Belgium has had a sporadic past. At different points in its history it was part of the Austrian Empire, The Holy Roman Empire, the Netherlands and France. Belgium gained independence in 1830 and Brussels remained mostly a Dutch-speaking city until 1921 when French became the sole language of administration. Brussels serves as capital of the European Union, hosting the major political institutions of the Union. The European Union has not declared a capital formally, though the Treaty of Amsterdam formally gives Brussels the seat of the European Commission (the executive/government branch) and the Council of the European Union (a legislative institution made up from executives of member states). Brussels and Belgium is famous for its waffles, fries, chocolate, and beer. Additionally, although brussel sprouts were cultivated in the thirteenth century near Brussels from which they derived their name, we didn’t see many on our trip.
We got into Brussels late in the afternoon and made our way to our Airbnb. We were pretty tired from our day in Amsterdam so we just watched a movie and called it a night. The next day wasn’t much better. It was raining pretty hard so we decided to take a rest day, work on our blogs, call home and watch some more movies.
The next day we went to the city center and had lunch at Georgette Cafe Friterie. We got a veal stew and a burger and fries. After lunch, we walked by the Grand Place. The Grand Place is the main square in Brussels and is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998. The square is dominated by the Flamboyant Town Hall, the Neo-Gothic Bread House and the Baroque Guildhalls. Other landmarks in the Centre include the St. Michael and Gudula Cathedral, the Royal Palace and the Palace of Justice. Unfortunately, all the pictures we had of the Grand Place were on my phone which was stolen in Bordeaux so here is a picture from the internet for perspective.
Next we walked to see Le Mannequin Pis which is just off the Grand Place. The Mannequin Pis (meaning "Little Man Pee" in Dutch) is a fountain containing a bronze sculpture of a urinating boy. It is a tourist attraction and symbol of the city. There are several legends behind this statue, but the most famous is the one about Duke Godfrey III of Leuven. In 1142, the troops of this two-year-old lord were battling against the troops of the Berthouts, the lords of Grimbergen, in Ransbeke (now Neder-Over-Heembeek). The troops put the infant lord in a basket and hung the basket in a tree to encourage them. From there, the boy urinated on the troops of the Berthouts, who eventually lost the battle. The statue is dressed in costume several times each week, according to a published schedule which is posted on the railings around the fountain. His wardrobe consists of several hundred different costumes, many of which may be viewed in a permanent exhibition inside the City Museum, located in the Grand Place, immediately opposite the Town Hall. The costumes are managed by the non-profit association, "The Friends of Manneken-Pis", who review hundreds of designs submitted each year and select a small number to be produced and used. As you can see in the picture above, it is actually pretty tiny and unfortunately wasn’t dressed up. There are a number of stores around the city center selling replicas of the statue that are actually a lot bigger than the real thing and dressed in some of the selected costumes so it was a little disappointing seeing the real thing.
We then went to Center Station to book our tickets to San Sebastian. Nearby, San Pellegrino was handing out some free cans of flavored sparkling water so we grabbed some cans that were actually really good and refreshing. While we were enjoying our free beverages, we found the Monts de Art Park next to Belgium Library that had a great view of a garden and the city. We hung out there for a bit then walked up next to the Royal Palace and the Palais Park. We visited the biggest free expo in Brussels which had a couple of interesting exhibitions but wasn’t all that great. We chilled in Quartier Royal Park for a few minutes before making our way to the Congress Column. The column commemorates the creation of the Belgium Constitution by the National Congress between 1830-31. At the top of the column is a statue of Belgium's first monarch, King Leopold I, and the pedestal is surrounded by statues personifying the four freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution while the Belgian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is at the foot of the column. After our short visit there, we had dinner nearby at Den Talurelleker then headed back to the apartment to do some laundry.
On our last full day we had yet to have an authentic Belgium Waffle so I insisted that we have one. We had lunch at a seafood restaurant, Noordee, next to the Grand Place. We next walked by the Grand Place and found the famous Dainboy Maison for waffles. We got a traditional Belgium Waffle and a Brussels Waffle which was stiffer. I got the chocolate Belgium Waffle and Diem got the Caramel Brussels Waffle. I also got a scoop of chocolate Ice Cream which started melting immediately. I was so happy to get my waffles and ice cream but right when we left the store it started raining. We found a dry spot in front of a building and I frantically ate my waffles before my ice cream melted. We originally were going to do a walking tour but decided not to go since it was raining so we headed back to the apartment. On the way back we stopped by the European Union area. They had a portion of the Berlin Wall there that had a painting of JFK which was pretty cool. We also walked through the Parc du Cinquantenaire and took a picture of the Triumphal Arch and the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History. Afterwards, we got some groceries for the train ride tomorrow and postcards/stamps. Back at the apartment, we wrote out the postcards and sent them out. It actually started clearing up when we got back but we still saw a lot of the city so we weren’t that disappointed that we didn’t do the tour.
It felt like a really short trip in Brussels since the weather didn’t cooperate with us and we stayed in more than we were planning. That being said, Brussels is a nice city but it is pretty small so you could see all the major sites in 1 or 2 days so I don’t think we needed more time.
See the full gallery of our time in Brussels (minus the photos I lost) here: Brussels, Belgium.