Bruxelles on foot
Bruxelles, in brief, the city where lazy summery flip-flops collide with woollen winter boots on the street; where the weather forecast says 90% chances of rain and the sun is shining all day long and next day 10% chances of rain and it’s pouring cats and dogs till dawn. But one thing was clear from the first steps taken around the city: Bruxelles is a city of multiculturalism. We personally declared Bruxelles “the mini New York” (which is a teensy bit weird since we only know NY from television but oh well). Everyone knows it’s an administrative city where all sort of EU stuff happens. And the whole city is flooded with super huge glass buildings each doing something for the EU (what something, I swear, a week was not enough to figure out the distinction between each).
Let’s talk about technicalities
Upon our arrival, one of the first things I asked out host was which language is mostly used in Bruxelles (which, btw, you’re going to find written in Flemish also, as Brussels). Apparently, in Bruxelles they still use French mostly but if you want to live and work there, you’re kinda expected to have a basic Flemish knowledge. However, Belgium seems to be a country of regions, so it’s mostly up to which region you travel to what language you’re bound to hear. For instance, when we travelled up to Gent, Flemish was predominant already. So get your dictionaries in order to understand the menus. But for the record, there are lots of stands where you can buy fries, which is quite a universal junk food so…
Getting round town
One of the things I came to love the most about Bruxelles was Gare Centrale. Why? It had the closest toilet to the city center. Otherwise, finding a toilet in the city center can be considered quite a challenge. Otherwise, we were amongst the lucky bastards to live close to the center (if 2 km can be considered close, but let’s just call it walking distance). During our first evening in the capital, we decided to just take a walk around, without checking the gps and such and just see where the streets lead us. Then we ended up getting back to the gps cuz it started raining and it was cold af. So btw, nice weather in Belgium means a lot of wind, usually rain showers, and around 10 degrees. Yeah, and I thought the Finns were weird about their weather. But just waking round their ancient streets can be a relaxing thing to do upon arrival. Unless it’s raining. And you hate walking.
So about the city. We were living very close to the European Parliament, and the whole area consisted of super-tall buildings that made us feel like teensy midgets in a big city. But the closest we got to the center the more the architecture changed. You can check out the famous pissing statue (yea it’s really a thing, the queue was so huge that we couldn’t even get near the poor pissing guy). Around the same area, you can visit the Museum of Fine Arts, which is especially worth a shot If you are a fan of Magritte (the entrance is not really expensive and you can waste lots of hours staring at art; intellectual day). Next to the Museum, you’ll find the King’s house, mansion, cottage, castle. I’ll just call it a castle because it’s huge but really beautiful. Unfortunately, we did not catch the right time so that it would be open to visits, but if you plan your trip somewhere closer to the summer, check the availability online, to make sure you can book a tour inside the residence.
The Laeken experience
Otherwise, taking a walk around the center is a real pleasure at any time of the day, as long as you manage to avoid the usual showers. However, we wanted to take a look at the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken, which was a bit further away from the center, say 8-9 km. But you can easily get there by buss so no worries. Apparently, we were lucky this once cuz only afterwards did someone tell us that the Greenhouses are not open each day so maybe before paying a visit, check the internet to make sure. I honestly expected this small place, with a few species of rare plants and a very posh look. I guess that’s what people mean when they usually say to not have high expectations. I was truly amazed. I expected the Greenhouses to be a masterpiece from an architectural perspective, which they truly were, but the tour was so well organized that you could literally walk around dozens of rare plants, flowers, green stuff, green walls, small lakes, Japanese gardens and so on. It was like walking through a green maze that looked a lot like heaven (except that there were too many people for my introvert self). Also, the ticket is 2.5 euros and the tour will take up at least 2 hours from your day, so totally worth it. By the end, should you be starving, there’s a small restaurant inside one of these greenhouses. We didn’t eat there cuz we were eager to rush back into the rain and find a bus back to the city center.
Next day we had a tough choice to make. Which Belgian city to visit? Everyone recommended Bruges, which kind of freaked me out cuz I had this image of a very hyped city where all the hispters go. Not a fan of those. So we pondered between Gent and Antwerp. But that’s coming up in the next episode. Until then, I’ll let you admire some of my artsy photos (taken with the phone, yeah, I know) about the little natural heaven from Laeken.