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  • Writer's pictureDearbhla

Brussels: En Attendant les Taxis...

Taxis in Brussels don't work like they do in other cities. If your fare isn't deemed far enough - despite often stagnating at taxi ranks to nowhere - they wave you on, leaving you standing there, stranded, stumbling around with suitcases.

I disembarked the airport bus at Place de Luxembourg, home to the infamous European Parliament. Multicoloured flags and giant posters of happy European citizens celebrating the year 2013 adorned the semi-circular walkway that encompassed the imposing building. The huge steel structure was paved with mirrored windows, which shone iridescent, on this rare sunny day in November. I had arrived, my life packed up, ready to start my new adventure. I struggled down the aisle of the number 12 bus, dragging my gigantic suitcases down the steps. After living in Brussels for some time, I came to realise that 'airport' buses to and from Zaventem Airport in Brussels are normal buses so there are no spaces to put suitcases. Why put underground carriages to store luggage when people can sit on top of their cases? It's much more fun hurtling down the motorway, subjecting passengers to the possibility of being buried alive every time the bus turned a corner. Of course very little of this made sense then and continues to not make sense now.

It was November 11th, 2013. An auspicious public holiday so everything was shut. The looming steel hallways of the parliament devoid of any of the usual hustle and bustle. The taxi rank, lifeless as taxis skirted the roundabout like a slow-moving caterpillar. I made my way to the first taxi, dragging my two huge cases behind me, just as the front wheel of the larger one popped off after being accosted by the cobblestones. The taxi driver rolled down the window, lazily, and asked me where I was going. I told him I needed to get to Place Jourdan. Not knowing this was within walking distance at the time but also knowing that any walk was not doable with suitcases weighing as much as two grown men. He shook his head at me and rolled up the window, while flicking his cigarette out onto the pavement.

Green off the plane, I was confused by this. A ritual I would come to know very well over the years until the emergence of Uber. I went to the next taxi who then told me to go back to the first one as that’s how taxi ranks work. Hence followed the back and forth with the suitcases. Neither man wanting to lose their spot in the taxi rank for a five-minute fare. This seemed completely idiotic to me seeing as I was the only person on the square. I was then told to walk there as they waved me on like a street urchin. Thankfully, the third taxi in the queue agreed to take me but not before getting out of his car to scream expletives at the first two drivers. This did not go down well. Apart from not enjoying being shouted at, they also thought the third taxi driver had broken some sort of taxi code by not refusing my fare. I suppose they would have rathered everyone sat down for the day, myself included, and waited for Godot. So I waited. I waited on the street, sitting on top of my sagging suitcase as the men shouted at each other for ten minutes. After four years of living in Brussels, I came to realise that unless one engages in the aggressive insistence that taxis take your fare, I was doomed to repeat the same scenario.

Since Brussels is such an accessible city, I was lucky that I didn't have to take taxis all that often. The odd late night hail from Gare du Midi after an evening Eurostar from London was about the extent of my interaction. But I was pretty pleased when Uber arrived. I began to use them whenever I was lazy, which was fairly often. Although, their arrival caused widespread protests amongst the official taxis. Since the taxi drivers in Brussels would fight with their own toenails, it didn't come as much of a surprise. They had little sympathy (from me anyway) with their jacked-up prices and frequent refusal to take smaller fares.

When I did finally get to my apartment, after about an hour, which I considered probably the most successful thing that had happened to me that week, I then had to drag two 32kg suitcases up three flights of narrow, winding stairs. These staircases, typical of the long terraced houses in the city, are about three-inches wide with a 45 degree incline. I slipped down them one morning with a cup of coffee in my hand and bounced along my bum all the way to the bottom. I still 'bare' the scars. I did eventually become so used to them that I once carried a 6ft Christmas tree that I stole from Place Jourdan (after a particularly lairy night out in Delerium) all the way up to the top. My flatmates were less impressed by this feat when they found pine needles all over the floor and the tree in the bin full of water. I, of course was delighted with myself.

When I decided to move to a new flat two years later, I thought it would be a great idea to use Uber instead of hiring a van. So, I squeezed three giant house plants, ten boxes, a Hoover, duvets, sheets and numerous kitchen appliances down the stairs and into four separate Ubers. It turns out it wasn't a great plan. It took me some time to realise why my Uber drivers kept cancelling after I saw how far my rating had plummeted. So, annoyingly, for a while, I was forced to sheepishly return to arguing with taxis again. I did find that if I gave out about Uber, they had little problem with the journey time, thoroughly enjoying the rant all the way home.


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