Luchthaaven Brussel Nationaal: surprisingly big–not that I expected it to be small but it took me 1h+ to get out and set off Central Station Brussels. The cost of the pretty and modern airport and train station, instantly reflects in the ticket price that I purchase from the automaton; a surcharge for the infrastructural improvements, the Diabolo fee, costs at least as much as the ride itself :-0, but at least in less than ~’30 I’m in the main station.
As I leave the train station, I head down the Rue Infante Isabelle which soon gives into the Grasmarkt :), then through a narrow bustling street I end up in the square of the Grand Place, where the beautiful City Hall (Gothic style middle age building, œuvre d’art of two Flemish architects) is located.
A tourist couple approaches me kindly asking for a photo, in exchange for the same favor–deal! As I am looking for the (well hidden) Tourist Info Point (TIP), I give it a try and ask for directions, they might know where it is hiding; but nope, after a short episode of mime and couple of Italian like air sawing gestures, they finally direct me to the statue of Manneken Pis–that I realize later on. However it is not my main destination, every cloud has a silver lining. Following the previously gotten accurate directions, I enter the 1€ waffle street and soon decide to try one–add the banana-choco syrup topping and it becomes 5€ insgesamt. It is fully worth it though. The only detail that they forget to mention nevertheless is the “handle with care” part. As I stumble into the crowd, I soon reach the corner of Manneken Pis. Yay ^^ awesome setup, but the little guy is undressed :). However as I am busy continuously wiping the eternally flowing chocolate off my face, Ø photos until I finish. I settle thus for a moment to contemplate the busy corner, the tourists and the environment overall. While trying to tame the chocolate invasion, a recent conversation about the paper industry comes instantly to my mind. The printing industry is supposed to be dominantly accountable for deforestation and the uplift of the paper industry, however given the reason why I’m pausing, I strongly doubt it and start seeing the liquid chocolate topping on my waffle as a huge contributor as well!
As there is no sign of any TIP, I decide to return to the Great Square and have a more thorough look around, but also decide to explore the famous chocolate manufacturers in the city. Godiva chocolate dipped strawberries as a starter ;-). But then my perseverance is fruitful. Turns out that the TIP is hiding in the north wing of the Town Hall.
I decide to leave the square and follow a bit in the Christmas Market trail. I soon end up at the Brussels Stock Exchange and decide to head towards the Ixelles quarter.
My accommodation is in the area but it is also home to most of the significant Art Nouveau architectural masterpieces. The house of Victor Horta is in the neighborhood, and naively I decide to go visit the museum. The city is not over crowded, and the weather is very nice, however, I give up on the idea of visiting as soon as I come around the corner–I’ll try maybe on Sunday.
Back to the city center, exploring the wonderful Place du Grand Sablon.
- Flea market–I wish I had some more space in the backpack :-).
- Le pain quotidien — yummy pastry and lovely interior.
- Pierre Marcolini — famous for the hot chocolate, but personally Le Barbare is still kicking ass at this chapter.
- Patrick Roger — Meilleur Ouvrier de France — now this that equals the title. Velvet fine pralines and wonderful chocolate masterpieces.
- Dandoy in the neighborhood, offers yummy biscuits and marzipan hearts.
- Rencontre des Artistes–a bit spicy pricy, but the seafood cotriade is delicious!
It is of course not all about the food in this corner; the atmosphere towards the end of the day inspires a cozy, Holiday feeling. The signs of the famous Franco-Belgian comics show when I stumble upon the local comic book shop. The most most popular ones that have achieved international fame are The Adventures of Tintin, Asterix, and The Smurfs (wiki source).
Mont des Arts: Fin-de-siecle–A new museum opens its doors! a wonderful collection of a mulitude of masterpieces from various disciplines from the pre WWI, between 1884 and 1914, an exhibition of Les XX and La Libre Esthétique, featuring Art Deco furniture and a very modern description for some of the most representative Art Nouveau buildings from the country.
On the small streets of the city center and the most touristy places, you can be sure to bump into one of the late ’80 VW T3 type of waffle ‘automatons’. It is impossible to resit. Wherever you go, the sweet, light scent of caramelized sugar coating of the waffle is simply mouth watering! So on my way down from the top of the Mont des Arts, I stop for a second waffle. It is very soft and smells so delicious, perfectly warming my hands that are soon chilled to the bone by the time dusk falls.
