Thursday, February 18, 2016

Une Journée à Bruxelles

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!


  1. Sounds like a great impromptu expedition...For some reason, the only memory I have of Brussels concerns chocolate, and unfortunately little else. !973 was so long ago...Thanks for the photos.

  2. Can't believe you were in the country!
    I love Chimay beer. And I apologise on behalf of my angry compatriot.
    (I'm thinking you must have missed out a zero or something in your statistic about the population. I was always taught that Brussels had a million people when I was little, so that can only have gone up, and the whole country must have about 11 or 12 million by now. Maybe it's a counting thing, being only a count of the very center or so.)
    (But it's more like a million.)

  3. What a lovely day out Steve! And what a shame that grumpy old Dave didn't join you! I know what you mean about being careful with your camera in edgy areas.

    As for the deranged man...I imagine he said this:- "Monsieur! I look at your blog regularly and it makes me very angry! Sitting in your sunlit bibliotheque! Going to your French classes! Taking pictures of whatever takes your fancy! Oh la vie is very comfortable for you Monsieur! Too damned comfortable!....Go on! Report me to Les Gendarmes if you want!...I don't care!... My name? Pudding...Pudding du Yorkshire!"

  4. I still that's so cool that over 'there' you can hop a train and be in another country for the day.

  5. E: And I didn't even eat chocolate yesterday! (Although it WAS everywhere...)

    MWA: Thanks for the population correction! I googled it and I got that first figure, and didn't read further -- which for a former reporter like me is UNFORGIVABLE especially since that number seemed ridiculously low. If you Google it you may see what I mean -- for me it appeared right at the top of the results page. Anyway, now I see from the Wikipedia page that you're correct -- it's roughly 1.2 million. So I've edited the post accordingly. :)

    York: You crack me up.

  6. Like Ellen, I'm amazed at the ease with which you can "country hop".
    I remember traveling to Brussels years and years ago when my family lived briefly in London. We saw the little peeing boy immortalized in hand-woven lace.

  7. Europe is not that big, is it? Or is it just that the US is a giant, sprawling, out of control giant?
    Mr. Moon played pro basketball for Belgium! How funny is that?
    What a lovely day you had. I am so impressed. I mean, it's a huge day for me if I get to Monticello.

  8. what a great day trip! glad you went for it instead of feeling trapped by something your partner didn't feel like doing. enjoyed the pictures :)

  9. That sounds like a perfectly wonderful day exploring a new place. Eurostar makes traveling from London to Europe so easy and quick. When I return to London (hopefully soon) I want to take a similar trip to Bruges. I was there back in the 80's and thought it was one of the most charming cities I'd ever visited. I want to go back with a digital camera this time.

  10. Now that's a real road trip! I miss randomly heading off into the unknown - we both drive so much for work that it's no fun to roam around by car, and really, flying is the only other option.

    My only memory of Brussels was being diverted there in January 1987 after a snowstorm surprised London so we couldn't land there. We were in the airport in Brussels for several hours. It just mostly looked cold out there :)

  11. Well! Thank you for taking us along on that day trip to Brussels! I love how you live your life, so spontaneous and open to experience, yet built on a base of comfortable routine. I learn from you.

  12. I love going to Belgium. Next time, go to Leuven, it's only a hop from Brussels and it's only gorgeous. And it has the best cafe/lunch place in the world (Le pain quotidien).
    Can't believe you missed the art deco musical instruments museum. A gorgeous building just to look at. And the second best cafe/bistro in Belgium (Le cercle de voyageurs) just around the corner from the little pisser.
    There has to be a second trip.

  13. It's amazing that you can hop a train and spend a few hours in Brussels and just as easily go back. why don't I live in Europe for a year or two?

  14. I keep forgetting how close everything is in Europe. Here it takes an hour and a half just to leave our province, and when you cross the border it still looks exactly the same. Thanks for taking us along!

  15. That just sounds insane! Another reason to live over yonder, travel is so easy! I spent nearly all day just getting to the next town today.

  16. Brussels!!

    Wonderful - and it didn't rain. How did you organise that?

    Not a tourist destination - I don't entirely agree with that statement; I had far more things on my to-do list than I had time in the day.

    Thanks for the photos.

    Ms Soup

  17. I did find it quite a forgivable mistake. Not unforgivable at all. And I did Google it yesterday and got the same silly result, so I quite understand. Maybe I should alert Google about it.