Monday, 29 October 2012

Out of Africa

IMG_0351Despite everyone still speaking French, Brussels, even if just for 60 hours, was a very pleasant change from Senegal. Although I thought I was getting away from the touts, the cheats, and the average person who simply wants to get your money - case in point, being cheated at the airport on the way out when I thought I was being nice by taking some Euros off a woman who I thought was given them as charity by arriving passengers and giving her CFA, only to find out later that she had substituted some Euro coins for similar looking worthless CFA coins – may be people like that burn in hell! – but back to the story. I was reminded, upon arrival in Brussels, that capitalism simply results in large, organised companies being evil and trying to rip you off rather than individuals doing it in a non-organised way. A coffee in a large cup at the coffee shop chain at the airport results in them taking it a little too literally – the cup is large, but the volume of coffee is slightly less than what would have fitted in the small cup. May that company suffer the wrath of the European financial crisis!

Manneken Pis - and the female equivalent, which looks more like
Golem from Lord of the Rings taking a leak.
I wasn't even sure whether I should have left Dakar for the long weekend. Friday was Eid-al-Adha, locally known as Tabaski, and I was invited to spend the feast with one of my colleague’s family. Although I was curious to see the change from having thousands of sheep and goats all over the city to all of a sudden them all being on the dinner place, I was too scared this might turn me into a vegetarian. So I spent a lot of money to have a few days of solace and catching up with a good friend – and it couldn't have been better. Despite the trip being focused around ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’, we still got quite a lot in.
There was the mandatory walking tour of the city centre to see all the impressive sites – and impressive they wear. I really do like the classical European cities with the 3-4 storey high buildings that look so elegant, the beautiful city halls, the clean streets… it’s all so, civilised. It reminded me a bit of Copenhagen - good memories of course...

IMG_0366The Botanic Gardens north of the city were actually quite a highlight. After the dreary brown of the Sahel, the Autumn colours of northern Europe were just stunning, especially against the well manicured gardens and one of the most awesome greenhouses I have ever been inside (and not just because it helped me escape from the almost zero degree weather, which I thought I would quite enjoy without the need for warm clothes after the horrible heat and humidity of Senegal). An educational trip, I even discovered, whilst walking through the Australia section, that plant species was named after my ‘home’ suburb! Learn a new thing every day…
A couple of other treasures in the gardens include tree roots sticking up through the ground which have an uncanny resemblance with some kind of animal standing on its hind quarters, as well as a stunning castle jutting out into a lake – my retirement home!
The top right photo in the collage has the view towards Brussels' version
 of the MI5 building - or at least that's what it looks like to me...
The one real tourist attraction that we visited (well, apart from those seen walking through the city) was the Atomium. Sadly, despite scoring highly on Tripadvisor, this has got to be one of the worst tourist attractions ever when it comes to value for money. The giant statue representing an iron crystal enlarged 160 billion times was built for an Expo on 1958 does look pretty cool, and promises a great view over the city. Unfortunately, the stupidly steep entrance fee coupled with the queues to go to the top put a bit of a damper on the ‘reasonable’ view from the top atom.

Delirium - the pub with the biggest beer selection in the
world - not somewhere indecisive people like me
should hang out...
The weekend, importantly in my opinion, was focused around eating, drinking and talking. Brussels certainly lived up to my expectations (at least I don’t think it was purely because of the contract) in terms of the food and drink. Where else can two consecutive meals consist purely of waffles? Or where else can one enjoy such fantastically tasting beers for only a few euros each. This was definitely a highlight of the trip. On the other hand, perhaps I should worry about how happy I was to even just have McDonalds at the airport on the way home… Even if this didn't compensate for learning the hard way that TAP really does stand for "Take Another Plane" - a 2.5 hour delay without a single announcement nor apology meant arriving at work on Monday with 2.5 hours worth of airplane sleep and nothing more...

Well, since it wasn't a particularly touristy weekend, but I still liked what I saw, I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking…
In Copenhagen, dogs ride in bicycle baskets, in Brussels, they ride in wheelbarrows...

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