Brace yourselves, this is going to be a photo-heavy post. I had my first visit to the centre of Brussels and of course I took my camera with me. I popped out of the metro in Saint-Cathérine/Sint-Katelijne station. My only source of amusement on the metro was to say the names of the stops in my head in both languages. Most signs and advertisements in Brussels are in both French and Dutch and occasionally there’s German and English added to the mix, especially in the centre.
The first thing that happened outside the metro was not too pleasant, I do not enjoy getting dirty comments from random men. And it was just because I was wearing yellow shorts with (thick and grey!) tights. I will probably make a separate blog post about street harrassment some time later, it’s shocking how common it is in some areas. Anyway, continuing with more pleasant things: the following photo was the view just after stepping out of the metro station.
I already know that there is a special ice-cream parlour on that street, Comus & Gasterea has flavours like carrots, wasabi, basil, caviar… and for those who don’t feel quite as adventurous there’s also normal flavours like caramel, coffee, speculoos and apples. Next time I’m in the area, I’ll definitely pop in and give it a go, picking some of the craziest flavours. This time I was hurrying to a youthful information centre named Use-It to get a free map of Brussels. The lovely young lady behind the counter gave me some nice tips and even drew me a route for a nice walking tour in the centre. The first stop was at Place du Beguinage to take a look at Èglise Saint-Jean-Baptiste:
The next step on the suggested route was a parking house, because it was possible to get a nice view from the rooftop. Since I don’t know Brussels that well yet, I can’t comment on the buildings seen from there. So, photos without any comments:
The walk continued through an area that had a lot of eastern influences. There was a Japanese restaurant named The Ninja House, a lot of other restaurants with all kinds of foreign cuisine, supermarkets with all kinds of awesome foods from far east… in one of those supermarkets I got my bags searched because the security guard thought it was suspicious I didn’t buy anything. He did send me off with a smile though when he realised I had only a bag with maps and a camera bag with me.
As some of you may already know, there is a fountain with a peeing boy in Brussels. Manneken Pis is the symbol and mascot of the city. Before seeing the famous boy, I saw another peeing statue: Zinneke the dog.
Every street I saw in Brussels was completely different from the previous one, at least as far as buildings go. I don’t think I have seen two buildings next to each other that look the same, it’s as if everyone looked at their neighbour’s house before building theirs and thought “how can I make mine look nothing like that house?”. No two buildings have exactly the same height, colour, style, roof, windows… I could continue the list but you get my point.
Another thing I have noticed in Brussels: lots of graffiti. Some of it just scribbles, some as proper art installations. I am yet to find the proper gold mine of awesome graffiti, so have this while I’m still searching:
The route continued towards the centre of Brussels, past Beurs / Bourse, the Brussels Stock Exchange. It was built there after the river Senne had been covered up. There used to be a river in the centre of Brussels, but it got heavily polluted as the city grew and in the end the river got directed underground with big boulevards and fancy buildings standing where the river once was. The river got covered up in 1865 and a few years after that the grand stock exchange building was erected in its place.
On my way to Grote Markt / Grand Place (the central square of Brussels) I spotted a guy sitting on the street and making jewellery. Some tourists were taking a photo with his hat that he gladly gave to them for that purpose. (They did return the hat later.) I ended up having a nice conversation with him and found out he has a friend in Estonia. We both agreed that Estonian winters are insane and I left after buying two dragonfly earrings from him. I’m sure I’ll check his jewellery out again when I go through that street.
The big square was not as impressive as it had seemed from photos. Perhaps it was because there were some stalls around that blocked the view to the impressive houses around the square, perhaps it was the weird weather… but I was left underwhelmed. Better luck next time.
After Grote Markt / Grand Place, I had to go through a street full of the amazing smell of chocolate and fresh waffles. Fighting my way through hordes of tourists, I managed to see Manneken Pis and have an awesome waffle for just 1€. Since I had tips from the Use-It tourism office, I went for a Liege waffle to get the proper experience. It had sugar inside and despite being nearly disgustingly sweet, it was delicious. Most people took the extreme tourist version with whipped cream, strawberries, bananas, chocolate sauce etc. I decided not to be a silly tourist and took a plain waffle, which was a good choice.
As the waffle and all the walking had made me thirsty, I headed to a nice cafe pointed out by the tourism office girl. I had a delicious fresh mint tea there and rested my legs a bit before taking on the last bit of the walking tour. The cafe was situated on a fancy shopping street that had a glass roof covering.
Next stop was Beenhouwerstraat / Rue des Bouchers. It’s a narrow street, full of restaurants and waiters who try to lure you to their place to eat. I said no to all the waiters, eavesdropped on random Estonian businessmen having lunch / early dinner at one of the terraces and took a look at another peeing statue: Jeanneke Pis. The peeing girl was locked up behind bars for some reason and I didn’t bother taking a photo of her, it was too dark.
Last stop before heading back to the metro station was the chocolate heaven. There’s a lot of fancy chocolate stores gathered around one square a little bit south of the centre, so of course I had to take a look there. I got three nice-looking ones from Marcolini, peeked in some other chocolate stores and accidentally crashed a mini-movie-shoot in one of them, got recommendations from the store owner in Godiva and I think he pointed out a place where I should be able to get amazing minty chocolate. But exploring that was left for the next trip to the centre as it was getting late, so I took a photo of the Godiva store with a random tourist in green and left for the metro station.
There’s not much to say about the metro. It’s not overly impressive and occasionally it can look a bit scary, but it’s nowhere near the dystopian-looking one in Milan. I end this post with two random shots from the metro: