Let’s start with today. We were invited to have lunch with some friends 25 km outside of Brussels, which by train takes around half an hour. Now what could possibly go wrong, you might ask? It is just 25 km… So we get on the train at Schuman station and 3 minutes later we reach Brussels-Luxembourg station, where the train stops. Two minutes pass and no movement. So we wait, and we wait and 20 minutes into the waiting finally someone from the rail company bothered to tell us to kindly get of the train as it has been canceled! We look around… Hmm, no 5 cm snow like last time to bring the whole of Belgium to a standstill. We finally find a conductor, who says he doesn’t know why it got cancelled, but it did and we have to wait. No problem. I relieve myself of my frustration by cursing and go to the waiting room (freezing cold by the way). The next train is in 40 minutes, on track 2… The 40 minutes pass, I relieve my remaining frustration by drawing something on the wall. Before getting to track 2, they change it to track 1. I ask the conductor, who was talking to his buddy on the phone, which track to go to but he didn’t even bother listening to me. Finally he says, track 1 is where the train should arrive. They even show it on the board, just so 2 minutes later to announce that nope, track 2 is the right one. Around 30 people run up and down the stairs to get to track 1…But guess what? Another 6 minutes delay. We get on the train, it turns out they hook it to another one and 30 minutes after we got on it, it finally left. In the meantime no one tells us what is happening, why are we still there. Overall it took us 2 hours to do 25 km (Last Friday a two hour train ride took us over four hours).
So after this small recollection of today’s joyful events, let me say that this article is not for THE PEOPLE LIVING IN THE EURO BUBBLE! This is the real side of Brussels.
Brussels without much exaggeration in one of the dirtiest cities I have ever been to (minus downtown Johannesburg in South Africa). It is just filthy! And I am talking about the main streets in the European quarter. I am not even talking about infamous neighborhoods such as Anderlecht.
So here are my reasons:
- Most of the times the trains are never on time, the conductors are rude and there is no such thing as informing the customers of what is happening when a problem occurs
- The metro is utterly disgusting. It is old, ill-managed, dirty and Schuman station under the EUROPEAN COMMISSION looks like it is a warzone! (and has been like this for 3, 4 years now, as long as I can remember)
- Public works take ages! In a lot of cases this results in dirty, muddy streets in such zones as De Bruckere.
- It is an administrative mess. There is the Federal Brussels region, but Brussels as such is just one of the 19 communes making up the city. So although you might think you live in Brussels you will end up registering in a completely different commune.
- There are only a handful of metro stations where disabled people can have access via a lift!!!! This is the EU for Gods sake! Even a small pub in rural Romania is required to have at least a ramp for disabled people. Nope, in Brussels a handful of stations have a lift. The other ones some dirty stairs, or escalators that most of the time don’t work
- Supermarkets are few, and hipermarkets inexistent. Food is ridiculously overpriced (more expensive than Paris; meat is almost a commodity at 12 euros for a kilo of chicken breast) and supermarkets are dirty, not hygienic and definitely not in line with EU norms.
- Bike-lanes are pretty much inexistent, or not taken account of. It is definitely not a bike friendly city.
- A lot of neighborhoods are dangerous and I heard of a lot of people getting robbed or a friend of mine beaten up for a phone. The police are ignorant and helpless and will just write a report so if you have insurance you can recover the value of the stolen goods.
- Most of the accommodation you rent close to the center either has bad internet, faulty electricity, faulty heating or the hot water just stops all of a sudden (not talking about the ridiculous rent and deposits). Most of stagiaires had one of these problems (electricity, warm water and bad internet in my case, no heating in other cases, or not being able to shower for days or having a flooded bedroom).
- Mobile phone calls are ridiculously expensive and customer service is not exactly what operators are renowned for. And people in general are rude!
- The number of ghettos is rising and I would not like to live in half of the city’s neighborhoods.
The list could go one. The bottom line is that, yes, you find a lot of internationals, yes you have tens of thousands of EU officials or people working in connection with the EU and it is multicultural. But I am sorry to disappoint people, but it is not worthy to be a European Capital. It is just not. It does not set an example! Public security, hygiene, transport, housing is quite a big issue and a lot of EU norms are just not taken into account and most of all it feels like no one actually cares about this city.
Brussels 12 February 2012