Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Perils of Walking in Brussels

Oy, I've been putting off this post, knowing it would be a long whiny one, but here goes!

Walking in Brussels takes quick thinking, stealthy maneuvers, eyes everywhere and constant awareness of the people around you. The uneven cobblestones may give you enough trouble, but then there's the dog (or horse) shit, slow/stupid people, cars, buses, trash and even the odd zucchini! God help you if it's raining, or even if you want to look up to enjoy the scenery on a lovely day! So here is my list of things to look out for if you happen to be visiting (or living) in this lovely city.

1. Cobblestones. Cobblestones are the most frequent offenders on this list. First of all, they are almost always uneven, many jutting up enough to cause a stubbed toe. This happens to me about once a day and I often see it happen to others. Irregular cobblestones are far better than missing cobblestones, or loose ones that have been dug up and vertically placed. Also, beware of loose ones when it rains or you will be muddy in no time flat. Please scroll for examples.

2. Shit. Dog shit is everywhere in Brussels and I honestly don't understand why people don't clean up after their dogs. Often you will see a big fresh one with a foot print right in the middle and smears going down the sidewalk. *shudder* Something else I've seen (though not commonly) is horse shit. Granted, that would be harder to clean, but come on, especially when it's right. In. The. Crosswalk. Ugh. People, if you have a dog (or a horse) please be responsible and clean up after it. And walkers, keep a close lookout, the moment you look up and start enjoying a lovely Art Nouveau building there will be poop.

3. People. If you read my post about the hoard of children you will already have a sense of what I'm talking about. In my neighborhood people are everywhere and if you are in a rush, you had better guarantee that they will be especially slow just for you. Many people will walk slowly and 3 abreast so you cannot pass. If they are slow because they walk with a cane they will swerve around to ensure passing is impossible. Women with hummer-sized strollers will park themselves in the exact doorway of the exact shop you want to go into. The people who are actually walking at a brisk pace will decide to abruptly stop in a random place in the middle of the sidewalk, maybe to talk to a friend, maybe to text someone, maybe just for fun, who knows.

Also, do not attempt to play "chicken" with these people. They will not move. If they see you coming and keep on walking either swerve or prepare for impact. If it is entirely their fault that you run into them they will be angry and will possibly yell at you. If it is your fault they won't even notice. Never expect an apology but be pleasantly surprised when you get one.

4. Cars. In theory, cars stay in the road, so the only time you should have to worry about them is when you are crossing the street. In Brussels this is mostly true. When on the sidewalk about to cross and a car is speeding towards you, make sure they see you before stepping into the street (seems logical, right?). There are times when drivers will blatantly ignore crosswalks and speed right through. When this happens I like to yell at the back of the car, most likely "COME ON!!!" or "JESUS!!!", I also like to gesticulate wildly.

I was trying to cross once and this slow moving car was coming towards me and I nearly stepped into the road. It's a damn good thing I didn't, because this guy (a Congolese man) just kept driving. I gesticulated, as did others, and he looked at us with this big grin and waved. I had to laugh. Maybe he had recently arrived in Brussels thought "Wow, such nice people! All waving at me!"

5. Cars+People. This may not be true elsewhere in Brussels, but here in the Matonge it is something to be aware of. People will congregate on the sidewalks outside of hair dressing shops and record shops and basically take over the sidewalk. If you try to walk by more often than not they will refuse to move, forcing you to walk in the street. If this happens, be sure to check for oncoming cars. Take my word for that one.

6. Construction. Construction is happening all the time in Brussels. It often continues for ridiculous amounts of time and closes off sidewalks for all kinds of digging and ridiculously loud processes. (Side note: this will often start at 6am the morning you can actually sleep in and stop completely at 9am, never to start again.) This may mean there are detours, large boards used to cover up larger holes and other such obstacles. Proceed cautiously. There may also be random detours with minimal explanation. Beware, people may decide that this is the ideal spot to puke. No joke.

(Of course immediately after taking this picture, in an attempt to avoid stepping in the mess I tripped over the aluminum bars and twisted my ankle. That's what I get for complaining!)

7. Zucchinis? Yep, but this only happened once. There was a giant zucchini in the middle of the sidewalk. I just thought I'd include it because you really never know what you are going to see!

So there you have it, the perils of walking in Brussels. I think it's fun to put a positive spin on it and pretend you are in a video game. +10 points for not tripping on the cobblestone, +20 points for avoiding the dog poop, etc. Those who are advanced can try this routine with an umbrella in the windtunnel that is Porte de Namur! Good luck! And remember, if it happens to be sunny and warm, the sunny side is that much more likely to smell like piss (or is that just in the Matonge?)

Sunday, April 1, 2012


So I know I promised the post on walking in Brussels, but again, circumstances have intervened and I feel the need to share something else.

We have new neighbors both upstairs and down, the latter came by on Friday night so invite us to their housewarming the following night. They seemed like nice, early 20s flemish guys, so we said we might stop by. We didn't for one reason or another (ok, I was feeling lazy...). When the music started (same bass line, I was sure it was that Bacardi pre-mixed mojito commercial) at 7pm I chuckled and thought these guys are serious. Then "Circle of Life" from Lion King came on, quirky, I thought.

But the bass continued, rattling our floor, punctuated by cheers. By 2am I started to get fed up and was weighing my options. I didn't want to call the police, that would be extreme. But, if I knocked on their door I didn't want to be that neighbor. They had invited me, after all.

Around 2:30 they started playing a remix of "Big Jet Plane." Another song and then "Big Jet Plane." I'll just skip ahead and tell you that the played it 5 TIMES. In a HALF HOUR. It was around this time that I heard a noise on the staircase going up, but I thought at the time, maybe it's just our neighbors upstairs coming home.

A few minutes later I popped my head out the door to see how loud it was in the hallway. I saw a straw hat on our landing (it's 1 apartment per floor, w. small landings every half flight of stairs) and I muttered under my breath "Seriously?" and threw it down to the floor below. Then I heard another noise coming from above. I looked up at the landing above ours and what should I see??

A BARE ASS PUMPING AWAY. Yep, people were having full on sex on the windowsill a few steps up from my door. No longer in the mood to play nice I said something along the lines of "SERIOUSLY??!!?!?! You should NOT be doing that!! What the hell?!?! Come ON!!" I heard a couple of meek "sorry"'s as I marched downstairs (in my pijamas) and knocked on the door.

My heart was pounding as I tried to ask nicely for them to at least turn the bass down, as it was by this time 3:30am. They were very nice and did indeed turn it down. The guilty couple came down around this point and were trying to explain that I shouldn't worry, this was housewarming party and a one time thing. I said "Don't worry, I know, I was invited."

I finally went back upstairs feeling victorious, but no longer tired at all.