While on a quick trip to Belgium, here is what I managed to accomplish in Brussels:
The Grand Place, or Grote Markt, is one of Europe’s prettiest plazas/places. Unlike other European plazas, it is not vast but compact and majestic. Like most historic European edifices, the buildings here have undergone renovations and restorations. (It is rare to find a structure in Europe untouched by the ravages of war). Most of the buildings in the Grand Place used to be guild halls.
The two rivals that stand out are the Town Hall and the King’s House (the Brussels Museum today). The former is about 100 years older than the latter. The almost 100 metre Town Hall tower looms over the old town and can be spotted from quite a radius around, helping to orient oneself. The King’s House was built to surpass the Town Hall in its grandeur. You be the judge.
The Place has offices of two famous Belgian chocolatiers, and Victor Hugo lived in one of them for a short time during one of his stays in Brussels.
Mont des Arts is a geographically elevated area just off the old town, offering fantastic views of the old town and beyond. The site was designated and planned as an Arts Quarter. A garden was created in version 2 of improvements to the place. Several museums, parks and other attractions are scattered around, all within short walking distance from each other. The Atomium is visible from here.
Museum(s). There are several, making it difficult to choose, especially if you are into art. That way, it was easy for me 😉 One day, I visited the old masters in the Museum of Fine Arts, and another day, I spent about 1.5 hours in the Music Instruments Museum (MIM), making me very guilty about not visiting the Music Museum in my hometown. I have made a mental note to go there soon. The art nouveau building of the MIM stands out on the Mont des Arts. Belgium is the home of Art Nouveau; there are several homes of prominent Belgians in Brussels built in that style of architecture.
Visit a church or two
The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, dedicated to the patron saints of Brussels, is grand. Its towers loom large and are seen from the Mont des Arts. The 12 apostles line the columns of the church. It has fantastic stained-glass windows, grand pipe organs, a heavy wooden pulpit, and a large baptism font. Every element in this church is colossal. Official ceremonies such as royal weddings and state funerals take place here.
The Church of our Lady of Victories of Sablon (or Church of Notre Dame) is similarly grand. In addition, the relic of Charles of Habsburg, the beatified king of Austria-Hungary, is on display here. The baroque chapels are a sight to behold. The coat of arms of the various guilds can also be seen here. The church started as a simple place of worship erected by the guild of the ”Noble Serment of Crossbowmen” and has since grown in stature and has a miracle attached to it, making it a place of pilgrimage.
What makes this little park on the side of the Church of our Lady of Victories of Sablon special is the circle of 48 statues of the guild masters holding the sign of their trade along the park’s periphery. There are statues of gentlemen important to Belgian history inside the park and other symbols associated with the political history of Belgium.
The Royal Saint Hubert Galleries, one of Europe’s grand shopping arcades, is celebrating its 175th year. The gallery is a long arched corridor, still in use and now houses restaurants, chocolatiers and theatres.
Manneken-Pis, Jeanneke-Pis and Zinneke-Pis
Everyone talks about this little chap. A good friend of mine told me not to waste my time going and seeing him. I should have listened to her. Boy, was I disappointed (pun intended)! I didn’t expect him to be as tiny as he is!! This pampered little boy gets a dress change now and then, and you can see his wardrobe (and the original statue; the one in the square is a replica) in the Brussels Museum. They say finding him is difficult, but that’s not true. If you are in the Grand Place and see a bunch of people walking determinedly in one direction, follow them. Trust me; they will lead you to this little chap.
His female counterpart, who came into existence many years later, can be found in an alley just off the Grand Place but in the opposite direction from him, gleefully smiling while relieving herself.
Did you know there is also the family woof woof taking a piss on the street? Zinneke-Pis is almost equidistant from Manneken & Jeanneke. Do and see him too, or you might hurt the feelings of the little doggo.
Go find Georges Remi Herge’ fictional protégé in Brussels; he is omnipresent! Ok, that’s an exaggeration, but really, he seemed to be everywhere! (It is safe to say he is the current rage; I saw him in Bruges and Paris too). While the museum dedicated to him and his creator is a train ride away, finding Tintin in Brussels is easy. I saw him here:
Rue de l’Etuvel’Etuve
Place du Jeu de Balle
Outside the Museum of Comics
And, of course at the Tintin Store just off the Grand Place
If you want to visit all the places related to Tintin, see here.
Belgium is famous for its beers. Its beer culture is listed under UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. We visited Moeder Lambic, known for its collection of all kinds of Belgian beers available on tap. I am not a fan of Lambic beer, so I enjoyed the beer a little lesser than the better half. The beer was paired with cheese, the only veg option they had, so even if we wanted to, we could not partake in something else on their short menu.
Eat waffles, fries, buy chocolates
Eat a gaufre (waffle) in one of the iconic shops. Again, there is no need to look/search. If there is a queue, join.
Not sure if there is a special place to try frites (fries). One thing is for certain this avatar of potatoes is not smothered with salt and is served with a dip, ranging from the blandest to the spiciest. While the debate on its origin continues, I still don’t know what makes it so famous here…..
Neuhaus, Godiva, Leonida, Pierre Marcollini…..can’t choose? Buy a little from everywhere or head to La Belgique Gourmande for a visual feast in addition to being able to pick some fine chocolates.
I was in Bruges too, and you can read all about it here and what impressed me the most.