A Belgian Weekend

This was going to be a post about one of my two (two!!!) new makes from last week, complete with photos taken in Brussels. Sadly I fell down some stairs on my first night there and smashed my chin open on the pavement. Yes, alcohol was involved. I’ve decided that the world isn’t ready for pictures of my manky chin, so you’re just going to have to wait for the clothes posts.

In the meantime, I offer you this picture of a pig outside the Berlaymont (European Commission headquarters). The pig is called Hope, and she’s part of a campaign calling upon the Commission to uphold laws protecting pigs from inhumane treatment in Europe. It’s all very interesting, and you can find out more about the campaign here, and the other work Compassion in World Farming do here.

This is one of the more sedate demonstrations I’ve seen in Brussels. The dustmen’s protest involved setting fire to all the street bins within a kilometre of my office, and I had a firecracker thrown at me while trying to get through the annual farmers blockade near my work (they then sprayed the European Parliament with milk and partied in the square outside, apparently oblivious to the smell).

We spent most of our trip trying to catch up with as many of our friends as possible, and generally eating and drinking too much. It would be a lot easier if all of our friends were friends with each other, but we have diverse tastes, so we just had to cram everyone into any available gap. It was great to catch up on everyone’s news and I was pleased I could fit in a lunch with my old office buddies at Lunch and More, a brilliant Polish Restaurant close to Arts Loi specialising in pierogi (yummy dumplings).

Of course we couldn’t come back without some of our favourite Belgian treats (and a bottle of Soviet Champagne, because we found a Russian supermarket).

Foire du Midi

Once a year, when most people have packed up and gone on holiday for two months over the summer, Brussels closes a quarter of the ring road around the centre of the city and sets up a gigantic fun fair. I think it’s because nobody is protesting around the European Quarter and they don’t want us to get bored. Contrary to popular belief, boring is the one thing Brussels is not.

I say they close off the road, but that’s not strictly true. There are still cars booting it across the fair at various intersections, and the trains clatter overhead. 

Ferret roulette was noticeably absent this year, although there was a carousel with real horses and a massive beach ball with a child inside. There was also a kind of G-force simulator which looked quite fun. I’m a bit of a scaredy cat though so I didn’t actually try any rides out. 

Nor, it seems, did I take pictures of the interesting ones. Mostly I took pictures of the fascinating people, although I’m still a bit shy when it comes to street photography and a lot of the people looked scary. Note to self: man up! 

See – scary! If it hadn’t been for the calming qualities of the snails, I would have feared for my life.

This dog waited patiently while his owner tried to win a telly. There was also the possibility of winning a fridge-freezer, although it was unclear whether this would be delivered to you at a later date, or whether you had to drag it home on the tram.
We’re planning to go back after dark at some point. I think my stealth sneaky spy cam might come into its own in the black of night. Or, more likely, people will be so drunk they won’t notice me taking pictures.
I think the annual pilgrimage to the inner city fair is one of the things that we will miss when we leave.

Balkan Party at Café Maison du Peuple

Last Friday night saw us heading down to Saint Gilles for the first of my birthday parties at Café Maison du Peuple. I am having two birthday parties this year because a) I want to, and b) my actual birthday falls on a Wednesday, which is widely recognised as the suckiest of all birthday days.

Café Maison du Peuple is on the Parvis de Saint Gilles, home to a fantastic Sunday market, a pretty church, and much of Brussels burgeoning hipster population. It’s in the building which replaced the original Maison du Peuple, Victor Horta’s largest and, some would say, most impressive work. It was demolished in 1965, as the mayor, Lucien Cooremans, embarked on a spree of Brusselisation, destroying many historic buildings to make way for unsightly modern tower blocks. Even a protest by 700 architects couldn’t sway Cooremans, and we are now left with a building so nondescript I couldn’t tell you the first thing about the exterior.

Once you get inside, the café looks much more promising. Exposed brickwork, wooden tables and glass feature heavily in the design. They also have a nice terrace out the front where you can while away the hours quite happily in the summer months. They serve food until 10pm, which is just what you need to soak up the alcohol.

We were a big group, and managed to annex tables throughout the night, eventually creating something big enough that we could all sit together fairly comfortably. Some planning on my part could have resolved this situation, but I barely managed to put together a Facebook invitation, anything more struck me as overkill.

At 10pm, DJ Grounchoo hit the decks for his Balkan Party. This turned out to be a fusion of dance beats and Balkan folk, all administered by three guys with moustaches in military dress uniforms. It was incredible. Cue energetic dancing for hours, a lot of clapping, a drunken trek home and the perfect way to begin the birthday celebrations.

The Irish Guy

This is my current favourite busker in Brussels. He’s referred to as The Irish Guy by my colleagues, or ‘your cousin, Paddy O’Flanagan’ by my friend Thomas.

He normally plays the tin whistle, but I think he’s playing a recorder here. I once saw him playing a melodica during a snow storm.  

He has a bit of a rota going on, although I’ve never quite worked it out. Some days he’s outside Arts Loi metro, sometimes he’s up near Schuman. I once saw him in Galeria Inno (the worlds most disappointing department store). I’ve been trying to take a picture of him for weeks.

We have yet to determine whether he’s actually Irish.

Tales from the Metro 2

Today, at Vanderkindere, where all tales from the metro seem to begin, someone asked me whether this was where she could catch the 25.

– Le 25? 
– Ouais.
– Il y a un 25? 
– Merde.

After further investigation, it turned out that there is a line 25, but it kind of goes round the opposite side of the city. She headed off, grumpily phoning whoever had given her shoddy directions in the first place.

Once safely onto tram no. 3 (which does indeed stop at Midi), I was serenaded by the delightful busker who seems to only know Sway (and then, only the first two verses). He sings in what I think is the accent of a Spaniard who doesn’t actually speak English:

Dancewime, maikemeswaiy,
Holmecloss, swaiymemorrrrre

On the plus side, he has a guitar, not an accordion.

I couldn’t find a video of him, so here is a guy in Antwerp playing a horn violin, which is apparently a real instrument. There’s someone who does this on the metro in Brussels, too – maybe the same guy. I don’t look. If you make eye contact, you pay. I think that’s how it works.

I share the bus journey home with a postman and his little cart of letters. I like to assume that he has a really big route, and wasn’t just heading off to Flagey to dump them in the lake. I’m guessing he avoided having to buy two tickets (one for the cart) by hopping on the back of the bus which is VERY ILLEGAL, as we were reminded by the angry driver on several occasions. We are also now aware that THE BUS HAS PRIORITY WHEN PULLING OUT, NON??? PUTAIN DE MERDE!!!