already), her cat and her parents who were on a visit here in Brussels. We spent the rest of the evening with tasty Spanish food and wine, talking in Spanish and French about life in Spain and Germany.

This was a truly European day with so may different facets, and honestly: If I had just come for this one day, my travel to Brussels would have already been worth it!

Picture: © renaissancechambara / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


Philip Weiss said...

Welcome to Brussels Julian! And looking forward to hearing more of your Brussels stories and meeting face to face at a future Web2EU do...

Eurosocialiste said...

Bienvenu à Bruxelles!
Welkom in Brussel!
You'll get many more of these days here. What I enjoy the most about the place is to be able to speak the four langages I speak in just one evening. Only in Brussels...
About the business cards, yes you need some! I created some to promote my blog here:
It's cheap and environmentally friendly.

Julien Frisch said...

Merci Philipp & Eurosocialiste!!