Upon arriving in Brussels I discovered that there was one thing that defined this city – beer. Well, not quite because that was something that I discovered upon arriving in Belgium, and I had already been for a trip down to one of the Trappist breweries (or at least the monastery, but they also had a beer hall a couple of miles down the road where I believe they also brewed the beer – though it must have been on the land owned by the monastery since one of the requirements of being a trappist beer is that they must brew it in the monastery).
We had just completed a four hour train trip from Luxembourg (or to be precise Luxembourg city, since there is more to Luxembourg than just that one city, though other than a number of villages, not much more) so the first thing we had to do was to drag our suit cases through the city to our hotel, which happened to be on a street called ‘The Street of the Chicken Market’ (or Rue du Marche de Poulet). My Dad, who speaks French, thought this was rather cute, until I discovered that a number of the streets around the old city have similar names – it seems as if each of these streets were designated markets and each of these markets sold differing produce.
I should make mention a couple of things about the city that I first noticed – waffles and fries. It seems as if Belgium is not only big on beer, but also on waffles, and on fries. In a way fries seem to be a traditional American food, if only thanks to McDonalds, but it turns out that it is not the case. There is a reason they are called French Fries (even though Belgium isn’t France). Chips also seemed to be a traditional English invention, except that it isn’t – once again you can thank the Belge for that (I believe). As for the waffles, well, they are deliciously sugary and look like as if one could literally rot your teeth to the core.
Wandering the Old City
After dumping our bags in our hotel room, it was time to go and explore, and one of the first things we discovered happened to be the Bourse. This was the stock exchange (though not any more). Having followed the markets for a few years now, I have noticed that one of the nicknames happens to be the Bourse. In fact that is actually the French word for ‘Stock Exchange’, though not quite. As I discovered a little later when I was in Ghent, the term came from one of the original merchant families in the district.
Then we discovered the Grand Place, which happened to be the centre of the old city. The place was gorgeous, and it appeared as if a number of the buildings were covered in gold. I don’t think it actually was gold, and even if it was originally gold, I suspect that numerous armies that had conquered the area (the French and the Germans), probably would have stripped the buildings of the precious metal long ago. However, each of the buildings represented one of the major guilds that had been established in the city. The square was actually destroyed in 1695 by a French bombardment and the square was completely flattened. However, it was then rebuilt in its present form and has since been listed on the UNESCO heritage register.
As well as the town hall, as we wandered around here we discovered a beer museum, and I also noticed that there was a sign that clearly indicated that the beer museum wasn’t through one door, but the other, which makes me wonder whether they had problems with people simply wandering into this building and having a look around. On the far side of the square is also the Brussels museum, which basically is a museum on anything and everything Brussels. Another aspect of the square is that opposite the town hall is the so called ducal palace. The thing is that this palace was built to challenge the growing power of the municiple government, however the duke never actually lived here.
I had heard of the Atomium, a huge metal structure on the outskirts of Brussels built for the 1958 World Fair, but had completely forgotten about it until we arrived. It isn’t something you can particularly ignore though, since it is pretty much plastered everywhere. However, like the Eifel tower, it is just another one of those huge, ugly structures that are simply built to tell the world how wonderful they are. Still, we were in Brussels, and since I have no idea if I’ll ever make it back again, I decided to go and visit it.
Sure enough, it wasn’t all that fantastic. It’s just a huge metal structure that is meant to represent an iron crystal atom. You basically walk inside, get your photo taken with the ‘Atom Man’, and then head up an elevator where there is a display on how it was made, and why it was made, and why it wasn’t torn down afterwards for the monstrosity that it is. You then travel between the spheres on an elevator to get some rather unappealing views of the city, and also listen to some techno music, before you find yourself unceremoniously dumped outside.
Since the Atomomium doesn’t take all that long to explore, once you have done that, and wondered around getting some obligatory photos to post up on whatever social media account takes your fancy, there are a few other things to do in the area, such as a minature village (and a cinema, and some Harry Potter thing that I really didn’t pay all that much attention to). However, we weren’t all that interested in any of these things, so after taking some videos of trains and trams, decided to make our way back to the city, and to the beer museum at the Grand Place.
