One of the things I’ve been really looking forward to since moving to London is the endless opportunities that now exist for me to travel. I feel like I’m now on the doorstep of the world. Other countries are a mere hour or so away, rather than 23 hours, so the moment I got a couple of days off from work I made some plans. Brussels was a place I hadn’t heard much about and I also knew very little about Belgium. Sure I’d seen In Bruges and eaten Belgian Chocolate and Waffles, but I had no idea they spoke French, Dutch and German and were the inventors of the French Fry. I managed to get a pretty cheap Eurostar ticket for the two days I had off and decided I’d get a hotel closer to the date.
A few weeks later I started looking into hotels and was GOBSMACKED at how much they were. Most of the centrally located hotels were going to cost me more than £300 for the night. I did some research and found out I happened to be arriving on the same day as a sea food convention. Of course! I found a place a little out of the town centre, but closer to the train station I’d be arriving at, it was still expensive, but I needed the break.
The Eurostar journey was smooth and pleasant and saw me arriving in a totally new country in just over two hours. I decided to walk from Brussels Midi station and immediately got slightly lost in an area that looked a little dodgy, what didn’t help was that I’d read an article in the morning about safety in Brussels. As an experienced traveler I feel like I know these things without needing to read them. I know to keep my possessions safe etc, but for some reason I had read this article and I was suddenly very worried I’d be pick pocketed or mugged or something. I wasn’t, and soon I found myself in the historic heart of Brussels.
My first stop was the Grand Place, a city square bordered by magnificent architecture of various different styles including the imposing Gothic Town Hall. The nearby area has all the cliche Brussels things you could want from chocolates to lace stores. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to try my first truly Belgian Waffles from ‘Australian Home Made Ice-Cream’ a vendor that can be found across the city. They even have kangaroos on their napkins. There really is no escape. I also got myself a map and started to plot out where I’d head to next. I’d actually done no research into what was in Brussels so I was pretty much winging it.
I made my way to find Brussels major attraction the Manneken Pis or ‘The Pissing Boy’ a small fountain depicting (you guessed it) a boy peeing. It wasn’t far from the Grand Place and could be easily found by the large group of tourists taking photos at the site. Throughout the year the locals dress him up in all sorts of different costumes, however I saw him in his traditional state. I’ve often thought that a lot of the world’s major tourist attractions are underwhelming (for example I had a dismal time on the Empire State Building) and the Manneken Pis was another disappointment. He’s TINY.The statue can’t be much bigger than thirty centimetres tall and most tourist trinkets you can buy in the local area are probably bigger than the original.
There’s a fantastic array of street art in throughout the city from the large scale murals that celebrate some of the most popular Belgian comics including Tintin and The Smurfs to lots of works by sticker artists plastered all over street signs. The local map I picked up in the Grand Place even had a marked tour of the mural locations. I also found a number of comic book stores and museums celebrating the comic book artists, and a GIANT statue of a Smurf. Much more impressive than the Pissing Boy. Just off the Grand Place was also a shop that celebrated the street art culture. If their books hadn’t been so expensive I would have bought one.
After a long day of walking in the sun I retreated to my overpriced hotel room. It was lovely. The service was wonderful and as well as my included breakfast I also received a free box of Belgian chocolates AND a drink from the bar, so I ticked off trying Belgian Beer too. Perhaps it was worth the price after all. I made sure to take multiple showers and had one big sleep and two naps!
There’s a lot of stunning architecture in Brussels, but none as exciting as the assortment of Art Nouveau buildings across the city. My map pointed a bunch of them out so on day two I headed to the upper part of the city. On day one closer to the Grand Place I’d come across the Old England building which now houses a musical instrument museum, it’s an Art Nouveau delight, but one building blew it out of the water on Day 2. A residential multi storey building that embraced the style and completely stood out from the buildings around it.
The upper part of the city is home to the EU parliament in shiny, big, glass buildings and a number of gorgeous parks. I checked out the old World Exhibition buildings, which were phenomenal. I have a thing for old exhibition halls, and these ones were no exception. In the area I also found a store that exclusively sold puzzles. I wanted to buy one for a friend, but the old man that ran the store was grumpy and didn’t speak English- though I also don’t think he spoke French as when I asked if “Parlez vous Anglais?” he simply grunted at me confused. Perhaps I don’t speak French well enough to even pull off that phrase.
You can’t come to Brussels without trying the national snack; Frites! As a chip lover I knew I was in for a treat. Frite stores sell a whole lot of different foods to have with your chips including salads and burgers, but I went traditional and just got a cone of golden potato goodness. You also have a choice from an array of sauces with crazy outlandish names. I settled on Maffia Sauce, it was slightly spicy and went really well with the fries. There was also Samurai sauce. I don’t know if this was spicier. I guess you have to try and work out whether a Samurai would beat a Gangster in a fight. There are Frite stores all over the city, many with very witty names and cartoon chip logos, my favourite was a Fry peeing like the Manneken Pis.
Brussels, is definitely a little obsessed with piss and chips, is the perfect city for a quick weekender away from the hustle and bustle of life in London. I wouldn’t have wanted to have stayed much more than two days. While there was plenty to see it definitely wasn’t my favourite European city, and couldn’t compare to the magic of Paris or the grand nature of London. It was a definite well earned break though, and I’m sure my flatmates enjoyed their Belgian chocolate Pissing Boys.