We had a few hours in Brussels heading home from Frankfurt, before we had to head back to the station to get the Eurostar. As a Brussels semi-regular (I’ve been a few times, and Flatmate lived here for two years), I took the Lovely One on a short tour of the highlights. It was quite a lot of fun, encompassing must-dos, can-dos and really-should-dos.
I’m sharing it here because I was really rather pleased with my ingenuity, although the regular reader should note the following:
- We were avoiding bars as Lovely One was on Dry July duty. Which is laudable and right and proper and it was only fair I didn’t force him into a bar to watch me drink. BUT if he hadn’t been, I’d have been going to Moeder Lambic near Grand Place and wouldn’t have moved all day.
- There wasn’t much time to linger anywhere, as we wanted to stroll and get the sense of the place on a lovely day. But both the Royal Museum of Arts and MIM are a wonderful place to stop awhile.
- The shops I’ve picked out are mainly personal favourites and internationally-known. I’d like to go back and find some local treasures if possible in future.
- I’m right about Natural Caffè. Just go.
FIRST STOP: Grand Place
The first trip was to Bourse, where we got out and threaded our way towards the beating heart of Brussels: Grand Place. This magnificent piece of architecture is a magnet for tourists, pickpockets and groups of people standing around and getting in your way, but it is totally worth a look. Around the main area are some tourist magnet shops including the famous Dandoy biscuits. This shop has been nestled in place since the early 1800s and has original speculoos moulds in the shop for you to look at. Still in use, still drawing visitors and still really yummy. Those seeking lotus biscuits or (shudder) cookie spread (THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU! BURN THE WITCH) need not apply.
NEXT STOP: Manneken Pis
No pictures of this happy little chappy, because the crowds of tourists in the way made it hard to get a good shot. But, put simply, he’s a little fountain-statue of a tiny child getting his wang out and pissing. And he’s 400-years-old! It’s become something of a thing to dress him in tiny clothes and on the day we visited, he was dressed in Peruvian national costume. Again, why, I’m not sure. There is a whole section of the National museum dedicated to him and his costumes though. If you’re so inclined.
Note – the museum of national costume and lace is nearby and defintely worth a look. And, if you’re thinking “Well Lewishambles, this is all very well but where’s the equality here?“, I’m pleased to tell you that since 1987 Jeanneke Pis (a little squatting girl) has been available to gawp at on the other side of Grand Place.
Jeez, these guys are NUTS. *she says, hurriedly thinking of all the crazy shit in Camden*
NEXT: Food and Fancy Shoppings…
There is a ton to eat in Brussels. Creamy sweet waffles, moules-frites, cheese, ham, fish, Waterzooi (chicken stew). But the king of Belgian cuisine is the dude with the Fritkot. This is a chips joint, where your triple-cooked golden lovelies are fresh-fried to order and served in a cone with a dollop of rich eggy mayonnaise.
And we hit the FRICKIN MOTHERLOAD.
Happily stuffing our faces, we wandered through the back streets to the joys of the Galeries Royales St-Hubert. It’s like Burlington Arcade decided to fix up and look sharp, and has a ton of fancy chocolate shops, leather goods and high-end goods to window-shop. We grabbed a sinfully rich hot chocolate from one of the stores and happily mooched up the hill towards the museum quarter.
Here’s the thing about Brussels. There’s a bunch of really old stuff, and a bunch of shiny glass buildings full of gravy trains or whatever it is that UKIP are losing their minds over today. But, alongside Paris and Vienna, the soul of Brussels really crystallised during that short space of time between the death of the Victorian Age and the horrors of war. Art Nouveau, and all of it’s glorious, ridiculous ornamentation, has suffused the city and the results are really stunning. We didn’t have time to go to the Horta House and Museum, but we sped around the outside of the wonderful Museum of Musical Instruments (known as MIM and absolutely wonderful – I lost myself in here for 4 hours once) and crept into the back door of the Royal Museum of Art for a sneaky peek. I’m desperate to come back for a proper look!
NEXT: CHURCH N’ CHOCOLATE
We then headed for Place Sablon – home of one of the most beautiful churches in Europe. Inside it’s absolutely gorgeous, filled with light filtering in through the hundreds of stained-glass windows, and with sculptures and paintings everywhere. It took 100 years to complete and is just picture-postcard pretty. So naturally, I took no pictures. This is largely intentional, as I get a bit funny about taking photos in working churches. While in Frankfurt we went into the cathedral while a wedding was happening, and a bunch of Japanese tourists were busily chatting loudly and snapping away at a visibly distressed bride. I figure I don’t need a photo to remember how wonderful some places are.
Salon is also, quite famously, location of a range of gorgeous chocolate shops, including the upscale Wittamer, old favourites like Godiva and Leonides. But it’s the home of Pierre Marcolini’s flagship boutique, a dark and mysterious place tricked out like a dominatrix’s boudoir, all grey and black velvet, and a church-like aura of quiet calm. Crossing the threshold, you observe the shining counters where the chocolates lie beneath the polished glass like gems, arranged on black trays. Stunningly expensive, ridiculously good and WORTH IT.
THEN: A GOOD REST!
Pottering back over to the Museum Quarter (essentially a nice big circle), we settled into a place Flatmate had recommended me once. Natural Caffe is really lovely, has GREAT coffee and is a great spot to watch the world go by. Highly recommended.
NEXT: Finding the Brux Equivalent of Shoreditch!
Feeling refreshed and ready for more, we struck out past the Grand Place and to the other side of Bourse, looking for fun. What we found was a great bit of town, mainly around Rue de Chartreux and Rue de Marche-aux-Grains, with cool cafes, great-looking pubs and some amazing vintage shops and boutiques. A top hour or so’s rambling put fire in our bellies and I very nearly gave into temptation and bought ALL OF THE THINGS, which would have been foolish.
FINALLY: what would any trip to Belgium be without a god damn waffle, eh? Sadly, we were too full to eat on the go, and so had a “sad waffle” on the Eurostar back home.
Verdict? An A++ way to spend a day. DO IT!