Sunday, April 12, 2009

Brussels…and I’m not talkin’ sprouts

My hubs travels to Belgium fairly often on business and since he was there last week for a meeting we decided to make a weekend of it and I would join him. They have a name for trips like this in the UK-they are called ‘short breaks’. Good Friday and Easter Monday are ‘Bank Holidays’ here which essentially means banks are closed as are most businesses. I caught the Eurostar from London to Belgium last Thursday-it’s a fast train and from the center of London you can be in the center of Brussels in only two hours. I’d love to tell you something interesting about the train journey but I pretty much sat down, listened to some instructions in English and woke up 2 hours later to someone speaking French. The Eurostar goes under the channel and the idea of that freaks me out a little bit so I love napping the journey away. If I’m being honest I pretty much love napping anytime.

We stayed in a hotel in Brussels and then took local trains to the towns of Ghent and Bruges over the weekend. I’m going to write about those cities in part deux of this post. Belgium is unusual in that two languages are spoken and what you hear will depend on where you are in the country. Some areas are French speaking and some are Flemish. Let’s just say that trying to navigate trains and timetables in Flemish adds an element of adventure to the whole experience. We’re very comfortable travelling around over here but even so we forget sometimes that English is not used everywhere…you do remember that fact pretty quickly however when you are standing in a train station in a foreign city trying to get to another foreign city and none of the signs have anything even remotely like English on them. I’m always impressed at the ease with which my friends from other countries are able to switch between the two, three, or four languages they speak. Impressed and a little bit envious. Multilingualism is a skill I wish I possessed.

Anyway, I arrived in Brussels Thursday afternoon and my hubs met me at the train. We spent Thursday evening walking around the town, looking in the shops and planning what we would eat. They excel at chocolate, waffles and mussels in this country so it did require some planning. Honestly, there are shops like this one every few feet-

And there are kiosks like this all around the city too-

And little booths making smoutebollen which are sugared donuts, and in fact the whole shopping street closest to the Grand Place smells like someone’s mama has just pulled a tray of sugar cookies out of the oven. Good thing we walked about 45 miles this weekend.

The Grand Place is the main square in Brussels and it is magnificent. Beautiful buildings all the way round with lots of outdoor cafes where you can sit and enjoy the view. The centrepiece is the Hotel de Ville which is Brussels Town Hall.

The spire on this building was built in 1449 and stands 315 feet high. It is also slightly crooked.

More beautiful buildings flank the Hotel de Ville including Le Renard which was at one time the guildhouse of the haberdashers and La Maison des Boulangers with it’s very beautiful dome topped by a dancing golden figure and also Le Roi d’Espagne which offers a great view of the square.

Of course we walked down to the very famous Manneken Pis which is a funny little statue of a boy happily relieving himself into a small pool outdoors as little boys everywhere apparently love to do.

There are a few theories as to how this statue came to be but one of the most popular says that during a battle sometime back in the 1100’s the troops put the young son of a duke into a basket and then hung the basket in a tree to encourage the men. From this tree the little boy relieved himself onto enemy troops who eventually lost the battle. This is probably a whole lot more than you want to know about the little statue but it is a must see for everyone who comes to Brussels. In fact the Manneken has taken on a life of its own now and at different times of the year is dressed in costumes from around the world. Heads of state visiting Brussels have been known to bring miniature versions of their national dress for the statue and he now has over 400 outfits including an Elvis costume.

And I’m thinking that anything I write now cannot possibly compete with a cheeky little boy statue with his own Elvis costume so I’ll save the rest of our short break fun for tomorrow’s post.

Happy Easter...Joyce


  1. Happy Easter Joyce! We've been hunting eggs and eating candy all day. As always your pictures are wonderful. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Again, I am traveling vicariously through you.

  3. How wonderful that you could join your husband in Belgium for the weekend. I enjoyed seeing the pictures of the buildings...and those waffles...yummm!
    I would have needed to walk 45 miles too. ;)
    Glad y'all had a good time.
    I can't wait for part two.

  4. You make an excellent travel writer, Joyce! Of course I knew you wrote wonderful stuff about England, but I loved this even more. You made me feel like I was there, while at the same time making me wish I WAS there.

    And only 2 hours to Brussels? I didn't know the train was THAT fast. I love that.

  5. smoutebollen sound like my "cup of tea". (hehehe!) And it would take me about 55 miles to wear them off.
    Oh my gosh, the pictures are wonderful. Makes me feel like I was right there with you!