Brussels and Canberra are two of my favourite cities in the world. Even though they are located on opposite sides of the globe, they share many similarities.
Canberra and Brussels are both capital cities, which means that they have a high density of universities, museums, and galleries, but also have to live with headlines like “Canberra raises taxes” or “Brussels imposes austerity measures”.
In the days that followed the 2003 bushfires, thousands of Canberrans came together to help everyone who had lost their homes. They gathered at local primary schools, swapped stories, brought slices, and wrote offers of food, clothing and accommodation on posters around the walls. Recently in Brussels the anti-austerity demonstrations got out of hand, and several privately-owned cars were damaged. Over one thousand people raised nearly €20,000 to buy new vehicles and equipment that were not covered by insurance.
In Brussels the “Carillon du Mont des Arts” has 24 bells and each day the hourly chime alternates between “Où peut-on être mieux” and “Beiaardlied”. Canberra’s National Carillon has 55 bells and plays the Westminster Quarters every 15 minutes.
In Brussels I can eat Moroccan pancakes at the Sunday Gare du Midi markets and Cornish pasties at the Thursday Parvis du Saint-Gilles Markets. In Canberra there’s Polish fare at the Saturday Gorman House Markets and Laos cuisine at the Sunday Old Bus Depot Markets.
One quarter of people living in the Australian Capital Territory were born outside Australia, and 18% speak a language other than English at home. Canberra celebrates this with its annual National Multicultural Festival and Food and Dance Spectacular. Institutions such as Telopea Park School (the “Lycée Franco-Australien de Canberra”) and the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific are fantastic places to learn another language. Brussels is a French-Dutch bilingual city, and is one of the political centres of the European Union, which has 24 official languages.
In both cities, I can treat myself to a sublime liquid treat, whether it is a “chocolat chaud” at Wittamer cafe in Brussels, or a Belgian-style hot chocolate at Koko Black. Hand-made gourmet boxes can be found at Pierre Marcolini in Brussels and Bruno’s Truffles in Canberra.
In April in Brussels, gardens like Groot-Bijgaarden are filled with tulips. Six months later, the Commonwealth Park in Canberra is overflowing with flowers during the Floriade spring festival.
A lot of construction occurred in both Canberra and Brussels during the 1960s, resulting in many buildings with exposed concrete, strong lines, and repeated modular elements.
Left: High Court of Australia and Canberra School of Music. Right: Albert Borschette Conference Centre Brussels, Fortis Bank Headquarters Brussels