Hopping Through The Capital of Europe
I mentioned a few posts back that I was supposed to spend the Easter break in Brussels, with my friend Kay. However, we decided to go to Amsterdam at the last minute. That was where most of our friends were at the time, and it seemed like a sensible choice. After all it’s an easy switch, so much that people often string them together on a single tour. A train runs between the two large cities, costing you up to 55.40 EUR on a first class seat (without promotional rates). There’s also a 3-hour bus route, for those who prefer the paved path. The Flixbus costs around 10 EUR, but spikes to 15-25 EUR during peak season.
The travel time left nearly no room for activity when I finally did make it to Brussels, but I managed to tour some interesting sights. Here are some places I’ve seen:
Free Things to do in Brussels
Definitely one of the most beautiful squares I’ve ever seen! It’s a stunning space, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s also the site of the Town Hall and Guild Halls, as well as buildings dating back from the 14th to 17th century. It was the center of a functioning municipality, too. Too bad it was overcast the day we visited, so taking photos was difficult.
Peeing Boy Statue.
Legend has it that there once lived a witch who punished a little boy. His crime was peeing on her front door. The witch decided it was appropriate to turn him into stone for what he did. However, a good man appeared bearing a statue that is identical to that of the little boy. This is the statue that we see today — or so goes one of the seven legends surrounding this Brussels icon, locally known as Manneken-Pis.
Victor Hugo’s Dwelling.
The famous author of Les Miserables spent more than a year and a half in Brussels, and his dwelling at the Grand Place is now a famous tourist spot. So strong is Hugo’s connection to Brussels that some tours even offer a “Victor Hugo Walk”!
The famous “lying down statue” is that of Everard t’Serclaes, who became a hero after he recovered the city from a Flemish invasion. It is said that tourists who touch (or rub, more frequently) the statue gets good luck. Rubbing the arm, in particular, is said to ensure that person’s return to Brussels.
Mussels, Beer, and Chocolate.
As if by some weird twist of rhyme, Brussels is one of the best places in all of Europe to have mussels. Locally called moules, they are Belgium’s national dish. One of the best places to have them is in one of the city’s oldest restaurants, Chez Leon. I felt like taking part in history as I ate my way through the fresh, delicious dish.
Of course, I was in Belgium — it would be a shame if I cannot try out two of their most famous products, beer and chocolate! I went to the Delirium Cafe, a Guinness Book of World Records holder of the most number of beers served. In fact, they have more than 2,000 different brands from around the world! The Pink Elephant sign of the Delirium Tremens beer decorates the entrance, leading into a cozy and warmly-lit interior.
And of course, the chocolate. Belgium has more chocolate makers than any other place in the world. Real “chocolate” in these parts need to have at least 30% cocoa. Some of them go up as much as 85%! The masters of the art use only the finest ingredients, chocolate has turned from a treat into an exquisite artisanal craft. For the one on the receiving end, it is pure, heavenly pleasure!
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert.
This is a really beautiful shopping arcade that came from before the 19th century. It preceded most others of its kind in Europe, with the glazed shops, arched roofs, and cast-iron work. The place is so beautiful it is not only a haven for shop-a-holic tourists, but also for movies. It was famously portrayed in the Hollywood film “The Danish Girl”.
Constructed in 1958, this marvelous steel structure exhibits the shape of an iron crystal. It houses a museum, too — named by CNN as Europe’s most bizarre building for its unlikely shape. But even more than the architectural wonder and the scientific significance, I enjoyed the wide, relaxing park space around it. It was perfect for a late afternoon stroll, as it also had a stunning sunset view! The place is easily accessible by commute. One can go via the Line 251 bus, the Line 5 or Line 6 Subway, or via taxi. All commutes should take approximately half an hour or less (a lot less by taxi). In my case, I was lucky to be picked up by a friend with a car!
St. Mary’s Royal Church.
Standing on the Place de la Reine, the church combines both Roman and Byzantine architectural techniques. It was completed in 1885, and stands as a wonder. The sunset here is amazing, too! We were driving by when I saw the pinkish sun and horizon. We just had to stop and appreciate the sunset.
- Like we do back home, make sure you double-check everything you are paying for! There was one time that the bus ticket says 2.50 EUR but the machine only says 2.10 EUR. It wasn’t as easy to ask for help around since they barely speak English in Brussels, despite it being a polyglot country. They tried to help me out despite my lack of French and Flemish, though, and they even once helped me take the right direction when I realized I’m on the wrong bus.
- Also, make sure you take care of your luggage very well. When I hopped into North Station via Flix after a 3-hour ride from Amsterdam, I was told that some will try to steal your luggage from under the bus when you arrive. It didn’t happen to me, but I did see a girl screaming “That’s my bag!” at a person carrying her luggage. The guy just dropped it on the ground and ran, so it really does happen.
- Speaking of thieves, Brussels is also notorious for pickpockets. Keep your bag close to you at all times! I became paranoid enough to put my hiking bag (containing cameras, laptops, and money) under my bus seat during travel. The bus driver wanted to put it down in the compartment, but I insisted and he gave in. I’m a small girl anyway, so I can manage. What struck me was the way he said, “Okay, it’s Brussels after all.” It felt like some kind of warning!
- Also, mind the weather forecasts. Like London, Brussels is mostly gloomy and overcast but weather is unpredictable. I was so lucky I had 2 days of sun while there, though it was still cold even if it’s sunny. Even the locals were cold — it was 0-2 degrees outside! It appears the temperature dropped for the whole of Europe, which was weird. Just a few weeks ago in Amsterdam I was already in dresses!
There are other sites to see in the area, such as Bruges and Ghent. These are two towns that seem to be in perpetual competition with each other. But I went to them both, and I will feature them in the next review!