According to a survey result that was released in March 2008, Brussels gained the unfavourable tag of being the ‘Most Boring City in Europe’. (I even learned that a synonym for boring is somniferous – handy if you want to use a big word instead!). The finding influenced me to only schedule in one night in Brussels during my trip and have two nights in Bruges instead. After spending a day here, I realise that Brussels is not boring at all. The fact that there’s a schizophrenic feeling in the city due to the dual names for everything in Dutch and French (or Flemish and Walloons, if you wish), adds to the quirkiness of the city.
I arrived in Brussels at about 1pm after taking the train from Maastricht. I checked out from the hotel (Hotel LeRoi – great location but very pricey) at about 9.50am and headed to the train station. On the way there, I saw that there was a fleamarket at Stationstraat so rather than taking the 10.12am train, I stored my luggage in the locker and spent some time in the fleamarket. It was a perfect morning – the sun was up, the atmosphere at the market was warm and friendly. There were sellers selling the usual porcelains and bric-a-brac, as well as a gramophone seller playing music of the yesteryears. I didn’t buy anything as I would have to be careful with my luggage allowance, besides, there are still a couple of stops that I will make before Adelaide. I didn’t have breakfast at the hotel, because it would’ve cost me €16. Instead I had two delicious kroketten and some frites along with a glass of nice koffie verkeerd (an equivalent of caffè latte) at Restaurant Le Guide in Stationstraat, all for €10.00. My friend Sjoerd in Amsterdam suggested that I should try the Limburgse vlaai – a cake from the Limburg area. I didn’t see it in the menu unfortunately so I will have to try it in Amsterdam perhaps.
The train stopped at Liège and hearing things in French took a little bit of getting used to, after hearing instructions in German or Dutch. Brussels is also predominantly French-speaking, even though it is located in the Flemish region. Not having any Brussels map with me provided me with a challenge of getting to the hotel smoothly. I did some Googling before I took the train and some articles suggested that I should stop at Bruxelles-Nord station. I used my instinct and headed towards an area with greater concentration of buildings. The first person who I asked for direction didn’t know where it was and referred me to a large city map 500m away. Unfortunately it doesn’t have the street that I was looking for (Boulevard d’Anvers). I asked more locals – most could only speak French. Thank goodness I still remember some basic French so with my probably-incorrect French, I did my best in asking for directions and understanding the steps. At the end, I found the hotel, after several attempts. I had actually passed it before – duh – I should’ve looked up and saw the signage. As I mentioned before, it can be confusing with everything having French-Dutch name. For example, Boulevard d’Anvers is also called Antwerplaan.
The concierge at the hotel is friendly and informed me of the Belgian Comic Strip Centre in Rue des Sables 20. He also highlighted the direction that I should take to the Grand Palace / Groote Markt, the main attraction in Brussels. So naturally, the first stop for me was the Comic Strip Centre because I’m in the home of Tintin and Smurf! However, I was distracted by some noise as I walked across Boulevard Adolphe Max. There were some commotion and the sound of a procession – the owner of the nearby kebab house quickly rushed and knocked on the door of the tailor’s next door and said that the king had come. He was only joking of course – his wife told me “Pas le roi” (Not the king). The procession turned out to be some kind of 700th anniversary of Meybloom Festival. Talking about being at the right place and at the right time! 😀 I took some pictures of the procession and when it was finished, I continued my walk towards the Belgian Comic Strip Centre.
At the Comic Strip Centre, I was smiling like a kid as I walked throughout the exhibits. I’m very much familiar with some of them, like the Smurfs, Lucky Luke, and of course, Tintin. I also stopped by the shop afterwards and got myself some postcards and some small figurines to put on my bookshelves. The business of comic figurines must be really lucrative – a large size comic figurine can cost as much as €300! Whoa!
After that, I walked through Place des Martyrs / Martelaarsplein towards Grand Place / Groote Markt passing some local landmarks such as the Bourse (Brussels Stock Exchange) and La Monnaie / De Munt, which is one of the theatres in Brussels. Brussels is a city that’s quite compact and pretty easy to explore on foot.There are also a lot of direction signages all over the place that make it easier for travellers to find their destination.
Grand Place itself is very beautiful – it’s a town square surrounded by old grand buildings. Of course there were lots of tourists there – there were also lots of chocolate shops, souvenir shops, cafés, shops selling freshly-baked waffles. All very exciting! I had my first waffle as I walked towards Grand Place, and as I ended my exploration of the area, I decided to have some frites with pili pili sauce (spicy mayonnaise sauce), and a fricandellen. It was an interesting experience, to eat my frites and watch the passers-by. Good atmosphere, friendly people, good weather, cheap and tasty food. What else would I want? Hehe. I did also find the world-famous landmark of the Manneken Pis – the pissing boy. Seeing so many grown-ups looking for, and posing with a statue of a peeing boy made me chuckle. The Manneken Pis is regularly dressed to the occasion – apparently he would be dressed in Santa’s costume around Christmas, and so on. This time, he was dressed in some kind of green outfit – perhaps it’s related to the Meybloom Festival.
I also stopped by a local biscuit shop called Dandoy and bought myself some Earl Grey Biscuit – I was intrigued! First coffee-bean chocolate, and now Earl Grey biscuit – The biscuits have flecks of Earl Grey tea in them. They’re delicious! A crunchy cup of tea in every bite. Haha.
I realise now that there are so many more places to see in Brussels – I was tired after I had my walk and the wind had picked up some speed, accompanied by some trickles, so I went back to the hotel at about 6.30pm and fell asleep. I told myself that I would get out for a walk again at 7.30pm – it turned to 8.00pm as I woke up from time to time – and then to 9.00pm, and at the end, I decided to stay in. Hehehehe. I was just too lazy and too tired to walk again to the city centre. I have set my alarm to 7.00 in the morning so I can explore some more places before I continue on to my penultimate destination in Europe for this trip, the medieval city of Bruges (Brugge).