After having a beer at the museum (it was 5€ entry and you got a free beer, or was it free entry and you paid 5€ for the beer is something I’m still trying to work out, though they do brew their own beers to add to the hundreds of other options you get in Belgium) we decided to go and check out the museum. It was here that I discovered that small statue of the urinating boy, though the museum had him dressed up in all these fancy clothes. As such I decided to go and look for that particular boy, only to discover that it was just a small statue of a urinating boy. However, there was a lovely cafe on the other side so we decided to go and have a beer there as well.
Parks and Gardens
It turns out that there was also a railway museum in Brussels, and since my brother loves trains we decided to go and check it out. Well, there are railway museums in a lot of places, but in a way the one in Brussels promised to be much more interesting than the ones in Australia, and it certainly was. Not only did we get to see the King’s train, as well as a huge number of historical and modern trains, there was also a display on how railways are made. One thing that is required is that an archeological survey needs to be done, just to make sure some Ancient Roman ruins or the like aren’t destroyed in the process. Oh, and it is also next to the railway line, which means lots of trains going back and forth. The odd thing was that the cafe was at the entrance, as opposed to the exit.
Our next stop was the Art Gallery, though in our treks we also visited the cathedral (as we are want to do), and the botanic gardens (though we didn’t wander through them). However, one thing about Brussels are the number of parks and gardens about the place. Well, not a huge number, but there are some pretty impressive parks. One of them was the Cinqeterra park, where you can also find some museums. The park itself was magnificent, though time didn’t permit us to visit the museums there (however the art gallery was a different story). What we did find was another one of those gorgeous gates that are scattered around Europe, much like the Brandenberg gate.
Of course, we also wanted to go and see the European Parliament, well just the building, which I have to admit isn’t all that flash. It just looks like your typical building, though it can be somewhat difficult to get to since it is not really all that close to the railway station (I guess diplomants and MEPs don’t consider catching public transport to be part of the job description – not that public transport in Brussels is bad). However, the station we visited was one of those cool stations where the regional trains cross a bridge over the Metro platform).
Oh, and the art gallery was also pretty cool, though it can be a little tricky making your way around, especially since the gallery consists of four galleries, and you have to buy a separate ticket for each of them. One thing I discovered though is that if you happen to live in the city you get a special card which gives you free access to these galleries (though I might actually be thinking of Antwerp).
Beer, Beer, and More Beer
I probably should also mention that I had some beer, but then again if you like beer, and you are in Belgium, why aren’t you going to treat yourself. One thing I discovered is that while they do have Stella Artois on tap, it is pretty much considered rubbish. Sure, people drink it, but it is sort of like having the option of drinking a 50 year scotch vs one that was thrown together two weeks ago. Thus, the main beer that was on tap happened to be La Chouffe, which is far, far better than the Stella, though it does have a pretty strong taste. Mind you, Stella doesn’t seem to have the reputation that it has in England, and if you ask them about it they just look at you oddly.
Another thing that stood out is table service. Practically every place has table service, and if they don’t there is a sign that clearly states it. Honestly, it took me a while to get used to that because in Australia it is only the upper class restaurants that have table service – every where else you have to go and order it from the counter. However, ordering beers from the counter seems to be a complete no no. In fact, they get quite upset if you try to do it, and quite rudely tell you to sit down and somebody will come and serve you.
And this is where I discovered Delrium Tremins. It is a beer bar, and is well known for being a beer bar, particularly in the French speaking world. If you have been to craft beer bars you may have seen a row of taps behind the bar with various beers. Delirium Tremins takes this to a new level in that there are literally 100s of taps (well not quite, but it felt like that at places) behind the bar. It was also where I discovered the little boy’s sister, who happens to be hidden down an alley way.
Speaking of Alleyways, as I was wandering through the city my bar sense discovered a couple of alleyways heading off the road upon which our hotel was located. These alley ways could easily be missed, but I ducked down them to discover some wonderful bars. I even spent one night sitting in the alleyway outside this bar with a lovely Belgium beer, only to discover that the neighbours didn’t particularly like the noise, and dealt with it by dumping a bucket of water on us.
And that, my friends, was Brussels.