As I wonder down the Mont des Arts, I end up again in the Grasmarkt. As I pass by, there is a trio of musicians playing in the street, some very beautiful classical music pieces. I don’t usually give money for street performances as I prefer to enjoy such manifestations in dedicated places. However this performance is so beautiful that at the end I decide to give most of my coins away and as I turn around, eyes on the cobbles, a familiar voice calls my name! It takes me a moment to lift my eyes and realize that a dear friend from the English Club Oradea, Emese to whom I thank for introducing me to the volunteering business, is standing right in front of me with a wide smile and open arms waiting to give me a genuine warm very-long-time-no-seen hug! It was indeed a touching moment. We haven’t seen each other since … I attended the last EC meeting which was a long while ago. Imagine the odds of such a meeting– from Oradea, on the streets of Brussels after Christmas listening to a musician trio playing on the street. What a wonderful Holiday gift! Thank you!
As I say Goodbye and still try to believe what a wonderful surprise I just ran into, I make my way through the St. Hubertus Gallery, a very fine collection of the famous local chocolate manufacturer brands.
As Tripadvisor suggests, I head down the narrow street at the end of the gallery, to explore the so well rated restaurant, Chez Léon. The interior is more like a typical Italian cuisine, or maybe the typical seafood cuisine; It is so full by the time I get there, that the queue is on the street–well soon after I enter ;-). There is a queue also right at the door inside, as people wait for the tables to free up and to be seated. It is a super busy place but cozy in the same time.
It is nothing special about Brussels to me, though its architecture is very beautiful, and the cuisine turns out to be very good, but still somehow nothing very exotic. However, the most catching part of the city is its people. People look you in the eye and dare to communicate this way. They offer to help when you look lost in the metro stop trying to figure out your way. They are welcoming; at the hotel, though I spent only one night, I had more interaction than expected w the receptionist / owner? A very kind an friendly person, easy going and by the looks, an energetic guy. Before I left, we had a surprising and intriguing discussion about politics, religion and happiness in life.
Back to Chez Léon and my lovely waiter. I get seated and he approaches me, on a low and euphonious and at the same time sneaky voice: –Bonjour Madame, toute seule? –Oui; -Tres bien, une personne suffit deja, avec plus ca devient toujours trop compliqué ;-). He later on suggests me to get the menu instead of the separate dishes that I wanted as it is a better deal. However I take only a soft drink. The moulles meuniers that I ordered arrives along with a shrimp salad and a portion of fries; a bit too buttery to my taste, but delicious.
While I enjoy the busy atmosphere from y sheltered corner, and catch the waiter’s eye checking that dear guest is satisfied, I overhear the conversation he has with 3 elder ladies at the table just across the short flight of stairs that separates us and leads further into the resto. Ca a été, tout c’est bien passé? Est-ce qu vous desires un dessert? Non, merci. Un petit café? Non. Quelque chose d’autre sauf ‘Non’? L’addition?!–non. :-) On va faire la vasseile, c’est bon?, responds the one of the women and at that point the waiter gasps for a second speechless– bien joué madame! =)).
At the verbal ceasefire he leaves and shortly stops by my table to check on me in person when we exchange a few words and very kindly offers to treat me w a little glass of I must admit very good while wine. Another round of check later on and I compliment their mustard–again, a very good quality one, but in the same time a bit hot and spicy. I was planning to try out another coffee place for a compulsory afternoon recovery, but before I could ask for the bill, he offers me a coffee as treat for the strong mustard. I assume there are advantages to living in touristy places, where people are easy going.
Before leaving Brussels I embark on a full day of walking and hunting down Art Nouveau house facades. It is more than welcome such a break as I haven’t done any exercise in the previous couple of days. Besides the pleasant weather and time that I have on this exciting treasure hunt, I have yet another pleasant surprise when a very charming gentleman, Andreas, hanging on to his probably son or grandson’s arm, Jean-François, offers to give me directions while trying to adjust my Art Nouveau signed map, to the streets. After a lovely chat w them, I set out to the pinpointed architectural milestones and in the early evening I end the day in the Square of the European Parliament.
More pics here.