Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Moving to Brussels, Part 2

Well it’s official – I signed the lease for a studio apartment in the St. Catherine area of Brussels yesterday. Flat-hunting turned out to be relatively painless. I looked at some really nice places. It’s insane how cheap rent is in Brussels, if I had gone with an unfurnished apartment I could have gotten a really nice place that I could never afford in London or New York. But I decided to go with a furnished smaller place with a cheaper rent. There’s really no reason I need a big one-bedroom apartment, and I’d rather use that saved money to get out of Brussels frequently! And I was really not looking forward to the prospect of having to furnish a place, especially when I don’t know how long this little Brussels adventure will last.

This is, after all, essentially a trial. I’ll still be a UK employee on a temporary (one year) secondment in Brussels. Once that year is up (or possibly sooner) it will be time to decide how I like living in Brussels. I gave it a little test last year for a month, but spending the full year there will really let me see if it’s somewhere I can live comfortably.

Given that my company is UK-based, it would also be an option for me at a later date to live in London and just go into Brussels during the week. My company may decide that this is a better arrangement before this year secondment is over. But doing the job from London so far has been a bit frustrating, because I’ve felt really detached from everything going on. I’ve had to do all the reporting over the phone from my desk, watching press conferences and hearings in live video streams when available. Being in Brussels will allow me to be at the heart of the action, which I think should make the job a lot more exciting.

But is it worth the sacrifice of living in Brussels? That remains to be seen. I have to admit I’m not all that enthused about the city – mostly because it seems like everyone who lives there or who has even just been there hates it. The most frequent thing I’ve heard about Brussels from its residents is that you have to find your own niche there. It’s not a city like New York or London that’s immediately going to present countless exciting opportunities for entertainment. It takes a bit more work.

I think I’m going into this with a positive (but realistic) attitude though, and I’m ready to try and find my niche in a small city. Having lived there for a bit last year I know what to expect, so I don’t think I’ll end up being disappointed when it’s not as exciting as previous cities I’ve lived in. I’m ready to accept it for what it is. That being said, I do plan on coming to London once or twice a month, and given that I tend to travel a lot for work as well, I may not end up being in Brussels much anyway.

My studio is overlooking St. Catherine square, which used to be a fish market. It’s just east of the Grand Place and is an area with lots of funky bars and charming old buildings. It’s also super convenient for public transportation. I think I’m going to like it.

So now I’ll just be taking care of a few odds and ends over the next week before I make the big move on 6 March. It’s funny, it will be a lot like back in August 2008 when I boarded the Eurostar with my friend Lori, 6 suitcase between us, for my big move to Paris. Really, by now I should have this down to science. But it’s still always a bit annoying to move. I’ll be glad once it’s all done and over with.


randy said...

Saw your post on a google news alert. We have an expat club called Belgium Studs, which is basically a cheap excuse to get together and drink beer and BS. Most of us have followed our wives here because of corporate jobs. We do have 2 or 3 journalists with us, one I know writes for the Bulletin. We meet every Friday in Stockel for lunch and a BS session. If you want the inside tips on how to navigate the bureauocracy that is Belgium, and make some new friends quickly, this is the place to be. Send me an email if you want more info.


Vincent said...

Very exciting, good luck with the move!