We went to the centre of the European Union just as Belgium was about to relinquish it’s presidency and whilst it is still in the midst of it’s own political stalemate. I can’t say we noticed the sex strike proposed by Belgian women but perhaps they weren’t picketing that weekend. The hotel was very trendy (and three times more than we actually paid per room) boutique and Botanique. The area was well dodgy but then much of the city outside the Groot Markt/Grand Place has an air of nervous collapse about it due to strict zoning laws and the bad habits of property speculators who buy buildings to allow them to collapse as its the only way to get planning permission for new build. Shame really as some of the older buildings would be amazing with a modern refit.
One of the great things about the area was that we discovered what the locals call “Turkish pizza street” was the next street over and you can buy a huge pizza for around five euro. (hotel snacks ranging from around 15 euro with meals into the stratosphere).
Ok, so it was a Eurostar journey and much less stressful that the plane if a little longer (8 hours door to door). Half the fun is the journey right? The plan was to learn to play GO. we ended up chatting to someone with whom, it turned out, we had lots in common all the way to London and then admiring the scenery (except in the tunnel which is …well a tunnel).
On first impressions Brussels is a scruffy city covered in graffiti, not at all what you might expect for such a prestigious place. First impressions last and with the exception of the Grand Place/Grote Markt pretty much every wall or phone box, sign post or post box was covered in spray paint. The people however were incredibly friendly and between us we speak English, Spanish, Dutch and enough French to get us into trouble so generally we were well able to work things out.
We’d arrived at the very start of the market season so only the very bravest stall holders had braved the frosty morning air. We bought the ubiquitous silly tourist hats against the cold not wishing to take ourselves too seriously. Naturally Brussels means only 4 things:- chocolate, beer, mussels and chips. Others may argue it means culture, the Mannekin Pis, lace or the Atomium but we know better.
Much of our visit centred around food and drink naturally but we also spotted what we believe to be a series of doorways to heaven! Could this be a reaction to the doorways to hell or is it a careful disguise?
One food which we did not experience was indeed mussels as we were at the very end of the season (though there is an ‘r’ in the month) and prices reflected this. Amongst the beers samples were:- Kriek (cherry beer) and several other brands of the same, Chimay (Blauw and Rood) and Westmalle, all suitable trappiste and triple (or at least double).
We wanted to visit a bar called the Ultieme Hallucinatie but sadly it seems that Brussels blight has taken away this amazing art nouveau jewel. (If you’re listening out there open it again it can’t be lost.) We found a place that seemed more closed than open but who can say…..
….and we visited and ate at the wonderful Arcadi and ‘t Kelderke, both specialising in Belgian food fresh and seasonal. The former is less expensive than the latter but both are equally packed depending on the time of day.