Diary of an Adventure

Brussels Adventures

Brussels, with the sun shining, the wind a tad on the bone chilling side, full of the sweet smells of waffles. We walked through the Grand-place, the gilt on the buildings showing off in the last of the afternoon sun. Excellent music from buskers meant that we had an afternoon music festival as we wondered around. Not too lost.

For our lunchtime meeting, Carmen took us to La Fattoria Del Chianti, where we were happy to follow her suggestion of a home made linguini with artichoke and bacon bits. Scrumptious.

Dodgy wine from the dive around the corner, where they sell anything you have money enough to pay for. My Douglas Green, bottom of the barrel, wine at R100.00, only made reasonable by the fact that in the hotel it’s that per glass, or an equivalent for a coffee. Beer, is half the price.

One of Terry’s excellent decisions was to get us a couple of Reidel travel glasses. Every traveller should have these in their suitcase, as they improve anything you put into them. Fortunately, we have found better wine, along with excellent food. By chance we ended up at Mamy Louise in the Louise district. The food was tasty and elegant, the service good and the apple tart exceptional. In fact, I wouldn’t even bother with food next time, as the apple tart needs more than one serving (already generous) to be truly appreciated.

Tough meetings looking at funding priorities and what, if anything, makes sense, against the backdrop of ongoing chaos in South Sudan. Increasing reports of the mass killing of civilians and destruction of property not making it any easier. Our strategy of moving offices around, changing peoples jobs, and places to stay, to drive home the fact that Juba, and South Sudan have changed was well received, and something the EU will consider for their own return to South Sudan. The focus on ensuring that we control risks through adequate planning and documentation that does not rely on the individual was seen as a strength.

The early evening commute through the darkening city. Trees, black sculptures, shadows thrown by street lamps, dark shapes of beggars huddled in dark doorways, hands outstretched. The welcome warmth of a coffee shop. The endless divestiture of coat, scarves, gloves, bag. Exhausting.

Dinner at Carmen’s loft apartment, with far too much food, great wine and conversation that traversed the world, cultures and time.

The Iceberg, an interactive art installation that changes sound as you move through the space. The blue light on a cold winter night alive and vibrant.

Fran├žois in Sainte Catherine, chosen for the menu which had fresh coquilles Saint-Jacques, on Terry’s ‘must have’ list. I had Skrei, a seasonal Norwegian cod from the Barents Sea, which we enjoyed with an excellent French Chardonnay. Guess I didn’t need the Belgium chocolate mousse, but it was every bit as good as anticipated. The tart wild berries amazing.

The cards of my South Sudan paintings were well received, and were a great way of acknowledging the support we have received from the various parts of the EU. My bag is packed with new canvases for the next adventures.

Diary of an Adventure

Brussels Adventure

Dinner at Carmen’s

On the flight from Dubai we had a medical emergency and were diverted to Vienna, which meant a three hour delay. I had missed my connection from Frankfurt to Brussels and they wanted Euro850.00 to put me on the next flight as there we no economy seats. Otherwise I would have to wait until the evening flight. They suggested the train, which I was in time for and so enjoyed the three hour ride through a grey-brown landscape, still very much in the grip of winter. A few patches of white from the last snow falls provided some relief.

The hotel is in the old European quarter of Brussels (Hence, I assume, the sounds that woke me were not shots!) very modern with a central art gallery. The current exhibition is photographs from a single light source, a bit like aura images. The restaurant is a circular structure, build a bit like a garden pavilion, with a small garden leading out to the surrounding buildings, which are a mix of textures. Bare concrete, wood, old exposed brick, stainless steel and ivy clad walls. Very restful.

My meetings, a ten minute walk under sunny, crisp skies, down to the EU centre next to the Leopald Park. Excited to see that there was a Kandinsky exhibition at the museum, unfortunately not on the dates I will be here.

As the evening was clear, I decided to walk down to Carmen’s house, taking note of the metro stops along the route in case I got too lost through the winding streets or the weather turned. About 5km, the first part of which was fairly uninteresting. Lots of people with luggage walking to and from the main station which was almost midway along the route, stopping under the street lights to consult maps before deciding on the lottery of which of the five or six streets to follow leading from the intersections. No simple four way blocks here! The last part of the walk, was downhill, the cobble streets well signposted with ceramic plaques high above any vandalism. Church bells rang out above the city and only one wrong turn took me to her apartment in the Moroccan section of the city.

In the very best, restless development life tradition, her loft apartment has interesting bits from her postings across the globe, reinforced by floors seemingly taken from a wooden sailing ship. The walls, a mix of satin finish and exposed brick and the central kitchen, a modern master piece. The table was all Italian, as was the food, with the exquisite old linen tablecloth begging for red wine stains. I was ultra careful, not to oblige!

Carmen cooked food from south-east Italy, the taste and textures exquisite. A first course of Orecchette pomodorini e acciughe (orecchiette si a pasta typical of the Apulia region in south-east Italy), followed by Mozzarella di Bufala affumicata e friarielli (smoked buffalo mozzarella cheese and special broccoli, both from the Campania region, which is her home).

Breakfast at the hotel, a feeding frenzy as a horde of business types, in a zillion shades of dark suits and jackets, descended for refueling before they get on with the important task of meetings. Think if I see a burnt orange jacket I will get it in protest! Escaped to the coffee shop for a cappuccino.

My day, done by mid afternoon; the sun, still out, I grabbed the chance to head out for a walk to some of the main sites of Brussels. The Jubilee park with its triumphal arch is close to where the hotel is, so went up there first, full of kids out enjoying the one of ten sunny days a year!

As with much of the city, there are bunches of beggars camping in doorways and protected overhangs. They aren’t aggressive and a few have dogs who are in excellent condition, even if the owners are seriously tatty.

I stopped and did the tourist thing of a beer overlooking the square before joining the commuter rush.

Back down across the city to the Grand-Place with its fabulous guild halls, glistening in the afternoon sunlight. The best part was stumbling across Mary’s chocolatier. They consider themselves to be the last artesian chocolate maker in Brussels, which doesn’t really matter, as the chocolate is scrumptious.