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  • Had someone told me more than a week ago that on 22nd March I would be in a car with 5 strangers and 1 friend on my way from Valencia to Barcelona, I would've placed a big question mark. I was supposed to be back home from a short city trip to Valencia, instead we were confronted with the horrible news about the bombings in Brussels Airport and the metro. Our flight home was cancelled and we were all waiting in line at the Ryanair desk only to hear that the first flight from Valencia to Belgium would be a full 5 days later. Spanish tv crews were circling around us, while the impact of the attacks became clearer. My friend Lesley and I could only think of getting home and it was clear that Ryanair wasn't going to get us there. Spontaneous talks start with the other people queuing and before we know it, we team up with a group of 5 friends. Plan B is to book a flight from Barcelona to the local airport of Ostend on the next day. I'm in contact with my dad who manages to book the last 2 available seats. Next challenge: getting from Valencia to Barcelona. We head to a car rental desk and manage to find a car with 7 seats.

    You don't want to know how we stuffed all the luggage in there, but we manage and start the nearly 4 hour drive. 7 women, 350 kilometers on one of the strangest days ever. I think of my colleagues at the hospital in Brussels, I think of my family, of my brother who is a police officer, I think of the innocent people killed and injured. The drive goes smoothly, we talk, we laugh, get serious again, … we wonder how to spend these unexpected hours in Barcelona.

    Upon arrival we go our own way staying in different hotels, knowing we'll meet again at the airport. I feel knackered by the time Lesley and I reach our hastily found hotel. It's a lovely place in a grand old building and the owner is ever so nice when he hears about our day and our long way home to Belgium. Later when we're in the room, there's a knock on the door and he brings us some sparkling wine. A small gesture, but really welcome after this day full of horrendous news. My Facebook and What's app is full of messages from friends asking if I'm okay. We have a tapas dinner close to the hotel. It's strange to be in Barcelona eating wonderful food surrounded by people socializing, while knowing that back home everything is a mess. We start talking to a young Japanese couple. "Pray for Belgium," says the boy, just over 20. He's traveling with his girlfriend before starting to work in Japan. "I want to visit Belgium in a few years time," he says in his best English. He knows the Red Devils football team, and of course the chocolate.

    That day and evening is now exactly one week ago. We spent 24 hours in sunny Barcelona and arrived home safely. Today the king and queen visited the hospital I work in. They came to see the doctors and nurses who helped victims and they visited the last 2 patients hospitalized with us. There's a young women who got caught in the blast of the metro bomb. Her face is badly injured, she can't see and needs more surgery to avoid brain damage. She only took the metro this once, to meet a friend for breakfast. The other patient is a man who lost a leg at the airport. He is very alert and talks to the king and queen in the most courageous way. He loves Belgium, he says, but this country, the politics, need to change. There's a lot of talk about the need for a different approach these days, to reinvent politics. I just wonder if we can ever feel truly safe again.
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