After living here and learning from the mistakes a re-look at the guide for Indians coming to stay in Brussels.
We came to Brussels just at the onset of winter and it is quite a bad time to come to any European country. The initial enthusiasm to see and feel snow lasts only for a week or two before you start realizing the 'side-effects' of snow. You better own good quality woollen wear and leather accessories to stay warm. Woollen scarf, socks, thermal wear, leather gloves, cardigans/jackets. You could buy all these at stores here too but they are very expensive. A good woollen cardigan for ladies can cost you from Euro 150 onwards. And sport shoes will definitely not work during winter here, no matter how fancy it is. You need to get yourself a pair of good leather boots if you intend to be outdoors during winter. It looks tempting to go out and feel the snow on your palms and the moment it touches you can feel it seeping in and soak you numb.
2. Residence permit procedure
Call it unfortunate but It did take 5 months to get our residence permit and since our visa had expired a week after we landed here, we were practically stranded in Belgium and we could not travel out of country. We consoled our desperate travel hearts blaming it on the weather and we pinned our hopes on spring. It is heard that the commune for 1000 Brussels (Central area, Schuman and near by areas where the Pincode is 1000) is generally a slow one and it takes a long time before you hear anything from the commune for police verification and hence the delay in getting the residence permit. The steps involved in getting one.
a. Within a week of landing in Brussels, you need to find the house and get the house agreement. To create the agreement you should give the agent 1 month rent as advance and also have 2 months rent deposited in the bank as guarantee. And to open a bank account you need to have your house agreement. You will be given the key to the house only when you create the bank guarantee.
b. With agreement and other legal documents visit the commune early in the morning. The serpentine queue to get a token starts growing from as early as 7 AM although the counter starts issuing them only at 8.30 AM. You give the documents and get an acknowledgement letter from the commune. Commune sends an intimation to the police for verifying the details.
c. After some days you will get a letter from the local police of your area asking for you to visit the police station at a specified time. This step is skipped at times as sometimes police just sends the report to the commune without you having to visit them.
d. After receiving the police report commune then sends a letter of appointment to your house address.
e. You meet the authority at the specified appointment and based on how much you are ready to pay the time taken to send the residence card is decided.
i. 35 Euros for a normal processing. It could take minimum of one month
ii. 150 euros for fast processing. The card will be posted within 3 working days
iii. 200 Euros for super fast processing. The card will be posted next day itself.
3. Travel within Belgium
a. The Belgium train transport SNCB is quite good and you have packages to local sightseeing/family/adventure based on your interest levels.
Caves, beaches, adventure sports etc are some of the category. It works out very cheap since the price includes the to and fro train travel and entry to the major attractions in the town of visit.
b. Museum entries are free on first Wednesday of every month. Royal museum of fine arts and the Japanese tower & Chinese pavilion are worth a visit.
c. Keep checking the http://www.brussels.be/ website for any upcoming events. We got Atomium entry for half the price on feb 14th as it was the anniversary of its completion. Buy one get one free.
4. Travel to nearby countries
a. Thays, eurostar are classy super fast trains but very expensive to travel in unless you book the tickets atleast 2 to 3 months in advance.
b. SNCB trains are what you will resort to if you do not plan in advance. They connect to most of the well popular destinations at much cheaper rates but they are very slow. Ex: Thalys connects to Amsterdam from Brussels in just 2 hours where as SNCB can take upto 3.5 hours.
c. Eurolines is bus service. If you have the time and patience then can opt for this service.
d. www.inbag.org is an Indian association in Ghent which organises tours around Europe at a very reasonable rate. You can opt to be a member of the association.
For all travels I check tripadvisor first. It gives a comprehensive understanding of the destination, hotels, B&Bs, tips and most importantly reviews.
a. The shops can put up sales only in the month of January and June and you can bag huge discounts on products. However in some shops the leftover from the sale-months are dumped in the corner rack of the shops and if you hunt you might get some good stuff.
b. Flea markets are held at Midi and clemenceau on Sunday mornings(6 AM to 2 PM). Fresh vegetables, fruits, Mediterranean specials like variety of olives and dry fruits, meat, sea food, second hand goods etc. There are other flea markets all through the week in different parts of Brussels. Antiques, paintings, vegetable markets etc.
6. Things to get from India
a. Pressure cooker set
b. Rolling pin (for making rotis)
c. Pair of tongs (making phulkas)
d. A pair of pliers (Pakkad)
e. Small deep pan for seasoning
f. Tea vessel with a lid
g. Nail cutter
h. Mortar & pestle
j. Set of Tupperware boxes for carrying tiffin/lunch
Plucker (for Eye brows. Parlours are @&*# expensive). you can find wax strips for eyebrows here.
Although you get all the above mentioned items here too they might be very expensive.
7. Notes on food
a. Europe is known for its farm fresh cheese and butter. Try different brands and get to know them.
b. Best salted butter I have tried so far : Beurre D’Isigny. Others are chimay,president, kerrygold, carlbourg etc
c. Butter for making ghee: Rochefort (blue pack which is unsalted).
Look for butter made from milk (Beurre de lait). And nowhere on the pack you should find ‘Sel’ or ‘Doux’ (meaning salt in French and dutch respectively). Any cooking butter made from milk and which is not salted can be used for making ghee.
d. If you are a vegetarian then before buying cheese check the ingredients on the pack. If it says it contains ‘Ouef’(eggs) or ‘Animale’(animal) then you might want to think over. I have read about how some cheese is made using rennet and ever since then I always ensure that I read the ingredients very carefully.
e. The concept of drinking water from the tap is quite alein and my hygiene soul repels even to take a sip. So we buy bottled water from the stores.
f. A trolley bag to get groceries is very much recommended and can cost you from 7 to 10 Euros.
g. Mixer : you can get a makeshift mixer with 2 jars for 15/- at the clemenceau/midi flea market. there are two types of mixers available One with all plastic and two jars and the other one with plastic base and a glass jar. We bought the first one. Though It does not look sturdy it is good enough for light grinding. I usually make ginger garlic paste, coconut chutney and other masala powders in the small jar. I use the big jar for making dosa batter. But recently I used it for grinding parboiled rice as the recipe called for it and ended up spoiling the mixer.
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