By Joanna Jaskólska
Joanna Jaskólska, who works in regulatory affairs in the food sector, moved to Brussels from Erfurt in Germany in 2011.
Brussels is an international city where you can meet people easily. I enjoy the great diversity. My friends in Brussels come from many different countries, both in Europe and further afield, and have diverse ideas on how to live, what relations between people should be like, what happiness means, and what really matters in life. This diversity pushes you to open your mind and start questioning things that seemed obvious back home.
Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to find yourself between all those ideas, values and beliefs. I find it inspiring, and this is one reason why I like Brussels: it always pushes me to grow and develop.
Unfortunately, Brussels’ diversity of people is not always reflected in the activities the city offers. The theatres rarely stage English-speaking plays and it is not easy to find even stand-up comedy in English.
Many of the bars and restaurants seem old-fashioned, as if taken from a provincial town stuck in the 1980s or 1990s. This applies to the service and the high prices, too.
On the other hand, there are many new places — little wine or tapas bars — where you feel respected and appreciated as a customer. I really like Rue Haute, which has my beloved Bar Tapas 177. Also, Saint-Gilles, where I live, is great. The wine bars La Trinquette and Oeno tk (which has very friendly service), the tea place Tea For Two or the Italian CiPiaCe (although it is a bit pricey) are among my favourites.
The city’s vibrant Ixelles neighbourhood has many great restaurants and bars, including Les Fils à Maman (I recommend the risotto) and the newly opened Le Pacific cocktail bar. Wine Bar Mouchart, near Ixelles cemetery; Titulus, another wine bar; and my favourite Lebanese bistro Oliban are also worth a visit. The area I am planning to discover more in the coming weeks is the central Place de la Liberté.
I enjoy summer days in Brussels’ parks. Parc Duden, near my apartment, had a cool bar last summer with a great view of the city. Bois de la Cambre is perfect for jogging, because it is flat and big enough, while Parc du Cinquantenaire is another park with a nice bar in the summer. In winter, you cannot miss the Christmas market in the city centre, stretching from the Bourse area to Place Sainte-Catherine. It is full of lights and food from all over the world.
For the past year and a half, I have had the chance to compare Brussels and Amsterdam, because I travel to the Dutch city almost every other weekend to see my boyfriend. Amsterdam is much cleaner and friendlier to English speakers, and seems to be livelier than Brussels.
On Sundays in Brussels you can really struggle to find a place to eat, especially in the evening — a problem you definitely do not have in Amsterdam. Also, cultural activities in Amsterdam are easily accessible in English, and there are more shops and more modern bars, offering better customer service.
What Amsterdam lacks, though, is the cosiness of Brussels, and it has less of an international crowd. The food on offer and the wine bars seem better in Brussels, even if they are pricier.
When I first moved to Brussels from Germany, I looked round for the rules or customs that applied in a particular place (“Do not use mobile phones here”, “Bring your dishes back to the counter”). In Germany, you find this information everywhere and people seem lost or frustrated without it. Poland, too, where I come from, is a very organised country.
In Brussels, there are hardly any rules. Sometimes I like it — I feel free to be who I want to be. On the other hand, I would prefer a bit more order and safety. I do not know if I will stay in Brussels for ever, but so far it has suited me well and I enjoy living here.
What I wish I had known before moving to Brussels
Bureaucracy is slow and inefficient. Knowing this would have saved me a lot of frustration; I would have been prepared. Also, people do not speak English very well, which is surprising when you consider that Brussels is the “capital” of Europe. It is definitely much easier to live in Brussels if you speak some French.
If you would like to be considered for this series please complete our short survey.
Photographs: Getty Images/iStockphoto; Henri de Vergeron; Dreamstime; Getty Images