During one of the weeks when the whole continent of Europe decides to pack their bags and go celebrate their spring holiday, I decided to go to Belgium. I discovered a beautiful city that unfortunately does not get much attention: Bruxelles, as its French-Belge habitants call it.
Brussels is Belgium’s capital and has about one million inhabitants. It is located at the heart of Europe in the Senne River Valley. It has been ruled by various European nations from the Romans to the Spanish to the Germans. The city has become the centre of Europe housing the European Union Council and the European Commission.
I spent five days in Brussels and lodged in student hostels. The Sleep Well Youth Hostel was my popular choice and it is less than ten minutes away from the city centre.
This nation has three official languages representing the two communities living there: French and Flemish. There are many Belgians who speak English and German as well. Brussels is a cosmopolitan city with French as the major language, but almost every other language can be heard in the streets and shops.
Sights to See
The stunning La Grand Place situated in the lower city is a magnificent site. Buildings from different ages, including the Gothic Hotel de Ville, surround this square. I was amazed by the different architectures in all their splendor and I would stare at their grandeur.
A short walk through the architectural splendor of the Grand-Place is the cheeky symbol of Brussels, the Manneken Pis. This statue of a boy is a legendary figure in the country who after, according to one of their legends, saved the city from a fire by extinguishing it with his urine.
The Palais Royal is a monumental representation of the history of the royal family of Belgium. The tour is a worthwhile investment.
In 1830, Belgium became independent and its new king, Leopold I, decided to use the new palace as his residence. It was king Leopold II, who had the original building turned into the palace as it is currently. This transformation ended in 1903 and the palace was used as the residence of the Belgian King until after the death of Queen Astrid in 1935. The royal palace is now used as the office of the king and as the residence of the crown prince. The royal palace houses a museum called Belle-vue with a collection about the Belgian royal dynasty.
If you’re lucky enough to visit Brussels in August, the Grand-Place provides the backdrop to a unique masterpiece: the Carpet of Flowers. On Belgium’s National Day, a precious carpet that no one is allowed to walk on, but which is universally admired for its dazzling array of colours and elegant flower-beds.
Other worthy places to visit are the trendy Place Grand Sablon, in the exclusive centre of Brussels with its many shops, art galleries, busy cafes and restaurants.
The Our-Lady-of-the-Sablon Church, built in 1304 to honour the Holy Virgin, dominates the Sablon Square in the centre of Brussels. Even today, the Sablon Church is one of the most beautiful and intimate Gothic churches in Brussels and a true example of Brabantine Gothic style.
The artsy travelers cannot miss the Musee d’ Art Modern and the Belgian Comic Strip Centre. The latter exhibition cover some four thousand square metres, and brings together under one roof a magnificent building designed in 1906 by the architect, Victor Horta. It has everything to do with the world of the comic strip, from its stately origins to its more recent developments.
Food for thought
From the mouth-watering mussels at the Rue Antoine Dansaert restaurant to the sweet Belgian waffles sold at every street corner to its world famous Belgian chocolates, Brussels can tantalize almost any pallet.
One of the sweetest gastronomic mysteries is why has Brussels become the chocolate capital of the globe? Its history is the Neuhaus chocolate shop, which was founded by the Swiss immigrant, Jean Neuhaus Jr. in 1857. It became the birthplace of Belgian chocolates, that timeless pairing of place and product which – like French wine or Russian caviar – has become instantly recognizable as a hallmark of quality.
There are many tourist traps, or outposts of the big names in Belgium chocolate like Neuhaus, Leonidas or Godiva, but turn down the Rue du Lombard toward the trendy bars and boutiques of the Place St. Gery neighborhood and you’ll find a chocolate maker unlike any other. As well as serving handmade chocolates of the highest quality, Planet Chocolate offers an exotically decorated caf