Travel Journal

Brussels - April 2008

(Wednesday 7 May 2008) by Karin
I promised some updates and here is the first one. I know it has taken me a while but time is flying and work has taken up a lot of time. Then there was the cat sitting, kidsitting and playing taxi on a Wednesday afternoon for the twins, Jouk's (my little nephew) first Communion and his dad's 40th birthday party, meeting up with friends so a lot of talking, and helping a friend move. Getting tired just writing about it but I did end up having a few restful afternoons at the sauna getting pampered.

Aside from that I started exploring Brussels and its nooks and crannies in the company of the greatest Belgian comic strip heroes. A series of giant comic murals that enliven alleys and main thorough fares throughout the old city centre. Tintin, Asterix, Lucky Luke and many other colorful heroes awaiting me around a busy square, a trendy bar, a centuries-old church or a museum. Estimated walking time is two and a half hours but it took me a good part of two Sunday afternoons. It was also a great way of exploring often heard of but never seen neighborhoods.

It would be too long to describe them all but an absolute must to see is the magnificent Grand Place. It boasts the country’s best baroque guildhalls, the beautiful townhall, museums, cafe’s and chocolate shops.

The twin-towered cathedral of Saints Michael and Gudule is another site not to be missed. Begun in 1226, the catheral took some 300 years to build and consequently reveals a blend of styles – from Romanesque through all the stages of Gothic and right up to Renaissance.
On my way around I did not miss the Manneken Piss fountain. This small bronze statuette called “the oldest citizen of the city” and probably the most photographed one, represents a young hero from the Brussels Folkore. On occasion he is dressed up in one of his 700-odd customs.
The Place du Grand Sablon, a veritable mecca of antique dealers and surrounded by former mansion houses is always bustling. Rue Haute, like parallel Rue Blaes, travers the Marolles district and both streets are dotted with “antiquares” that grow more affordable the farther you travel away from the Sablon.
Before heading home I went up the glass elevator that connects the Marolles’ Place Breugel with the Place Poelaert in the Upper Town. I’m not a big fan of elevators so I still do not know what got into me.... a ‘glass’ elevator.... alone.... once but never again. Once up there, and my eyes open again, I did get a great view of the Northern skyline but next time, believe me, even if I have to crawl them up, I will take the stairs.
Another Sunday afternoon walk brought me to the Square du Petit Sablon. Inaugurated in 1890, the Square is surrounded by a superb wrought-iron balustrade decorated with 48 bronze statues which represent the ancient crafts once practised in Brussels. From here, also a great view of the gothic church of Notre Dame-du-Sablon. I wandered downhill to the Grand Place but not before having visited yet another beautiful church: the Notre Dame the la Chapelle church overlooking the popular Marolles’borough. A stone’s throw away from the Grand Place is the Costume and Lace Museum. Well worth a visit. It houses a rich collection of lace, costumes and accessories from European fashion circles of the 17th century till nowadays.
I used the Mont des Arts open-air staircase to reach the Place Royale which is rectangular and perfectly symmetrical and surrounded by beautiful buildings, some of them housing some great museums still to be explored. In its middle stands the equestrian monument of Godefroid de Bouillon, an 11th century crusader considered one of Belgium’s ancient heroes. Another afternoon well spent.
I realize that I have lived here for so many years and I’ve really seen nothing of Brussels. There's a lot more here then I ever imagined. But you have to see this for yoursefl. You can never assume that a book or magazine or me will tell you exactly how a place or its people will be. You have to find out for yourself as often it is difficult to describe and the views of people differ from person to person.

PS: I finally bought a laptop and got internet installed so updating will be easier and more regular. Still figuring out the pictures.


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