Brussels, Day 2
My last blog post ended with Leigh and I enjoying a much-needed and well-enjoyed evening of fatty food, Belgian beer, and laughter at a Brussels cafe, courtesy of Carrie the very outgoing but not-so-good-at-map-reading globe traveler who was also staying in our hostel room. We stumbled home exhausted and happy and have probably never been so thoroughly happy to see a bare bones hostel room and squeaky old bunk bed. When we woke up the next morning, Leigh and I took advantage of the free hostel breakfast buffet (score!) and then hopped on the metro system with the intention of exploring the Grand Place, one of Brussels’ most famous historical squares.
Entering the Grand Place is like walking into a completely different city. While much of metropolitan Brussels feels like a flashback to the 1980s in eastern Europe, the Grand Place is by contrast an intricate, gilded square the likes of which you would expect to see in Renaissance Germany. The Grand Place has been one of the most popular tourist destinations in Brussels since the beginning of the 13th century, when it was an important marketplace along the banks of the Senne (not to be confused with the Seine in Paris). Nowadays it’s famous for the tulip carpet they construct there every year, and on our trip Leigh and I got there just one week too early. Looks like I’ll just have to go back…!
Inside the Grand Place it’s a tourist’s paradise, with all four of the major Belgian chocolate companies (Neuhaus, Galler, etc.) represented. Leigh and I made it a point to visit every one, though we only sampled a little bit (terrible, I know!). I did buy a little sampler of Galler, which I managed to make last through August (applause, please!). After wandering around the shops a bit we then headed west a bit to visit the statues of Everard ‘t Serclaes and Manneken Pis. Everard ‘t Serclaes was a Belgian hero who apparently refused to give up the keys to the city and was tortured and killed for his trouble. Now, people benefit from his misfortune by battling each other in order to rub the arm of his statue for good luck and have their photo taken doing it. Of course, being the big tourists that we were (are?), Leigh and I had to continue this tradition.
We also made a quick visit to see Manneken Pis, the famous little fountain/statue which is hidden about two blocks off the main square. I have no idea why this little statue is so famous except for the fact that it is so silly. Nevertheless, people send him outfits from all over the world, and now when you visit he is almost always wearing one of them – he has a collection of over 250 outfits, all of which are stored in the City Museum! When we visited, he was wearing this saucy little red and black ensemble:
Another perk of visiting Manneken Pis was getting to sample the awesome €1 waffles they were selling in a stand right across the street. Belgium (and Brussels especially) is famous for its decadent foods – think waffles, beer, chocolate, mussels, and fries. Up until that point Leigh and I had successfully avoided the shops selling huge (and hugely expensive) waffles topped with whipped cream, strawberries, chocolate, and all manner of other toppings since my trusty guidebook suggested that only tourists ate those. (Apparently real Belgians like their waffles plain, with a little powdered sugar dusted on top.) When we saw “authentic” €1 waffles though we knew we had to try them, and we were not disappointed in the slightest – even as I write this I can taste those waffles! Best €1 I’ve ever spent!
After enjoying our insanely awesome waffles, Leigh and I wandered back out of the Grand Place and decided to do a little exploring. We found a 10-story parking garage and climbed to the top of it for a panoramic view of the city, complete with a view of the Atomium. Built for the 1958 World’s Fair, the Atomium is shaped like a giant silver atom and is basically Brussels’ version of the Eiffel Tower. We didn’t have time (or the biggest desire) to travel all the way across Brussels to see it, but at least we saw it from afar!
By the time we climbed back down from the garage we were basically starving, so Leigh and I decided to head back to the Grand Place and eat at one of the various restaurants lining its perimeter. We grabbed a seat at an outside table and I ordered the most Belgian meal I possibly could – Kriek (the cherry-flavored Belgian beer I had tried the night before), mussels, and fries with mayonnaise! I have never had such incredible mussels before or since. Writing this post is making my mouth water all over again!
We also found this little gem:
After lunch we headed back to our hostel, where we enjoyed the greenhouse-ish outdoor veranda, checked emails, and wrote postcards before heading back to the metro station to catch our train to Amsterdam. By 5:00PM we were headed out, and thus ended our one-and-a-half-day whirlwind tour of Brussels!
P.S. As I mentioned in my first blog post, I am trying to stay within the uploading limits for this blog, thus I am not adding a huge selection of photos. Please see my Facebook for more photos, and if you can’t see them there, let me know and I will send them to you!