Brussels Travel Blog

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Wednesday 16th September

The day started with a ridiculously early wake up as a result of our impending journey and flight from Prestwick. We rose had a quickly breaky and took our half price tickets to Waverley for the 5.55am train to Glasgow Queen St. We then changed by foot to Central station. We had a further 50 mins to Prestwick and within about two hours arrived at the airport. It was essentially an outpost for low-cost carrier Ryanair with them owning 95% of the flights! We boarded with ease (no frills flights can be stressful with everyone rushing for seats). The flight was a brisk 90 mins upon which we landed at similarly rural Charleroi airport. Not knowing how to get to Brussels we took the hugely overpriced shuttle (22 Euros for 90 mins of bus travel pfft!). We arrived at Brussels Du Midi with little idea of our location. Don’t let the name deceive this was far from the middle (lucky Brussels is not that big!). In fact it was located in a rather unpleasant predominantly Middle-Eastern suburb. They are the dominant immigrant group in Brussels. After a few wrong turns we found our hotel, and were pleasantly surprised it was clean, staff spoke passable English and we promptly checked in! We dumped our gear, freshened up and hit the road to begin our latest adventure!
We headed straight for Grand Place a huge square very much in the European tradition. It was lined by massive, architecturally inspiring buildings. We set upon what was formerly the town hall and is now the Brussels museum. We learned a lot about the history of Brussels and Belgium in general. In fact by far the most amusing was Mannekin Pis. A small monument of a boy urinating and there is dispute about the origin of the boy , most famous of the tales are as follows: In 1142, the troops of this two-year-old lord were battling against the troops of the Berthouts, the lords of Grimbergen, in Ransbeke (now Neder-over-Heembeek). The troops put the infant lord in a basket and hung the basket in a tree to encourage them. From there, the boy urinated on the troops of the Berthouts, who eventually lost the battle. Brussels formerly had a river running through it though in the 19th century they decided to fill it in for reasons of hygiene. Belgium was in fact part of Holland until 1830 when it was declared a sovereign state. Holland was protestant and Belgium catholic creating major divides. This also explains why Flemish (a Dutch language variant) is popular in the North. French is more spoken in Brussels and the southern regions (France has invaded and influenced Belgium for hundred of years).

After the Brussels museum we headed to the Chocolate and Cocoa museum a small shop like attraction displaying the history of chocolate in Belgium. It seemed almost a national obsession here with dedicated shops open from 9am till 11pm. We enjoyed some tasters and learned how the products are made and different designs perfected with colours of chocolate. Coca was first developed by the Mayans over 5000 years ago and when the Spanish arrived in South America in 1519 they brought back many cocoa based products General Hortez believing and rightly so that it could bring great profits. Belgian chocolate is famous worldwide for only using 100% cocoa butter.

After a strong dose of cocoa we headed to Western side of the city and found Place St. Catherine a huge typical medieval Catholic church. We took a few pics and then kept on our way and arrived at the Blindmans Fountain. We decided our hunger had gotten the better of us and proceeded back towards the town square. Just off the square is Petite rue des Bouchers a strip I deemed the ‘gauntlet’ as it is lined with restaurants and predominantly Middle Eastern guys fighting for your business with what is essentially 30 places offering identical menus. We settled on a place and worked through a solid three course meal with a small cocktail to wash it down. Kae enjoyed traditional Mussels with fries and I had a juicy steak. This proved a pleasant beginning to the trip and Brussels seemed a nice town.

Thursday 17th September

We rose early pumped for a full Brussels day. We had our first breaky lots of cereal and croissants with some tea/coffee and fruit filled bread. After a carb heavy breaky we proceed on out at 9am and headed towards the Resistance museum which documented the role of the Belgians in foiling Nazi war efforts. Sadly after a short metro tip (we had invested in a metro day pass for only 4.50 Euros). We arrived at Clemenceau station and without any directions hoped to find a signpost. Sadly neither signpost nor English speakers were apparent, we asked several people and Arabic was definitely the language of choice here. Eventually we found a street map and strolled to the museum only to find in a French influenced country that it opened on restricted hours and only in the afternoon. Undeterred we jumped on the metro out to the east to the army history museum. We arrived at Parc Du Cinquantenaire which housed both the army and transport museum. The parc contained a Brandenburg like gate which led onto Kennedy Avenue. We gained 1 euro entry courtesy of our euro under 26 cards (a massive bargain at 9 quid). Little did we know this also had limited opening hours however we took a good dose of war history with one of the biggest collections of WW2 aircraft in the world. I had my token war lesson and we headed on our way getting slightly lost taking the wrong direction in a 50:50 call (thanks Kae!). We decided the metro made more sense so tubed it straight to Schuman which was situated a 5 min walk to the EU parliament/ commission/ headquarters. This composed several new and hugely impressive building to house the various legal and judicial components of the EU government. We took a stroll round each of these into King Leopold Park and soaked up some sunshine.

We now decided to head back towards the city and found Palais Royal (official residence of the Belgian king). It was built by Leopold II in 1900 and now serves a more decorative purpose. We passed the Palais de Nation a smaller building which was used as an administrative centre by the government. A good few palaces later we arrived at the Cathedral of St. Michael. It was founded in 1047 by In 1047, Lambert II, Count of Leuven founded a chapter in this church and organized the transportation of the relics of Saint Gudula, before then housed in Saint Gaugericus Church on Saint Gaugericus Island. The church patron saints, Archangel St. Michael and the martyr St. Gudula, are also the patron saints of the city of Brussels. In the thirteenth century, the cathedral was renovated in the Gothic style. The choir was constructed between 1226 and 1276. The façade was completed in the mid-fifteenth century. This was a hugely impressive church and to this day provides Catholic mass for the local population.

We headed for a café and grabbed a coffee as we contemplated lunch. We moved back to the city and found some cheap baguettes next to the Royal Opera le Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie which dates back to 1818. Next to his building housed a giant sculpture of a person standing on their head – as in feet were on his head. Well fuelled we headed back onto the metro to the North of the city to see the Atomium. This was built for the world fair in 1958 Designed by André Waterkeyn, it is 102-metres (335 ft) tall, with nine steel spheres connected so that the whole forms the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. It offered tourists the opportunity to climb it with vast views over the city (we chose not too bother 9 Euros a pop!). We also passed through a small amusements park which was reknowned for its mini-Europe reconstruction. Again we passed as it proved pricey to us cash strapped youngsters.

Jumping on the metro we were back in the city in about a half hour and for our last activity of the day we headed to the Comic Strip Museum. The museum is housed in the Waucquez warehouses designed by Victor Horta the most famous Belgian Art Nouveau artist in 1906. Comic strips grew in popularity in the region after WW2. Herge was the most famous of these artists and the man responsible for Tintin. Other famous comic strips originated here and the Belgians were definitely the home of the comic strip as it grew during that era.

With our sightseeing in Brussels at a close we headed to Grand Place to meet Mia a close family friend of Kae’s. Meeting in the Burg square proved tricky as the people and the buildings all seem to blend into one another. In fairness my expectations were misled as Kae instructed me to look out for a tall blonde (not a short brunette!). We all greeted and grabbed a cold beer (in Mia’s case a cherry beer!). We chatted over plans for the future and tales of the past. We enjoyed her company and walked her back to the main train station for her trip to Ghent. We wandered back into the centre, but decided to avoid the gauntlet, opting for a small Italian bistro instead.
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photo by: Vlindeke