The Grand Place, January 2005. In the autumn of 2004 I found myself at a major life crossroads. Should I take a tempting job offer in the south of Italy? Or move to Belgium with my new girlfriend? Naturally the girl won and I packed my bags, heading off to the land of chocolate and waffles. Based in the gorgeous university town of Leuven, Belgium’s capital was just a handy thirty-minute train ride away. And while the city never really enchanted me, there’s no doubting the splendour of The Grand Place, its pulsing focal point. This photo was taken just a few months after I arrived. I’d already split up with the girl and my old friend Sine was in town. It was a chilly but charming winter’s afternoon, the perfect day for sitting at one of the square’s fancy cafes drinking hot chocolate.
Rue Des Bouchers, March 2006. Leuven was such an agreeable place to live I ended up staying; which meant more trips to Brussels whenever friends visited. This shot is from the city’s famous food street, Rue Des Bouchers, which translates as Butcher’s Street. Dating back to The Middle Ages, butchers and sausage makers filled the road until the great plague of 1667 wiped them all out. Today it’s known as the city’s premier restaurant street, a highly photogenic pedestrianised thoroughfare of colorful seafood displays, persuasive touts and neon lights. But as an actual dining district it’s little more than a tacky tourist trap with overpriced dishes, indifferent service and distinctly average food. If you really want to eat here, do your research and choose wisely!
King Baudouin Stadium, June 2006. In the summer of 2006 I paid a curious visit to the country’s national football stadium, the venue for Randstad Belgium’s annual company party. I was my girlfriend’s plus one, so off we went for an afternoon of juggling, balloon making, bongo drum playing (!?) and the consumption of much Belgian beer and herring. Amazingly, security was incredibly lax and a bunch of us had no problem waltzing onto the pitch for a kickabout! A penalty competition was swiftly organized, in which participants had to take and attempt to save five shots. This snap shows me, (with the help of a little friend), on the receiving end of an appalling spot kick so horribly mishit it didn’t even make the photo.
Woluwe Park, May 2009. It was a sad day when I eventually had to leave Leuven and relocate to Brussels. It was a professional decision; my girlfriend’s company pressurising her to live closer to the office. So we reluctantly made the move, hoping that the city would grow on us. Sadly that never really happened, although we were comfortable enough in Woluwe, our local neighbourhood. We had a nice apartment there and access to the city centre was a swift fifteen minutes on the metro. There was also Parc De Woluwe right on our doorstep, one of the largest green spaces (71 hectares) in the Brussels urban area. It was a great spot for an afternoon walk or an evening run, with its rock formations, large ponds, Japanese cherry trees and waddling Egyptian geese.
The European Council, June 2009. After a brief spell working for the coffee giant Nespresso, I decided to go back to teaching and set myself up as a freelancer. Fortuitously, I soon got work through CLL, a training center that held the contract for English language courses at the EU institutions. Within a few months I had more work than I could possibly take on, with classes at The European Commission, Council and Parliament. These guys were one of my favourite groups, a beginners’ class that took place at an ungodly hour of the morning. Nevertheless, Lauren (France), Vito (Italy) and Manuel (Spain) always greeted me with smiles and gave me their best, despite having considerable difficulties with English. From the million and one classes I’ve had over the years, these guys are still top ten!