Carolina: Cruising Past 70: 6 Things You Won't Forget about Brussels, A Cold but Cool City

Thursday, December 20, 2018

6 Things You Won't Forget about Brussels, A Cold but Cool City

We did not settle in Arizona because of the cold. So, when we found out that the weather forecast for Brussels would hover around the low 40s with light rain showers and some wind, we wanted to skip the city. If only our lodging voucher, train ticket, and flight back home were not nonrefundable, we probably would have! We thought It would be anticlimactic to go to this city of 2.1 million, after the high of romantic Paris. Little did we know, we would find six things in Brussels that will be hard to forget.
Mannekin Pis

A sense of the Comic and Independence

The location of our find was excellent. It was right at the edge of Old Town Brussels. Mannekin Pis, meaning "Lil' Piddler" in Dutch, a small bronze sculpture measuring 61 cm tall depicting a naked little boy urinating into a fountain's basin, was only two short blocks away. I was thrilled to photograph him from near and far. So were dozens of others crowding into the little plaza. The current statue is only a copy which dates from 1965 while the original, built in 1618/19, is at the City Museum. Nonetheless, it embodies the sense of comic and independence of the people. In fact, sculptures of a little girl and a little dog urinating have also appeared nearby. In addition, Tintin and the Smurfs which originated in Brussels are front and center at the Belgian Comic Strip Center.

Grand Place

Grand Place, daytime

Another two short blocks away in the opposite direction is the Grand Place or Groat Market. The central square of old Brussels is a glittering medieval square, surrounded on all sides by opulent guildhalls, the city's Town Hall, and the King's House now containing the City Museum and the Tourist Information Center. Considered one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, it is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They say that the best time to be at Grand Place, measuring 68 by 110 meters, is in August when a carpet of flowers covers the entire ground. We went back at night when it turns Christmas-like with lights. We were so inspired we chose to have dinner at the Cave du Roi, the cellar of a guildhall dated 1698.

Belgian Food
@ Cave du Roi

And this started our love affair with Belgian food. Bill had Boef Carbonnade, Belgian beef stewed with Belgian brown ale, and I, Crème du Moule (mussels) Souppe (mussels are commonplace in Brussels; they even rhyme). All around the area, little shops displayed colorful tempting varieties of Belgian waffles, mouth-watering Belgian chocolate concoctions, and all kinds of fine-flavored Belgian beer, all three contributing to the city’s culinary fame.

Belgian waffles galore

fondue and raclette
Bill didn’t want to eat the richly topped waffles standing so we chose a restaurant that served them for breakfast one day. There are two kinds: the rectangular Belgian and the octagonal Liege. We both had the Belgian and I chose dark chocolate and Bill, strawberry and maple syrup, as toppings. I was frustrated because I know I can never reproduce the light and airy but crispy and crunchy waffles when I get back home. And the chocolates are yum! We chose the Leonidas variety. As for beer, Bill tried Duvel, the brand advised by our taxi driver.

But the highlight of our culinary tour of Brussels was another special dinner. We enjoyed a small beef fondue in Paris but we wanted the whole nine yards. The Tourist Information Center directed us to the La Fondue et La Raclette, only two blocks from our hotel. We found it closed, open only from 7-10:30 pm,d and require reservations. We asked the hotel to make them for us and we were given an 8pm slot. We arrived very hungry and quickly ordered Savoyard (cheese) Fondue and Le Boef Raclette. We must have devoured a pound of cheese that night. It was the best comfort food for a cold, cold night!
St. Michael Cathedral

St. Michael Cathedral

About four blocks away stands the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, a Roman Catholic Church. What was different was that there was the young children’s choir practicing inside. The acoustics were awesome and the choir sounded divine.  The church was given cathedral status in 1962 and has since been the co-cathedral of the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels. It is a beautiful house of worship upon a hill. There are so many others in Brussels. We just didn’t have the time.

European Parliament

Cinquantanerie Park in front of the European Commission

House of European History
The next day, even though it was again cold, damp, and windy, we ventured out and used the highly efficient and new subway system. I wanted to see the European Parliament, the directly elected parliamentary institution of the European Union. Together with the Council and the European Commission, it exercises the EU’s legislative function. Its 751 members comprise the second-largest democratic electorate in the world (after India). Although the European Parliament has three places of work – Brussels (Belgium), the city of Luxembourg (Luxembourg) and Strasbourg (France), Brussels is considered the capital of the EU.

Right after the subway exit, we found the Cinquantanerie Park, built to celebrate the 500 years of Belgium, in front of the European Commission. About three long blocks away, tucked in a quiet park, sits the European Parliament. In front of it is the House of European History, an ultra-modern six-floor museum with all the conveniences provided all visitors, free of charge. It described the history of Europe from its beginnings in the Greek, Roman and Ottoman times, to the industrialized and colonial ages, the revolutions that spawned the nation states, the world wars that tore the region apart, the resulting Cold War, and the beginnings of the Council of Europe. It ends with the current issues confronting the Union.  We spent a total of three hours there. We could have spent many more.


After the visit, we went to the other side of town to see the most unique building in the world, l’Atomium. It was originally built for the Brussels World Fair in 1958, but is now a museum, standing 102m tall. It has nine stainless steel spheres of 18 m diameter each, all connected. The design forms the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. Tubes of 3 m diameter connect the spheres housing stairs, escalators, and a lift to allow access to the five habitable spheres which contain the exhibits. The top sphere is a restaurant with a panoramic city view.  It would have been nice to go inside, but there just wasn’t enough time!
the Aromium

We are so glad we didn’t skip Brussels! Despite the cold, the city is so very chic. It has the old and the modern, the comic and the sublime, the history of Europe all rolled into one, and a place where eating is sheer delight. Even as the bistro where I wanted to have foie gras was closed when I was ready for it, we found so many bottled ones for sale at the airport! Travel bloggers tell me that the fine things to remember about Brussels will become 7 when I experience its Christmas markets. A fine reason to go back!

pinnable image
pinnable image

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