It’s starting to feel like I have my feet on the ground in Brussels now, though there are still one or two irritating practicalities to sort out before life becomes something like normal. First among these is my mobile phone. The details are too tedious to relate, but suffice it to say that I recommend no one moving to another country should ever rely on o2 to make life any easier for them. By the time I come back to the UK in a year’s time they might have unlocked my phone for use in another country as promised, but I’m not holding out too much hope.
But after last week’s nightmares at the Centre non-Administratif for Bruxelles-Ville, I am now fully registered as a Belgian resident, which means I have been able to open a bank account, which itself means no more constant bank fees for simply existing in another country. More importantly, I had the weekend away, which after last weekend’s massive workathon at the board meeting, was my first real chance at a bit of fun. And fun it was; I went off to Paris for the goodbye party of a friend who’s moving soon to Canada. We were also joined by my oldest friend, the only person I still know from primary school. Both of them have been out of Britain for a long time, and a friendship that you can simply pick up like that is a precious thing.
Here are the top five lessons from my little jaunt to la Ville-Lumière:
- Coach travel is a false economy. Yes, it only cost me €17 for a return ticket, but the coach driver left an hour and a half late, got lost on the peripherique in Paris, drove around two industrial estates in circles, rejoined the ring road, took the wrong slip road, reversed back down it, mounted a pavement to try and compensate for another wrong turn and avoid more circling, entered the gare routière through the exit, executed a 320° fifteen-point turn into a parking space intended for coaches going the other way without hitting a pillar and the wall more than twice, discovered it was the wrong space, and then took five minutes to open the door while all the passengers applauded, shouted “bravo” and tried to work out whether they were angry, relieved, or just hugely amused. All in all it took nearly 7 hours from arriving at the bus station in Brussels to actually arriving, and I felt like another €23 for the train (taking an hour and a quarter) might have been worth it.
- Why was I hungover, I hear you ask? Wine on top of beer: never a good idea.
- Paris is expensive, but great for enjoying a slice of the good life and watching the world go by, for example on the rue Montorgueil. Yes, the beers are €4 for a puny half pint; yes, Wikipedia describes it as ‘trendy’ (in most cases, this is more than enough to make me run a mile). But the standard of people-watching to be enjoyed is outstanding.
- Boy, do the French love a good protest. They’re in the middle of trying to grind the country to a halt over the outrageous suggestion that they be compelled to work beyond 60, and the scale of the marches that we saw at the Place de la Bastille and the Place de la Revolution were really impressive. I find myself scratching tapping your head, like a British Obelix, and thinking, “these Gauls are crazy”, at the same time as thinking that you have to hand it to them for the way they stick up for themselves.
- Much as I love people-watching on trendy streets, trendy bars are not my thing at all. This is not to knock Le Pompon; the atmosphere was good, if that’s your cup of tea. But arriving straight off a terrible coach journey, wearing your office clothes, and not being one of Paris’s top 300 most beautiful, fashionable people all leaves you feeling like something the dog dragged in. It’s got more to do with me than with anyone else, but that’s not my definition of a good night out. Saturday, at my friend’s flat, with excellent company and wine, was much better – even allowing for the resulting pain incurred in the learning of lesson 2.