Brussels After the Attacks – to Go or Not to Go?

Zsófia Albert

Zsófia Albert

Zsófia Albert is the Contributing Editor at Global Storybook (Hungary).
You can read more about Zsófi here.
Zsófia Albert
The beautiful Grand Place

The beautiful Grand Place

When traveling to a foreign country, I usually do all the planning and preparations long before the journey actually starts.  I’m buying tickets online, making lists about the must see places and the hidden gems, thinking out daily itineraries, googling all the top places for having a bite or a coffee and reading books about the place I’m going to visit.

It was no different with Brussels.  I’ve had my plane tickets booked since January and couldn’t wait to spend the first weekend of April in the beautiful capital of Belgium.

Bearing all this in mind, you can imagine my shock and dismay on the morning of 22 March – only one week before my trip – when I’ve heard in the radio about the bombings at Maalbeek metro station and Zaventem Airport in Brussels.  32 victims were killed and hundreds injured; this has been the deadliest act of terrorism in Belgium’s history.  Suddenly all my colleagues, friends and family had the same question to me: ‘You’re not going to go there after all this, are you?’  And honestly, I didn’t know.

chalk messages close to Maalbeek station

chalk messages close to Maalbeek metro station

I had no idea what would be the best decision in this case.  I’ve got into a situation I’ve never been before…  I knew the most clever act would be definitely to stay.  The bravest would be to go.  My mind and my heart fought a crazy battle over those few days, while my friends constantly reminded me how unsafe, how crazy it would be for me to go, especially as a solo traveler.

The only person, who didn’t try to discourage me, was my mom.  Yes, you’ve read it right – my mom.  As she told me: ‘I could never forgive myself and would feel terrible all my life if something bad would happen there to you, but if I were you, I would go.  Unfortunately today we live in such a crazy world where horrible things like this could happen anywhere in Europe, doesn’t matter if it’s Brussels or Berlin or Budapest.  You cannot live in a safe bubble all your life.’

That was the final push, the confirmation of what I’ve already felt in my heart, so on the 1st of April I took the plane and left to Brussels.

The first thing I’ve noticed, were the soldiers.  Soldiers with huge machine guns and scary masks, you could see nothing from their face, only their eyes.  They were guarding the Charleroi airport, which normally serves the low-cost airlines, but now as Zaventem was still closed because of the terror attacks, it remained the only main airport operating close to Brussels.

As I arrived to the city center, the signs of the raised terror alert level became even more obvious.  Soldiers, policemen, army trucks, police cars, motorbikes, even policemen on horses were strolling around the city.  A helicopter was circling above Brussels whole day, searching for any suspicious activity.  I admit, the whole situation was pretty scary at the beginning, I felt like I’m in the middle of an action movie filming.  As the days passed, I’ve pretty much got used to all the fuss; I’ve routinely opened my bag when going down to the metro and kept off when a bunch of sirening police cars crossed the streets.

policemen riding around the city center

Policemen riding around the city center

army trucks in front of the Hilton hotel

Army trucks in front of the Hilton hotel

What helped me the most to feel normal in such an abnormal case, were the Belgian people and their amazing attitude.  They mourned for days, expressed their condolences, but as much as I’ve noticed, they tried to be back to their normal life.  It was stunning to see the Belgian mentality, that in a situation that easily could have descended into despair or hatred, instead there was so much positivity and desire to live and survive.

Singers and musicians were performing everywhere in the streets of the old town, with as big smile on their face as nothing ever happened; locals were joking around with tourists and except from the increased police presence everything seemed to be just fine.

happy singers made the tourists forget the tragic events of the previous week

Happy singers made the tourists forget the tragic events of the previous week

Brussels

Amazing Belgian mentality

The building of the Brussels stock exchange became the temporary memorial to the victims of the bombings and the monument of solidarity.  Locals and tourists brought flowers, candles, little handwritten messages to show their sympathy and condolences.

Brussels

Crowd gathering on the stairs of the Stock Exchange building

The silent crowd that gathered at Bourse was both respectful and hopeful. Messages of solidarity and positivity covered the walls of the building and the sidewalk all around.  The whole atmosphere of the square was really impressive and uplifting, something I will never forget in my life.

Brussels

people brought candles and flowers to show their sympathy

Brussels

Messages of positivity on the walls of the Stock Exchange building

the Bourse

The Bourse

You could feel the absence of tourists though.  The always buzzing main square, called Grand Place was missing the cheerful tourist groups, only a dozen people were strolling around the square surrounded by beautiful buildings and the town hall.

The otherwise busy horse carriages were emptily waiting for someone to hop on them.  Brussels definitely needs its tourists back!

Brussels

horse carriages waithing for the tourists at the Grand Place

As my mom told me, you can’t always play safe, you have to get out of your comfort zone to experience the most amazing and wonderful things in your life.  I’m so happy that I’ve listened to her (and my own instincts) and went to visit the Belgian capital at the end.

It always will be an unforgettable memory and a lifetime experience of mine.  And I would advise everyone to do the same – go, visit Brussels; the beautiful city and the amazing Belgians will never cease to amaze you!

the grief of Brussels

The grief of Brussels

Have you been to Brussels lately? Are you planning to go in spite of what happened? Let us know in a comment below!

All Photo Copyrights © 2016 Zsófia Albert

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