Writing this from our lovely flat in Brussels through Air BnB. It’s day 3 here, heading off to Rotterdam tomorrow to stay with Lauren.
Despite the relatively close distance and intertwined histories, Brussels has a very different architectural look to Paris. Where the architecture in Paris is mostly white/cream with grey roofs, here in Brussels it is a lot more red/terracotta colours. The centre of Brussels is called the ‘Grand Place’ and is essentially a large, cobbled square surrounded with buildings dating mostly from mid-1600s plus a grand gothic building. The Grand Place used to be the central market place and all the surrounding streets are named after their respective produce specialty.
We travelled across on Monday morning on the fast train. Then walked into the square to explore. There are a LOT of chocolatiers in central Brussels – almost every third shop! Needless to say we sampled quite a bit 🙂 Also found a great beer hall with atmosphere called ‘Delerium Tremens’ which stocks several thousand beers – with over 300 on tap! We had a few tastes then went for dinner.
Tuesday we decided to follow the self-walking tour of Brussels in the morning. Came across a medieval gatehouse and went in for a look. Brussels was originally a walled city with moat, with a second wall built around 1700. In the mid 1900s the walls were knocked down to create motorways around the city, only a few remnants remain. The gatehouse museum had displays of armour and weaponry and paintings connected to the history of brussels. We made it up to the ramparts for the panoramic view, then discovered that we had locked ourselves onto the rampart – about 6 storeys up! The phone number on the museum guide didn’t connect! And we couldn’t attract attention from the passersby. Josh called his folks – much to their amusement (i think this will go down in the annals with the time Josh tried to take 10kilos of dumbbells to Broken Hill!) and they couldn’t get through to the museum either! Finally we managed to be spotted by a passerby who went in to the museum to get us some help. Not long after a bloke came out onto the rampart and shut the door behind him – Josh and I had a slow motion ‘Noooooooooooooooo’ moment and the guy looked at us like we were bonkers and said ‘They’re open all day long’. Turned out you had to slam your fist onto the medieval lock and wrench the door open. We didn’t stop laughing for the rest of the day wondering how often they rescue visitors in distress!
In the afternoon we took a walking tour around Brussels and learnt the history of middle ages Europe from our Argentinian guide. He was very knowledgable about the economic and architectural histories. Did you know that Bonds were originally developed to finance the monarchy of Brussels after the Hapsberg-Spanish rule ended?
Yesterday we avoided medieval castles with vehemence and took a more leisurely pace through the Royal Musee de Beaux Arts which includes the Magritte Museum. We saw lots of lovely Flemish paintings, some more Renaissance religious ones (slowly getting over these… the gross wealth of the Catholic church seems outrageous), and an enormous room with 9 gigantic works by Rubens (lovely). The Magritte museum was really interesting too as Rene Magritte was one of my favourite artists – he was a Surrealist. Afterwards we sampled our first Belgian waffle – of which three are two types: the Liege (oval shaped) and the Brussels (rectangular, and supposedly superior). We thought they tasted pretty good!
The weather here makes Paris look warm! It has a very bitey wind and lots of rain. Not that we’ll let that hamper our adventures!
We visited the comic strip museum today to learn about the extensive comic history of Brussels – foremost of which is Herge’s Tintin. Much to Josh’s delight, we happen to be staying in the building next door to the Tintin main office which has a large Tintin and his dog Snowy on the roof! We also checked out the Museum of Cacao and Chocolat today. Last of all, we took a tour of the Cantillon Brewery which brews lambic beer from natural fermentation processes – one of the last of its kind. Very tasty.
We’ve also admired the street art which is throughout the city. From Herge murals through some classy stencils, through to the most recent edition of little Space Invaders mosaics dotted throughout the city.