We were blessed with some unusually warm and sunny days during the past week and I decided to walk to work, a habit I had given up on lately, in order to save myself 10 minutes of walking and 5 minutes of total travelling time by taking the metro for two stops from Schuman.
The half-hour walk to work begins with getting out from my apartment, which is easier than its sounds. Since the door is a sliding door that decided to stop sliding a few weeks ago, exiting means a lot of pushing, while cajoling a recalcitrant block of wood to budge. Once that task has been achieved there is only two flights of stairs and a far less stubborn door between me and the outside world.
Turning to the right I walk downhill, past the house that still last week was decorated with flowers, in memory of the mother and three children that were murdered there last month. Another right and I am walking past a garden where wild cats peek out at me while eating the food that neighbouring cat-lovers leave for them.
Two blocks later I turn left onto Chausseé de Wavre, which as usually is one endless traffic jam. On miserable rainy days I look longingly at the bus stop, from where a convenient bus and metro would take me to work, but looking back along Chausseé de Wavre I see three or four bus nr 34s in the never-ending jam (sounds kinda delicious, if you take out the buses), and decide to walk through the deserted play-ground towards Place Jourdan instead. At the corner of the square the warm welcoming light of the bakery beckons me. I cannot help but turn my head towards the glow, where exquisitely decorated pastries and loaves of bread fill the store. There is something comforting about the sight of bread and it makes me long for home, but there is no turning back.
Entering Place Jourdan I walk past Maison Antoine‘s, which has yet to open, sparing me the torture of wandering through aromas of freshly made french (or rather Belgian) fries. In the evening the terraces fill with people, many with packs of those famous fries, but at this hour most of the cafés lining the square are empty, and only a few customers brave the morning chill to sit on the terraces with their morning coffee. The employees of the cafés, brasseries, restaurants and snack bars that I walk past are busy arranging tables and washing the pavement outside their establishments.
After Place Jourdan comes the favourite part of my walk as I enter Parc Léopold. The pond lies calm at this hour, with a swan gliding serenely through the water. The soft ripples turn the reflections into an impressionist painting and surrounding trees have pools of colour below matching branches. Most of the people walking through the park in the morning are on their way to work, with the occasional dog-walker breaking the monotony of business attire. Once in a while I am passed by children from the nearby school, running in circles around the pond as a part of their PE class. I empathize with the girls as their steps begin to falter, remembering all too well my own gym classes in school.
I have always liked nature in the autumn. It is as if the process of dying enhances the scents of the trees and earth around me, and as I breath in the morning air I can almost forget I am in a small city park surrounded by suits and heels, and imagine myself in a forest far away from the hustle and bustle of Brussels.
Suddenly a flock of Canada geese descend noisily from above, causing a flurry of activity from the visiting gulls that take to the air with indignant shrieks, bringing the sound of the ocean to this little oasis in the city.
Many of the trees around the park are still relatively green, with some yellow or brown thrown in, and my favourite colourful trees are found only past the park as I enter Place Jean Rey. This square holds 24 fountains which rarely work (to my disappointment since I have always liked the sound of water. Also, having read that moving water produces a feeling of well-being through negative ions, I welcome any fountains I can pass on my way to a long day at work). This square is surrounded by small trees that turn the most amazing colours, reminding me of trees back home in Finland.
Once past the Jean Rey fountains the character of the walk changes completely, and decidedly for the worse. In an attempt to make the European quarter more aesthetic, this particular piece of Chausseé d’Etterbeek is under construction. Hollow concrete structures surround me as I turn into the street and the sky fills with cranes. Cars and buses thunder past and occasionally a cyclist weaves through the fray, leaving me anxious at their eventual fate in the cut-throat traffic of Brussels. The noise of the traffic blends with the harsh sounds of metal and concrete as the skeletal structures around me are being molded into apartments and offices.
At Maelbeek metro station I am confronted by a mass of determined office staff hurrying to their places of work. I am almost swept back by this wave of people, but I manage to make my way through them to the other side. Here some lovely yellow trees partly obscure the drab office building on my left as I approach the corner with the now closed Wild Geese pub. The sight of the once joyful place, now dark behind the grimy windows always makes me feel a bit sad and I wonder what use they might put the distinctive circular entrance to.
The ascent along Rue Joseph II is always tiring and there is nothing to grab my attention. One EU office follows another, with bored looking security guards studying passers-by in want of anything better to do. It seems as if the European Commission has sprawled out and garbled up blocks and blocks of the city turning them into innumerable DG’s. I trudge up the hill and let out a sigh of relief as I reach the top of the street. There I turn and walk the rest of the way to my office along one of the more sad and depressing looking streets in Brussels. Even the construction sites have more character. But on the bright side our office neighbours an artists commune so at least the street is not quite as boring as it looks.