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The Brussels Trip

Brussels Airport SouthIn an unusual break from my FSB activities, this week I headed off to Brussels to perform my duties as vice-chairman of the EESCO ICT group. This is a small-pan-European group involved in creating a language-independent reference for jobs, skills and qualifications in ICT – not a trivial task and something that will run for around 2.5 years.  We meet bi-monthly in Brussels and this is my second trip.

On Wednesday afternoon I headed off to Edinburgh airport for the mid-afternoon flight which would get me into Brussels early enough for dinner. I’d planned to meet one of the team, a fellow from Sweden called Kenneth OE Sundin with whom I get on well, for drinks. Sadly I got off to a bad start. Having not realised there are TWO airports in Brussels (the second being Charleroi South) and despite many trips there in the past , I ended up at the wrong one, a small affair situated an hour (by coach) away from Brussels centre and even then a further trip by taxi to my normal part of town. That pretty much kyboshed my early evening plans and I let Kenneth know I’d not be around.

Hotel La Madeleine in BrusselsAs it happened just as I arrived at my hotel expecting a quite night at the Hotel La Madeleine in downtown Brussels, a message came in from an old friend to say that the EESC (European Economic and Socwreckial Community) were having a bash which was going on late and if I got there quickly there was still time to salvage the night. I jumped in a taxi only to end up in the centre of Brussels not moving as there’d been a rather serious crash involving a motorcycle downtown and the traffic was gridlocked. After watching my fare jump from 5 to 10 Euros without actually moving, I jumped out of the taxi and took a brisk walk for the last half-mile to the venue.

Downtown BrusselsThe celebration was for the incoming Latvian President of the EU and the whole event was themed Latvian from the food to the (live) music and even some traditionally-clothed dancers. I was rapidly introduced to to a whole succession of Europeans involved in the EESC while enjoying a range of Latvian foods and of course the odd beer.

My meeting the next day was not until early lunchtime and I was invited to return to the EESC building for an early (8am) start, a chat and a visit to one of the plenary meetings, this particular one on the issue of a pending EU directive on smoking. I have to say I found the whole process fascinating and would not had had great difficulty in contributing to the arguments in a massive Auditorium with projectors and stage, banks of translators on the ready behind huge glass screen and some lively conversations going on. My headphones filled with live translations of the manu languages used and I stayed for a couple of hours during which time I also had a fascinating chat with one of the accountants who explained the funding setup and I have to say everyone I talked to made me feel quite at home. No doubt that won’t be the end of that.

Late morning I headed off on foot for my ESCO meeting a few blocks down downtown at Rue Joseph II – we ended up in EU offices smack in the middle of town with no air-conditioning and our pan-European team roasted for much of the afternoon while we listened to a series opizzaf talks and discussed how to progress our mission. The meeting ended at 5:30pm and we went our own separate ways.  Kenneth and I headed off down to our hotels near the Grand Plaza and agreed to meet up later on for drinks at the Plaza itself.

Brussels Central Plaza is a wonderful place in summer and just about every bar and restaurant had outside seating backed with enthusiastic travellers from all over the world. We picked a corner spot We’d previously visited but they were out of space so we went to the next bar along. That didn’t last long as they were charging 6 Euros for a Leffe beer whereas their competitors were offering 3 Leffes for 8 Euros!

Yes THAT much difference. Finally we settled down at a VERY reasonable pizza restaurant, had another beer and in each case one of the best pizzas we’d had in years (sign in the window “Pizzas au feu de bois”). The guy took great delight in telling us the place had 25 years experience- the bill came to under 20 Euros each – what more could you want.

Today I have a very full day with ESCO not to mention the usual FSB email mountain) then after the rather longer than planned trip to the airport I’m off home, arriving back in Wark at a not-unreasonable hour after the two-hour drive down from Edinburgh airport (Newcastle is just too unreasonable requiring a stop-over in London). Next week I’ve a fairly full week of FSB meetings before heading off to Spain for some real sun.

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