We definitely got more than we were expecting on this excursion. One thing we didn’t know, Brussels is not only the capital of Belgium, but it is also the headquarters of the European Union. So, this city has it all: architecture, art … okay, sorry tours … right! One more tidbit before I begin, though. Check out the history of the County of Flanders and the Flemish. French may be the national language, but the Flemish make up most of the population. They continue to play a central role in Belgian culture and society today.
Tour 1: City Walking Tour
Some places you visit and immediately feel a connection. Brussels is definitely one of those places. Walking to our hotel from the train station, we had to pass through an outdoor market full of different vendors and diverse shoppers out in the city on a sunny day. There was a lot more activity compared to our homebase in Rotterdam. People were out everywhere from all over the world. I heard so many different accents and languages. It felt exciting!
We met our group in front of the Brussels train station. The guide on this one was great. He’s and engineer by trade, and a tour guide by passion. Our first stop was the Mont des Art where each step up the hill brings you to a different creative experience. The first level shows a lovely French park. The next level is a guy playing the guitar in front of a corridor of graffiti art. Then, there is a library and different museums. The space gave off a welcoming, creative energy. There are statues of a celebrated royal couple King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth which face each other (K and I enjoyed this because our middle names are Albert and Elizabeth). The monarchy titles here mean king and queen of the Belgians; they rule the people, not the state or country. Meaning, the king and queen are supposed to be of the people, and these two are celebrated for living up to that title. Another interesting sight here is the Jacquemart Clock (pictured below). Belgians celebrate historical figures as sculptures in the clock. As we continued, our guide gave us more great info about the city and food.
We walked into an open-air mall, called Les Galaries Royales, which was very artsy. Sounds like a place you go get chocolates, right?!? We stopped in front of a store full of colorful delights, and the guide explained, “There’s a difference between candymakers and chocolatiers.” I almost fainted. Damn, that’s the best quote I heard in a minute. I must’ve murmured or something because K laughed. She knows how much I enjoy chocolate. As we entered the store, we were offered five samples of our choice. Just give me the five bestsellers, please. No need to pick and choose. Each flavor-filled bite melted in your mouth. Of course, I came back later and purchased more lol. As our group walked on, we saw the coolest looking Ethiopian café with a beautiful décor. We headed back out onto the street for our next stop … waffles.
Not to oversell it, but this was the best waffle I think I’ve tasted. Don’t think the waffles you have in the States are like these. They don’t use pancake mix. Read K’s “Love Affair,” and you’ll find we agree these were some bomb-ass waffles! You must go to Maison Dandoy, though. The guide said these were the best in town. I could go on forever about how we enjoyed this tour and city so much. We saw the Grand Palace, enjoyed four flights of different flavored beers at a local bar, and kept seeing images of a boy pissing. The actual statue of Mannequin Pis was a central water source to the city the fifteenth century. Now, it is celebrated as a symbol of Brussel’s pride. I’ll end here, but you must add Brussels to your list of places to visit.
Tour 2: Bruges
Bruges is the fairytale city of Belgium. The city has beautiful medieval architecture in the Flemish region of the country and is full of artfully designed churches, homes, and canals. If you’re not interested in that sort of thing, then this place isn’t for you. This time we hopped on a tour bus with about forty other people for an hour-and-a-half ride to Bruges. Our tour guide on this one was a little unhinged. He cursed at the other group leader because she couldn’t find the bus. Also, he was not doing it for the passion, and we could tell. This guy walked so fast that he left the group. Anyway, the views here were spectacular. Walking into the Markt area was really nice seeing the tall historic tower. We learned the staple of Flemish architecture is the stair step design that creates a triangle on the building’s top. Neither Gothic, nor Renaissance builders used this style.
Another interesting stop was the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Located in Burg square, this church claims to have the cloth used to wipe the blood from the body of Jesus at the crucifixion. We had to go in and see that. They have a priest guarding the capsule containing the cloth as you walk by to get a glimpse. I’m still not sure what it was, but that priest was serious about it. Another sight here was the Old Gothic style town hall, which was built in the 1300s, but well maintained, and one of the best sights in the city. Bruges is also known for chocolate. The street leading through the town center is peppered with different chocolate shops and artisanal chocolatiers. It is the bona fide capital of chocolate in the world with over fifty shops in town. There’s even a chocolate museum. There’s no better place to end our excursion than with chocolate. Next up … Amsterdam.