Flying to Brussels for a birthday weekend was a great idea. I highly recommend a weekend trip if you like good food, nice people, great museums and lovely parks. Despite some bad press over the last few months Brussels retains and will always retain its beauty, charm and amicable populous.
We stayed just outside the centre of Brussels, behind the Cathedral, and well within walking distance of everything we wanted to see, whilst also being next to Madou Metro station. It was a quiet and charming part of Brussels with Parisian style buildings and tree-lined streets with small squares centred with famous Flems from times gone by. Despite getting lost, several times, trying to get to the hotel, and witnessing the homelessness that afflicts so many people and so many cities, we did make it to the hotel and just in time for a beer at the bar next door.
Day one was an adventure and a half: we walked to Parc de Bruxelles and meandered through, taking our time, watching and listening to the locals enjoying the comic book exhibition taking place in the centre. After the trees recede and the cool air of the park disappears you emerge back into the city and opposite the Palais de Bruxelles. Not only is it a magnificent building, with wings bigger than Buckingham Palace, as a sign so elegantly put it, but at certain times of the year it is free . It is a must when you visit, not just because it is free, but because the interior is beautiful and represents centuries of Belgium history, regardless of whether the royal family is popular or not. It contains a science exhibition and a wonderful exhibition on Belgium, throughout the world wars, and what royalty did during this period. To us it seemed like a more modest interpretation of the palace in Madrid which was fine by us.
On the street outside the Palace was a cavalcade of street food vendors, contrasting the old royal Brussels with the new cosmopolitan Brussels we saw food and people from all around the world. We bought Gryos because we are super adventurous… and on a side note always take cash; there are all sorts of card minimums and ‘we don’t accept card’ shops, the contact-less revolution hasn’t hit just yet.
When lunch had been devoured we went to look for all the pissing statues, this will take you on an inadvertent grand tour of Brussels, and you will be walking down little alleys, and through magnificent arcades then to obscure corners on your search for all the pissing statues. I didn’t get the point of them… but for the none philistines amongst us it is an interesting exploration of a unique side to the city.
We had read about a great bar in Brussels called Delirium, because you have to drink at least one beer if you go to Brussels, but for the laid back travellers that we are, it was not a good experience. Good reviews for bars are a double-edged sword as despite having a world record amount of beers available, and top top rate reviews, these have attracted the… STAG PARTIES: with a bar, several people deep on a Saturday afternoon, and being pushed around by thick headed, dick dressed, ambassadors of the Brexit nation, we left, before they tarnished the reputation of my country any more.
We found a quieter spot just off the main square, with its giant spired building that reaches the heavens, and settled down to some organic Belgium Trappiste, which was as fresh as beers comes, clean, crisp and deceivingly strong. The murmur of the Beer festival going on in the main square added to the atmosphere and soldiers walking around, with helmets and sub-machine guns, offered a contrast to the liberal and invigorating city that moved and pulsed around us.
The owner was a character indeed, and when asked by a touring American, which beer was the best on the menu he promptly replied with “I don’t put the best on the Menu; I drink it”. And with that the hours just floated by.
For the culture enthusiast there are many museums that you can visit, instead of whittling away your time with beer and chatter. There is the Royal art museum of Belgium, a Musical Instrument Museum, the Musee Belge de la Bande Dessinee and a mini Europe on the outskirts of town plus many more smaller museums that are fantastic and reasonably priced for a capital city.
We spent our evening wandering and saw the Cathedral, in the fading sunlight, the Cirque Royal, the war memorial monument near the hotel and of course we went to a Greek restaurant… We couldn’t resist. We packed a lot into our first day in Brussels and we were pleasantly surprised by a city that wasn’t really on our radar of destinations. The city was laid back, the metros were old school and there was a fusion of the Gallic, Flemish cultures wherever you looked, and despite speaking three languages between us neither of us spoke French, but we were looking forward to day two…