So yesterday, kind of spur of the moment, I hopped on the Eurostar and went to Brussels.
I've been nagging Dave for some time about wanting to see Brussels. We went to the Atomium years ago, but I'd never spent time in the central part of the city. Dave ultimately didn't want to go, partly because Brussels has a bad rap as a tourist destination, at least among people I know -- the belief seems to be that, as the capital of the European Union, it's basically a center for bureaucracy.
But I felt certain there had to be something to see there. It's a capital city of 1. 2 million people, after all.
So I left Dave happily at home at caught the train, arriving about 10 a.m. I almost immediately had a bizarre altercation with an angry, possibly deranged man on the street -- which I may tell you about at another time -- but afterward spent a nice leisurely day taking photos.
(I love the sign outside the cafe above: "YOU CAKE or DEATH? Or a sandwich?")
First I walked to see the Manneken Pis, the legendary fountain featuring a urinating cherub that might be the single most famous emblem of the city. I took pictures, but they're not that great -- the statue is a tiny little thing. OK, it's 400 years old, but still -- I don't really get the appeal.
(Apparently tons of other people do, because there are cafes called "Manneken Pils" and "Manneken Frites," among others, and you can buy Manneken Pis bottle openers, statues and t-shirts.)
I also went to the Grote Markt, the old main market square (top photo), which has some beautiful old architecture.
But I was more interested, as usual, in seeing how people live -- checking out the shops, the restaurants, the general atmosphere.
This was an interesting building, festooned with what appears to be tilework of bananas and oranges at the top.
I crossed a canal and went to Molenbeek, the neighborhood that has been the source of much distressing news coverage lately. I was curious to see what it was like. I walked around for about half an hour, and didn't get the camera out much -- not wanting to be provocative. It seemed like a perfectly respectable immigrant neighborhood. I'm sure like most places it has its good and bad elements.
Back in central Brussels, I had lunch at a cafe near the canal bridge (Chimay beer and vegetable lasagna) and then kept walking. I found the monumental fountain dedicated to Jules Anspach, mayor during a transformative period in the city's history in 19th century. The fountain is topped with this sculpture by Pierre Braecke of St. Michael slaying a dragon.
I also went to a cookshop where I bought some little presents for Chef Dave.
I got to practice my French, but Brussels isn't the best place for that, being a multilingual city. People were too tempted to switch to English rather than endure my mauvais Français.
Finally, my feet aching, I walked to the Parc de Bruxelles, where I sat for a while despite the fact that it was chilly. At least we had sun! There wasn't a cloud in the sky yesterday -- surely unusual for Brussels in February. I think I even got a bit sunburned on my neck!
As the sun set, I made my way back to the train and got back home around 8:30 p.m. Whew!