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Grand Place may be the famous one, but just by the EU Parliament (possibly Rue de Luxembourg, I was a little lost) was the cutest little old-town style square. Perhaps it was the lack of people everywhere that made it seem so much nicer. It was surrounded by really nice looking cafes, bars and florists, and I can only assume they are hideously expensive but have an excellent friday afterwork drinks scene, given the great location!
The tourist hub of Brussels, Grand Place is definitely a site worth seeing. Though only briefly and whilst holding on to all your valuables. The whole area was a pedestrian zone completely filled with cafes, bars, shops, and basically all things Belgian and touristy. Turn in any direction and you will easily spot waffles, frites, moules frites, Belgian Beer, including the very close Delirium, hosting the best beers in the world (I’m still sceptical), and a tonne of chocolate/sweet shops. Writing that wee list has made me realise how well I did at the culinary bucket list that is Belgium (how they are not all obese I’ll never know). The Mannekin Pis is also handy. Other cool things in the city are a train ride away though unfortunately.
I was lucky enough to see it both when the flower carpet was happening, and without. It seemed to me to be halfway between the buildings along the canals of Amsterdam and the rest of Brussels being more like Vienna. A good combo I thought, though the side streets were definitely more fun:
No opportunity to try new things spared, my last shot at another Belgian beer (whilst in Belgium anyway) was found at the airport. Definitely the most novel of airport canteen drink fridges, it was stocked full of all kinds of crazy, and boutiquey looking beers. At least in comparison to the normal airport serve-yourself type canteen things!
Airports are apparently the only places where it is internationally socially acceptable to drink on your own, so I grabbed the most funny looking, odd shaped, novel one I could. Not bad either.
Perhaps it is my inner nerd, but I found the EU Parliament, or the ‘Parliamentarium’ as the museum part is called absolutely fascinating. Not just a fantastic building, the museum had a really great exhibit walking you through all the relevant parts of European history that lead to the creation of the European Union. The timeline along the wall of important events in the recent histories of all of the member countries was great, as was the giant visual displays of the debating chambers displaying, in quite a cool, interactive way, how decisions are made, all of the processes, and how decisions affect people’s day to day lives.
After learning about a lot more European history than the standard WWI and WWII you get in high school (particularly eastern Europe, former Yugoslavia etc which get a bit left out IMHO), I was definitely a lot more appreciative of the whole system. Particularly after having been to many places that are still dealing with the effects of wars and regimes of a less democratic nature, I am now much more inclined to agree that the recent awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU is quite fitting. At first I thought it was a bit ridiculous and that those actual people who were awarded it before would probably be quite offended. I was initially of the opinion it was a tacky, cheap way to rally the troupes and stop people pushing the idea of pulling out of the EU in the wake of the Eurozone crisis. But when you see just how much conflict there has been in the region, all laid out on one timeline and so recent, it does change your perspective.
Seeing parts of Berlin still being rebuilt (complete with scattered bits of the wall), meeting people who remember lining up for days for rations in Krakow and visiting concentration camps, I am continually amazed at how so many countries so close together have given each other so much grief over the years and it made me realise that the EU really is quite radical.
I couldn’t help but wonder as I wandered just how much all of the fancy pants lighting and displays were costing, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Apparently it is fairly controversial (being opened in 2011, right as the Greek crisis turned into the Eurozone crisis). A cheeky google search reveals it cost around €20m. When I arrived I wasn’t sure if the audioguides were free or not, and when I asked, the girl behind the counter answered with a bitter “No, my taxes pay for it for you.”
I only wish I had longer there (I was on the way out to the airport, had my backpack and everything in the coat check) as it was really fascinating and I barely scratched the surface – you can also see the parts of the rest of the buildings. I’ll definitely have to go back.
My first belgian waffle was just the most amazing thing ever. I didn’t realise that proper belgian waffles are actually made from a ball of dough, rather than a batter like pancakes. It makes for soft, stretchy, sugary, slightly chewy deliciousness. I was surprised in its quality, being from a festival stall, where generally the monopoly factor means all the food is crap.
Problem was, I wasn’t sure if I was being the most objective judge of taste, seeing as how it was 1:30am at a music festival. At that time/place anything could taste that amazing!
So of course I had to make another go at it. The bar had been set high, so I tried out some waffles at one of the Häagen Dazs cafes that seemed to be all over Brussels with people always sitting outside eating tasty looking waffle creations. Sadly it was really average (although the icecream was tasty) and I decided I should probably give up on my dream of ever enjoying a waffle as much. Unless I can somehow recreate the same combination of extreme hunger, slight drunkenness, the end of a great day of music and really low expecations of the food I was about to get…
I was actually surprised that it wasn’t as big as I was anticipating, but it is still a pretty cool building to see. When I was there there was an enormous heat wave. So much so that they had to give out water to all the visitors!
The views out over Belgium were great (apparently on a good day, and I guess for people with good vision, you can see out to Antwerp. I also thought it was hilarious that so much still reflects the 1950s view of the future. E.g. the “Decatron.”
As part of the Brusselicious Food festical, a bunch of artists had made huge displays on a number of fixed, food related shapes in the Brussels park. For example there were mussels, chocolates, chips etc, with different artist’s creative impressions. It was quite cool, but a shame I went there as it was getting dark as the photos don’t quite do it justice!
All over Brussels there are a number of Chocolatiers and shops with everything from open displays of how they are made to chocolate fountains. I can’t even remember which of the many near the main square I popped in to for samples, but my favourites were a toss up between the old classic hazlenut nougat, and chilli chocolate. Can’t complete the belgian culinary experience without the chocolates!
I thought the story of its origin was quite cute though – supposedly a wee boy went missing one day and had the whole village out searching for him, and finally they found him pissing into a fountain.
Yet another spot with a hilarious mob of tourists (myself included). One guy came up and asked me to take a photo of him, to which I agreed, and then said “I’m going to do something quite rude though.” Oh god I thought, don’t unzip your pants and urinate next to it. As I awkwardly said no and tried to give him his camera back, he got down on one knee and mimed catching the water from the fountain in his mouth. At least his pants stayed on!!