I’m an arrogant person. When in spring 2018 my husband presented me with an idea of moving to Brussels, wrapping it in a nice: “Think, there will be more for you to write about on your blog.”, my initial reply was something like this:
“I’ve already had a post on Brussels on my blog. It is called half day to spend in Brussels because this is exactly the amount of time I want to spend in Brussels. No more.”
We moved to Brussels in early September 2018.
It was not a new city for me. I have been to Brussels many times before, usually heading to some meeting room from the train station or airport, and then either spending a night in some nice or disgusting hotel or running back to catch some form of transport back home. In my eyes, Brussels was a big (and a bit dirty) office equipped with a couple of waffle and chocolate shops and a Peeing Boy fountain. Not a place where I would spend more than half a day. And now I live here. Like, for days and then weeks, and then months. Oh boy!
So I complained. The rubbish bags in the street. Seriously, can’t they have normal containers? A coffee for 3 euros? This is a robbery. Public transport on strike again? What, the third time this year? Enough already! And I could go on and on and on. The only thing I have probably NOT complained about (although it seemed like everyone else did) was the weather. After Lithuania, it has actually been a pleasant surprise.
During that time I was also pregnant, and differently from my first pregnancy, this time I was feeling like shit most of the time. And in addition to all the usual side-effects, like nausea and weakness, it seemed to have completely changed my personality. Instead of being active and easily excited about things, I turned into a blob, which prefered lying in bed to pretty much anything. Including writing this blog.
So I continued with my life in this slow and passive way. Prior to losing myself to the pregnancy, I’ve planned a number of trips for the autumn, so I’ve done most of them. I went on a press trip to Basel, visited the World Travel Market in London and spent some days working in Tirana. All together we went on a family holiday to Tenerife and spent Christmas in Vilnius and New Year in Copenhagen. And gradually, as the pregnancy moved into the second trimester, I have slowly started to feel that some of this grey film on my eyes is coming off. I bought some comfortable pregnancy clothes to accommodate the changes in the body and started to have hope for the third trimester.
Only the third trimester never came. In January I’ve celebrated my 33 birthday and only 4 days later I completely unexpectedly gave birth to little Ian. January instead of May. That was early indeed. As this is not a mothering blog, I will spare most of the details of our stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of St Luc Hospital, which lasted 98 days.
During these days there were exactly 3 times when I thought my son would die. There were a couple of litres of tears, several panic attacks (new territory for me), one visit to the psychologist and hours of angst and worry. There was also a lot of happiness, laughter, love and friendships. It is strange to think that now – in May – I’m still 33, just as before. I know now that ageing is an inconsistent process.
But it was during this time that my attitude towards Brussels has started to change. It started within the hospital walls, smiles of the staff and genuine care. With waiting rooms always stocked with coffee, tea and speculoos cookies free of charge – because if you did not know, speculoos cookies are a basic human right, at least in Brussels. Of having the same hospital covered for anyone by basic public insurance, and one day meeting Jean Claude Van Damme there – because hey, public healthcare is good enough for him.
It then expanded outside the hospital. I have noticed strangers giving up seats to each other on the bus. A woman holding the doors of the tram open, so that a young man could run and get on it. A pharmacist offering me to take the medicine and pay for it later, when I’ve discovered I have forgotten my wallet at home. After a while, I have suddenly caught myself feeling loved and cared for in the city where I hardly know anyone – just by the city and the system itself.
Noticing that the garbage bags in the streets are so numerous because the recycling system is in place. Learning that the beans for my coffee in a little neighbourhood cafe in Schaerbeek come from a particular independent roaster in Vilnius, because the cafe’s Albanian owner happens to think they are some of the best in Europe (and here I was wondering why it tastes particularly good!). And realising that strike is a tiny price to pay for having workers (being a worker), who are protected.
Then spring came. I expected magnolias, but I was not prepared for blooming cherry tree corridors just a street from our house. Our window overlooks a garden, and although I will never like it as much as the one in my house in Vilnius, the grass here is quite green. Brussels is far from perfect, and yes, the weather is a disaster! But I think we will stay for a while longer.
I’ve been told by pretty quote pictures on Instagram that travelling expands your horizons. And it might still be true. But staying put in Brussels for half a year have expanded my horizons as no trip could ever do.