Brussels: A love letter to the capital

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    This Spring, I said I wouldn’t fall in love with anyone. By my second week living in Belgium, I knew I had failed dramatically.

    I was in love with Brussels.

    I fell in love the way you eat a perfect dessert: slowly, pretending you’re going to savour it, and then all at once, as if you’re afraid it’ll run away before you can take the last bite. It wasn’t really fair the way the city snuck up on me, handing me piping hot frites and charming me with spectacular architecture, beautifully landscaped parks and bustling city streets. The scent of baking waffles drifted around every corner and left me swooning.

    You should know that I’m from the States, and not the fun part of the States – I’m no New Yorker, like everyone seems to assume (but thanks, I’m flattered). I’m from Missouri, aka ‘the middle’, so, really, Brussels just had to be more than a bunch of cornfields to impress me.

    The city managed that and more. I’m infatuated. So, this is a letter to Brussels, from a girl who’s about 7,168km from home and has never been happier.

    Dear Brussels,

    At first, I wasn’t so sure about you. On my first day, I trekked through the cold drizzle to the Grand Place because I was told that that’s what a tourist is supposed to do. I felt the water seep through my riding boots as my toes got colder and colder. Then I couldn’t feel my toes at all. If this was going to be a common occurrence, I thought, I might not be able to handle this city.

    I stopped in a coffee shop to defrost and get a caffeine boost. I ordered a small coffee, expecting a normal-sized cup. I don’t know that you understand the purpose of coffee, Brussels, because the barista handed me the tiniest coffee cup I’ve ever seen (No, it wasn’t espresso. I asked. My French is horrible, but it’s not that bad). I downed it like I was taking a particularly delicious shot. How could I exist in this city that does not understand proper coffee sizes and douses me in water every time I leave my apartment?

    Fuelled by my baby coffee, I ploughed forward. I was feeling pretty negative, but the closer I got to the Grand Place, the more you chipped away at my resolve. I kept thinking, “OK, I guess this park is kind of pretty,” and “It’s a little bit perfect the way the streets wind around each other, but whatever.” By the time I rounded the corner and saw the majestic Grand Place and all the ornate buildings around it, I knew you had me. You had me good.

    You’re beautiful. It astounds me that even buildings that aren’t churches or historical monuments, like the Urban Outfitters on Avenue Louise, are stunning. Your attention to aesthetic beauty is reflected in your care for parks and green spaces as well. I could spend weeks wandering around the Bois de la Cambre or Parc du Cinquantenaire.

    But it’s not just the way you look, Brussels. I love you for your brain, too. It’s easy to tell the people here are very well educated. Some have two master’s degrees or a Ph.D.; they speak five or six or seven languages. The EU attracts people who are invested world citizens and people who truly care about their impact on their city, their country and Europe as a whole. There’s nowhere else in the world where I’ve seen such a wonderful and diverse mix of cultures, and Brussels, you accept and encourage that diversity.

    Cultural diversity means culinary diversity, too, and you know I couldn’t write a love letter without dedicating a paragraph solely to food. On one corner there’s a Vietnamese restaurant where every chair is painted in a different colour and American ‘80s music plays on loop, and then a block away you can catch the Ireland vs. Wales rugby game at a packed Irish pub. Of course, the Belgian classics — chocolate, waffles, frites and mussels — are something to be proud of, too. When I bit into my first Neuhaus chocolate, I swear the heavens opened up and showered glitter on my head.

    So thank you, Brussels, for being everything I hoped you’d be. Thank you for accepting me and showing me a world of beautiful buildings and incredible food and intelligent people.

    I’m so lucky to love you.

    Sincerely,

    Julia Bush

    P.S. I’m mad at you for making me gain five pounds in two months, by the way, but we can discuss that later.

    Photo Neuhaus: Edoderoo

    Photo waffle: RALPH DAILY