Greetings from Brussels
The Heart of Europe
I write with Greetings from the Beautiful Brussels, the Heart of Europe!
I don’t speak French and most people here don’t speak English… In other parts of Belgium, they speak Flemish and it’s much like Afrikaans. In fact, I had a wonderful conversation using Afrikaans while I was spoken to in Flemish. Same same.
Brussels is a whole different story.
I pretty much decided that I plan on losing myself in the city, knowing I would get lost. And when I did, I would just Uber back to the hotel. Thank god for Uber! In one of the normal local taxis, the driver could speak nearly every European language, but not English. He had a full-on (one-sided) conversation with me, but I had no idea what he was saying. It was hilarious. Eventually, I turned to Google Translate which helped a lot.
It was quite fun exploring a city this way. The amazing thing about Brussels is that there are so many alleys, you turn into one street and find an alley branching off in that street, which branches off again in another. Each street and alley has something to offer in terms of architecture or beautiful doors or windows. I was admiring the buildings, pathways, shops, and murals so much, and the people too! There is a blended culture, a complete European mix in the city.
I was definitely in foreign territory and I loved it.
Good to know...
1. Brussels is The Capital of Belgium
It is also the Head Quarters of the European Union and referred to as the capital of Europe.
2. Best time to visit:
In terms of weather, May to September is your best time (late Spring, early Autumn), but it is still fairly cool and you should expect rain at any time.
3. The weather is Wet
Don’t forget your umbrella when visiting Brussels. It doesn’t matter the season, there will very likely be rain.
4. Public Transport.
There are trains, busses and taxis. You can purchase tickets at GO machines found at metro stations or at the largest bus/tram stops, but good luck figuring out how to operate them when you do not understand French. There is an option to select English, but it is not a straight-forward – ah there is the correct button scenario. Best bet is to buy from the kiosk at the metro station. If you are lucky you may have a person on duty who understands English. Haha, I have to laugh. It was quite an eye-opener how few people spoke or understood English. Google Translate will be your friend in Brussels.
They make use of two-prong plugs.
The currency used is the Euro. Many cafe’s, stalls or pop-ups prefer cash, especially when buying street food. Restaurants don’t accept tips by credit card. So tipping is appreciated in cash.
7. Traffic rules
Drivers do what they want, so look carefully when walking. I had a friend come to Brussels from another part of Belgium and we drove around the narrow roads forever trying to find a parking space. You pay your parking ticket via a parking box on the street … via your phone. I thought that was quite cool. If you realise you will be longer than anticipated, you can juts extend your ticket via your phone!
There is the Hop-on Hop-off bus, which remains a favorite for me because as long as you know where all the stops are, you can hop-off spend time somewhere you like, and hop-on again on the next bus in 15 minutes. Or like me, walk off, end up at another hop-on location, and continue the tour. They supply headphones on the buses and you have a selection of languages to chose from, including English! Just don’t expect that the driver understands English…
I do recommend not staying on the bus. Stay on foot as much as possible because many sights are hidden away and can only be accessed via alleyways.
Another option is a guided tour.
Worthwhile getting is the Brussels Card that allow free access to some museums and monuments, and discounts for certain guides and stores/restaurants/bars.
Street art and artists.
Street art is something I always look out for. I have a love of art but especially the out of ordinary kind. Graffiti and murals are everywhere. The city itself is like an exhibition space. It’s buildings have become a canvas for many artists. Some of the better known ones are:
Thee are many more artists all of them unique in their own way. Bonom is quite bizarre and I saw one of his alien murals on a wall in the City Centre. He is better knows for his ‘out there’ body part paintings that are in plain sight.
Some of the art is so large, and high up on buildings that I can’t imagine how they produce it. I could spend hours walking around looking up, hoping I might see another one.
The photo I’ve placed here is one I took on a cloudy day. It is of the comic art, Gaston Lagaffe playing with a yo-yo. Artist: Franquin. Location: Rue de l’Écuyer 15.
Food & Drink
1. Flemish style Beef Stew
It’s a beef stew in a rich but very tasty gravy, usually served with mashed potato.
2. Rabbit cooked in “Geueze” Beer
Hmmmm, I’m not really one for eating rabbits.
3. Vol Au Vent
Puff pastries with fillings.
4. Meat Balls
Very popular, served with sauce. Mouth-watering yum.
Oh the mussels! I can’t stop talking about the mussels. They are just divine. They have many different ways of preparing and serving them, but the garlic steamed dish was just AMAZING!
You did not live if you did not try Belgium waffles!
I mean, … they have a Chocolate museum… So you learn to understand just how important the sweet affair is in Brussels. I can vouch that chocolate has never tasted this good.
There are so many beer varieties, I bet if you lived in Brussels you would still not be able to taste them all. But this is the place where you would have some of the best beer in the world. The motto here is: save water, drink beer.
Possibly the best restaurant in Brussels – Falstaff.
It’s been around since 1903 and is a brasserie restaurant in art nouveau style. The building is classified as a historical monument and offers authentic Belgian cuisine.
I love mussels and it is one of Belgium’s specialities. I chose to have the Gratin of Mussels in Garlic and of course beer. There are so many different varieties and I kinda found my favorite! A blend of barley, oats and wheat. This blend was discovered from the Carmelite monastery back in 1679!
Sweets & Waffles
I’ve died and gone to heaven.
Brussels is brimming with gothic and art nouveau styles. You will also find neo-renaissance and contemporary buildings.
The photo here of the City Hall is neo-gothic, and I wish the photo was more clear so you could see the many statues on the walls. It is found in Grand Place Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The main photo on this post is also from the Grand Place. It is breathtakingly beautiful and you get there via a small alley way.
Bourse – The Brussels Stock Exchange
The neo-renaissance has some second empire style and was built between 1868 and 1873. It’s situated in one of the major squares in Brussels.
I don’t really get the fascination with the peeing statues. He’s quite a famous little fellow. There is also a peeing girl,… and dog.
Manneken Pis has been peeing here into the fountain since 1619… The fountain played an important role in the distribution of water.
The Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, or The Koninklijke Muntschouwburg in Dutch, is a famous opera house in Monnaie Square. It’s been in operation since 1695. The neo-classical style building hosts a number of international programmes including concerts, theatre, opera, recitals, musicals and ballet to name a few.
The Black Tower is a medieval tower in Brussels built in the 13th century.
Eglise Sainte Catherine
This is Saint Catherine’s Church (also known as Sint-Katelijnekerk). This building is somewhat gothic with a baroque bell tower. It was built in the 15th century! Opposite the entrance is an open space where there is a daily market.
Other buildings and alleys
Need more time...
There are many many many more sights to see. I spent most of my time in the Central District but what I want to mention is that there are so many places to enjoy the ambiance and catch the city’s vibrant vibe. If you have time, do seek out some of the jazz clubs, live music, shows, comedy shows. and entertainment.
Next time I will for sure venture out into the other districts!
While in Europe I had a combined trip to Germany. You can read about it here.