For over three months my one-day sightseeing trip to the capital was left on the back-burner. From Leuven, it really is just a stone’s throw away. I also wanted to visit when something special was happening in the city. With an old friend in town and the Christmas festivities in full force, Brussels beckoned. We were extremely lucky actually for the weather during the two days my friend visited was relatively clear. Prior to Christmas it rained continuously for ages and I personally did not see the sun for weeks. Anyway, we set out on Boxing Day morning after a heavy brunch of spaghetti and some strong coffee.
Our walking tour started at Brussels Central train station and from there we first checked out the Cathedral, Royal Park, Royal Palace, the museum district, and the ‘Square’ meeting point. None of the museums seemed particularly alluring though; we skipped the musical instruments, 15th century underground ruins, and endless halls of paintings on offer.
Basically, Brussels is all about its Grand Place, or Grote Markt, which is the central square and most memorable landmark of the city. Named as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, the square was also voted to be the most beautiful square in all of Europe in 2010. By day you’re able to observe the intricate detail of the facades and the gleamy gold trimmings that adorn the guild halls. By night the square is comes alive as a popular place for fancy dining. Every two years in August, a colourful patterned carpet of flowers (Begonias) blankets the square. Too bad we just missed it this year in 2012.
This holiday season, the government folks decided to do away with a traditional pine for the square’s Christmas decorations. Instead, they installed an ultra minimalist contemporary representation of a tree constructed from some steel pipes, white fabric, and LED lights. Give a toddler a pile of Jenga blocks and tell him to build a tree - he’ll build a better looking tree than what city officials have created here. It is truly ugly, and highly controversial (much to the delight of Minecraft enthusiasts).
Anyway, apart from waffle snacking and bar crawling for Trappist beer, we also encountered the famous Manneken Pis (the bronze pissing boy statue) and took the metro to check out the Atomium. Having been to many tall towers across the world, views from the top sphere were fairly ordinary. But to look upon this super-sized blown-up version of an iron molecule underneath it with your neck craned as far back as possible… that view was quite extraordinary.
Mussels and fries, a national favorite, was on our dinner menu. I’ve been meaning to try this typical Belgian dish since day one but they seem to prefer serving it in upscale restaurants in Leuven. In Brussels prices are more competitive thanks to all the tourists. It was an absurd amount of mussels. I thought the restaurant would try to fill you up on fries but it was deliciously the other way around.
Waffles, beer, chocolate, fries, a typical dish, and hitting up all the major attractions in Brussels with fantastic companionship made for a special day trip indeed.