When I started telling people I bought a one-way ticket to Brussels, their responses ranged from puzzled to horrified to “Are you joining ISIS?” Like almost everyone, I was also somewhat worried about being in what has become a hot spot for terrorist activity as of late. But unlike almost everyone, I went ahead and came anyway. And as it turns out, I had nothing to worry about. It was pleasant, safe, and full of things to do. But could I live here? That’s another story.
Being somewhere that has been hit by a terrorist attack is both reassuring and unsettling. There are armed guards at the airport, on the streets, and at events. Seeing them is nice because it makes me feel like if anyone tried to blow themselves up in my general vicinity, they would get shot down before doing any harm. On the other hand, it’s also a reminder that there may be people lurking that are looking to cause catastrophic damage to the city and its people. Outside of that, there is something about Brussels that doesn’t make me feel as carefree and safe as I do in most other European cities. Maybe it’s the fact that it reminds me a little bit of Paris. And we know I basically hate Paris. The beautiful squares are full of what seem like loners just looking around. There are certain areas that are a little ghetto and not in a quaint Eastern European way. I wouldn’t say I feel unsafe here, but I definitely don’t feel as safe as I would prefer to feel in a place I live.
I’ve spent several days immersed in the city, taking the transportation, walking the streets, and having a meal and a beer in the local bars. From what I’ve seen, it’s always pretty lively. There are always at least pockets of life throughout the city where you can find late night snacks, a drink, and people walking around the street. Because of the strong French influence, I find myself thinking that the city has a bit of an identify crisis. Where Ghent and Bruges feel more strongly Belgian, Brussels kinda feels like a mess of other cultures with no real identity of its own. There are some parts of the city that are downright obnoxious, like the Rue des Bouchers, which is a claustrophobic street full of restauranteurs trying their best to lure you into their overpriced eatery. However, venturing out from tourist spots like those, there are great times to be had.
I’ve been in Belgium as a whole for a full week. There’s something about the people of Brussels that just seem a little more dour than the Belgians of Ghent and Bruges. As I mentioned above, there is even a vague threatening air about some people. And to my surprise, we’ve twice been cat-called. To be honest, I have no idea what was said, but I could feel the intent. And one of the reasons I want to leave Miami so bad is to never have to put up with that kind of behavior so I certainly don’t want to relocate to a place where that is commonplace.
The transportation system in Brussels is solid. It is definitely the transportation system of a very livable city. In addition to the Metro and trams being extremely efficient, clean, and useful, the Metro stations are all individually a work of art. They are all uniquely and beautifully designed. This is a city where taking transportation is inevitable because it’s too big to walk. Though I have no intention of driving, it also seems like a relatively decent place to have a car. The traffic is light and the roads are convenient and well-maintained.
This is one of the areas in which it seems like Brussels is extremely French. The other night, we got a cheese plate that had only soft cheeses. And I have to be honest, I can’t live in a world where I can’t get a nice sharp hard cheese. Also I have to say, I’ve had it with frites and waffles. Even the smell of those sugary waffles is grossing me out a little bit. That being said, there is a lot of variety here. You can have French, Italian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and even Cuban all within a block of each other. Or you can just default to beer and waffles.
Total Livability Score: 3/10
Brussels seems like a semi-generic large city, with all the pitfalls and benefits of such, but no particular charm to set it apart. I loved visiting, but would not consider it as a place to move.