Brussels is kind of dingy. That’s what a few people told me before I went.
This happens to me frequently. People find out what I do and then insert (sometimes without me even asking) their point of view about a city or country.
I’ve become a pregnant woman.
Pregnant women are often given unsolicited advice on what they should or shouldn’t do with their fetus and this continues well after the child is born. It must be worse with the onset of social media. A well meaning baby photo posted on Facebook becomes an advice column for the mommy critics.
Travelers love to talk about their travels with others, which is cool. They also become heady with tips. Do this. Go here. I hated that.
What people constantly forget is a destination is very much opinion. It depends on who you were with. How long you stayed. What you chose to see.
Brussels is the de facto capital of the European Union, has three official languages — Dutch, German and French, and is home to the waffle. But it’s so much more than that.
Belguim marked a return to Europe since my running with the bulls experience in 2012. It’s been 2 years since I’ve seen medieval or gothic buildings, tasted cuisine that didn’t have chillies or loads of garlic, had to make sure my right ankle didn’t wrench on a cobblestoned street.
Travel is both personal and mainstream. I say mainstream because inevitably, we all gravitate to famous landmarks that teem with crowds and touts, but how we process them is intimate. Why we go is sometimes private.
Often my travels revolve around people and Brussels was about connecting with my friend Alison Cornford-Matheson, the blogging queen of CheeseWeb, the source for all things Belgium. We spent a few days together and enjoyed some sights, conversations and tasty food.
My connections are just as important to me as what I photograph and see.
Certainly, Brussels is dingy in some areas. But I could see past that and frankly, I enjoy a bit of grit. It means a place has been lived in.
So, see beyond the business buildings and banks to discover that Brussels is a tangle of cultures, a melting pot that’s rooted in the newer immigrant influx and still found in the old world cultures of Flanders, Wallonia and the capital, Brussels.
I may not do it justice as Alison does, but I’ll try.
Palace of Brussels
Where the offices are located for the King and Queen and several staff to the constitutional monarchy.
Mont des Arts
This area use to be densely populated and then was demolished to build the “Mont des Arts” [a hill of arts]; however, the project lacked financial backing. By 1910, King Leopold II asked landscape architect Pierre Vacherot to design a temporary garden area. Today the area is full of museums and residents enjoy the green space.
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert is the oldest shopping arcade in Europe, built in the 19th century, with storefronts selling some of Belgium’s best chocolate, among other things.
Musical Instrument Museum
Alison pointed out the interesting construction of this museum — it’s Art Nouveau. I would love to stand on the roof! Imagine the view.
Is the central square of Brussels and considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The square was the heart of business from the 14th century onwards.
Over the course of history, the Grand Place flourished under guild houses. Guild houses were composed of artisans or merchants, home to bakers, grocers, shopkeepers and so on. Most were built between 1696 and 1700 in a Baroque style with some Flemish influences.
This little area was a nice stroll, replete with a high number of street side cafes that serve seafood. Though I was told that many of the restaurants are a bit generic and pricey. Still, if you want mussels – feel free to give it a go.
Cinquantenaire is not just a museum, but the name also extends to a large urban park (30 hectares) that has the Arc du Cinquantenaire (built in 1905), a U-shaped arcade, as the centrepiece. The park was initially built to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Belgium independence and is widely used by citizens and tourists alike.
Victor Horta is hailed as the father of the Art Nouveau style that became popular in the 19th century. Using industrial materials like iron or exposed glass, Horta and his colleagues managed to construct fluid, almost organic shapes found in nature. At one point, about 1,000 Art Nouveau buildings were in existence but once the style went out of fashion, several of those treasures were demolished. Currently about 500 Art Nouveau buildings still exist. To get a full history, visit the Victor Horta museum or do an Art Nouveau walk.
The story of this one is sad! The developer spent time refurbishing it to it’s former state and nobody has rented or bought it. I would, without hesitation.
You have to feel sorry for the little guy. He’s been kidnapped twice (18th century), smashed into bits (19th century) and his handlers have 175 outfits for him to wear, parading him in front of dignitaries. Sounds a bit like Justin Beiber’s life. As underwhelming as he is, a quick stop by is sufficient to fight through the touristic paparazzi, slide in to grab your photo and escape. He’s a humorous fixture of Brussels but so is his rarely visited sister, Jeanneke Pis.
I know, I left out a lot. But I’m not overly interested in Tintin, but am into street art, which I heard there was a lot of. I just ran out of time.
Remember, all of this is only my opinion. You don’t have to take my word for it.