Brussels has an image problem. Its city planning suffered from an overly strong infatuation with brutalist architecture in the 60s and resulted in stupendously hideous constructions, which include some of the EU buildings. The tug of war between the regional governments–and the arcane laws–leave the city underfunded and disorganized, and construction projects can drag on for years. The bureaucracy is byzantine, and getting mundane things done, like opening a bank account or registering oneself with a commune, often turns into one of the labors of Hercules. The weather also doesn’t win bonus points. “Why on earth Brussels?” asked my mom when I told her that we were moving.
My first impression of Brussels on a freezing winter day was unpromising. I emerged out into the chaotic area near the Gare Centrale and found myself in a grey tinted mash up of 19th century curvy facades and faceless cement boxes. By the time I reached the Grand Place, I had to pass through so many rings of tacky haunts selling cheap souvenirs and touristy trinkets that even the elegance of the Renaissance guild houses inside the central square seemed compromised. Eventually my husband and I made our way to Quai aux Briques, an esplanade dotted by baroque and medieval buildings. We drank hot chocolate as rain darkened the façade of Sainte Catherine church and turned the square into an Impressionist painting–and suddenly the city felt like a place where I could live.