June 25, 2014
The second we step off the train I’m regretting my outfit choice of a dress and trench coat. It’s cold, windy, and I feel like it might rain.
We make our way through the crowded station and out into the sunlight. There’s big-city energy here.
An incredibly short walk north is the Cathedral of St. Michael & St. Gudula, named after the patron saints of the city.
Our second stop is quite close by as well, and after checking a map I confirm that everything on our list is within a 1km radius. How very non-sarcastically convenient.
Once upon a time the place to be, cafés and luxury brands abounded at the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. The first showing of a motion picture camera, courtesy of the Lumière Brothers, took place here in 1896.
The Gallery has three sections, the Galerie du Roi, the Galerie de la Reine, and the Galerie des Princes. Nowadays you can find the Museum of Letters and Manuscripts in the Galerie du Roi.
Finally, we arrive at the heart of Brussels. The Grand Place is as amazing as I imagined and far more interesting than I presumed. I’ve been underestimating Belgium, a mistake I won’t make again.
Except for the Maison du Roi (which is the current location of the Brussels City Museum) and the Hôtel de Ville, the other buildings in the square were either private houses or guild houses, each with a cute, picturesque name such as The Wheelbarrow, The Star, The Fortune, and The Dove. Some of the guild houses include that of the sculptors, the bakers, the archers, the brewers, and many more.
A little further down the street on a corner, Sara points out the famous peeing boy fountain, Manneken Pis. I make an offhand comment questioning why on earth they would make a fountain of a peeing kid, prompting her to tell me the legend of how the boy, little Julien, saved Brussels by peeing on the lit fuse of a bomb planted during a siege of the city. I guess that warrants a fountain. But really, it’s one example of Brusseleers’ sense of humor, also called zwanze.
Today, Julien is sporting a traditional costume from Slavonia, a region in Croatia. He switches outfits 130 times a year, choosing from a wardrobe of over 1000 costumes, and he does so on a schedule. I’m sensing a diva.
We snap a couple of pictures, realizing we are the only two people here. I expected this [fashion] icon to have quite the crowd. Oh well, more for us.
Turns out, there’s not one, but two peeing kid statues in this city. Jeanneke Pis was created as a complement to Manneken Pis, and although I’m tempted to again ask “why!?”, I’m starting to see the humor.
She’s also wearing a costume today, a dress in the colors of the Belgian flag, and a pair of horns in honor of the Red Devils, the Belgian national football team, who are still playing in the World Cup. She’s kept behind bars to protect her from vandals.
Right across from Jeanneke, is the Delirium Café. You know Delirium, the ones behind the beer with the pink elephant that gives off strong Winnie the Pooh’s Heffalump vibes? Yeah, that one. Well, at this café they have (and I cannot stress this enough) over TWO THOUSAND DIFFERENT BEERS. It’s no surprise that they hold the Guinness World Record for most beers offered. Wonder how long it would take to try them all.
It’s time to refuel and we stop at the hilariously named Manneken Frites for, surprise, fries. I swear ever since we got here our diet has consisted of various forms of potato, bread, chocolate, and cheese. Not that I’m complaining.
I don’t care much for the stock exchange, but it’s a nice building. Then again, aren’t they all?
One particular building catches my eye as we wander up the hill towards the Palais Royal de Bruxelles. A dark, ornate exterior that contrasts greatly with the clean, beige buildings next to it.
Looking at the old sign while walking by, I would have no immediate clue that this building was hiding something else. Upon closer inspection, the musical notes tell me something else is afoot. The Musical Instruments Museum, which contains a collection of over 8,000 musical instruments, is located in what used to be the Old England department store.
It’s not something that tempts me or her, but we can think of one person in particular who would love this.
At the end of the street, I do a double-take, realizing the Royal Palace of Brussels looks a hell of a lot like Buckingham Palace, right up to the placement of the gates. It makes sense, as both were built in the same style. Palais de Bruxelles, however, is a smidge longer and has added height from the beautiful blue roof.
Unfortunately, it’s not open for visits, so we admire it from the outside before moving on.
Across from the Palace, on the other side of the Place des Palais, is the Parc de Bruxelles. The green is a welcome sight, a little escape from the not-quite-bustling but very much alive city. Slowly, we make our way to the other side.
We stop at a cart conveniently located just outside the park gates. I’ve now learned that there are two varieties of Belgian waffles: Brussels waffles, which are rectangular, light and crispy, and Liege waffles, which are irregular, thick and doughy. Ironically, I had the Brussels version in Liège and the Liège version here in Brussels. Both are delicious, don’t make me pick a favorite.
Maybe it’s that I hadn’t been paying enough attention, but I feel like I’ve seen more churches in the past few days than I’d seen in my entire life. The current suspect is the Eglise Notre Dame au Sablon.
Up the street once more, we are at the top of the Mont des Arts. The view from here is oddly empowering. It feels like looking down from the highest tower in the castle, out into your gardens. Here you can find the National Archives, the Royal Library, and the former Palace of Congress.
On the far right corner of the public garden is the Horloge du Carillon du Mont des Arts, which is just a fancy name for the clock. The star-shaped clock has a figurine representing each hour.
We’ve circled back to the Gare Centrale. After trying unsuccessfully to locate Verviers on the old, clacking board, Sara figures out which gate we’re supposed to be at.
We hop on, and the train pulls out of the Gare just as the sky breaks open.