The sign says France and an arrow points that way, there could not be clearer sign that I am leaving the country. It is probably the tenth time I go under the Channel using the shuttle service but it’s the first time I do with a motorbike. I don’t remember seeing motorbikes the other times I took the shuttle and I distinctly don’t remember any common rooms, bars or even seats outsides the ones provided inside each traveller’s car.
Sadly I remembered well and I have to stand leaning onto the side of the coach all the way to France. Fortunately it’s not a long journey.
On the other side things are very straight forward, you get out of the terminal and you go straight all the way to Brussels.
I am going to Brussels to see Fabrizia, a very good friend of mine whom I have not seen in many years. She told me to be careful as Brussels is closed to motorised vehicles on Sundays but I forgot and promptly find myself at the outskirts of the city when the closure is still going. Thinking drinking alcohol might be a bit risky, given that I have a few miles still to cover before getting to Fabrizia’s place, I opt for a pause under the golden arches in the company of some french fries.
When they lift the closure I get going, on my way to the Ixelles district. I did not get to see half as much as I would have liked of Fabrizia. She works in the cabinet of Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission and, as we are in the middle of a pretty tense negotiation over refugee quotas, she is literally burning the candle at both ends.
A nice dinner in the steak house down the road from the house is however a great start and a good opportunity to catch up on the last 20 years of not seeing each other.
On Monday I meet her for lunch and after that she takes a little time out of her gruelling schedule to show me the inner sanctum of the Commission: the iconic, if not terribly architecturally exciting Berlaymont building.
To balance that I then take a walk in the town centre and rediscover the wonder I shared with Tarn on our third or fourth anniversary, not sure i remember which one it was. I remember though that it was much colder then, that’s February for you.
I remember her reading to me, as we were driving into town, a piece of the guide book that was describing how the concept of planning restriction was not present in Belgian cities. Not sure why but it stuck with me and I still find myself going around searching for idiosyncrasies and curious juxtapositions of styles in the built environment.
The good thing is that they are not difficult to find and, in my humble opinion, they add to the overall charm of the place.
The Monday night meetings are as demanding as the Sunday night ones. For all the EU critics back home I have to say: these people really work hard for their money. The consequence is that I have to bail out Fabrizia from her cocking promise and provide for both of us the perfect “end of stressful day” meal. I found this spectacular cheese shop near the Grand Place and the dinner is three assorted cheese, biscuit and a bottle of Carine du Roy puisseguin saint-emilion 2013. Just a perfect compliment to our “making sense of the world” conversation.