Sunday, 23 March 2014

Brussels, Belgium: Chips, Beer and a tiny boy

Mont Des Arts

Good morning, 

Last Friday night I was startled out of my sleep and sat bold upright in my bed. I dreamed of how I strolled through narrow streets, saw those high vitreous buildings with European flags right upon my head and held a bagful of chips (American: french fries) in my left hand: I was obviously recapitulating my visit to Brussels three weeks ago. Instantly, my unconsciousness reminded me of how I apparently forgotten to share this weekend trip with you. But I guess it’s never to late to show you some tips around the city and to show you a couple of pictures of the European capital.
To begin with, let me tell you one thing: I am not crazy about Brussels. It might have been the cold weather or that I expected more from such an important place, but the city didn’t touch me. Apart from professional reasons or friends who live there, I don’t plan to go there another time for touristic activities. OK, I sound like a horrible person; every Belgian reader will now close the window and will never ever stop by my blog again. No! Stop! Despite the fact that I couldn’t connect to the city (as I couldn’t to Las Vegas neither), I found some places that I absolutely recommend to you. And maybe I have missed out the best places to go – I highly appreciate your tips to convince me to give the Belgian capital a second chance.
P.S: Taking a look at the pictures, you must say ‘Svenja, don’t exaggerate, but Brussels is a beautiful city’. In my opinion the appearance is deceptive: I only took pictures of the nice streets but how often was I surprised to change the block and to find myself in a shabby backyard. Of course, I didn’t take pictures of those corners.

La Grande Place

  • Do: Belgium is known for its chips culture. Yes, I call it CULTURE. Never mind what dish you order, chips always complement it. During my short two-day trip I stopped twice (!) at the Friterie Tabora (Taborastraat 2) and always chose the "Sauce Andalusia".
  • Don’t: The Rue des Bouchers (Butchers' street) can be found in every tourist guide since literally every restaurant offers 3-course-menus from 12 Euros upwards. Listen: For this little amount of money, you rather should expect a modest gastronomical experience. And having a guy standing every 5 meters in order to drag you into his "great and cosy" restaurant, makes me going crazy and instantly refusing to step inside the establishment. Dear restaurants, if you want me to have dinner at yours, please let me read the menu carefully, don’t approach me 10 meters before your place and don’t follow me for 5 minutes afterwards!
  • EXKI: While in Paris, I have never seen EXKI over here. Though in Brussels it was omnipresent, so I definitely check it out very soon in France. The dishes? Fresh, green, natural. The atmosphere? Modern, yet cosy. The prices? Reasonable. All in all: my next lunch spot.

Bars & Nightlife
  • Although I am German, I don’t like beer (no foreigner tends to believe that). Yet, in Belgium there is basically no other choice than beer, beer or… beer. Thanks to a huge choice of different flavors, almost every person can find something for his or her taste – even me: Kriek. It is a beer made out of cherries and is the sweetest beer I have ever tested, but the girl in me approves it.
  • The Interail-Backpacker amongst you have probably heard of the famous Delirium that reminds me of a big labyrinth since there are so many stairs, dance floors and bars that you easily can get lost. The chance is even higher when you are drunk. While I there stayed for only a couple of minutes, I had a great night out at the Celtica, an Irish pub in the city centre. Downstairs you enjoy your 1 or 2 Euro beer while happy hour (yes, Kriek!) and upstairs the dance floor invites you to shake your booty to current music. I love such places where I can switch between the wild craziness of house and a good talk to friends with acoustic guitar sounds. 

  • Waffles: Another Belgian speciality are the "gaufres" (= waffles). I recommend the Gaufres Liégoises since they have tiny sugar bites in the pastry while the Brussels style have the sugar on top. And be free with your choice of topping: Strawberries, bananas, cream and chocolate and so on and so on. I only went for chocolate, another Belgian delightfulness (see below).
  • The Coffee Company: After the night out, I was keen on having a good lactose-free hot chocolate and a fresh breakfast. On my way to Menneken Pis, I crossed this coffee bar that turned out be the perfect spot for my attempt: fresh fruit juices, coffee variations comparable to Starbucks and savoury sandwiches – all combined with a nerdy but cosy atmosphere in which you feel comfortable, especially when you are alone with your laptop, tablet or smartphone.

Activities & Shopping
  • Manneken Pis: It is THE sight in Brussels. So I had those pretty high expectations when I went looking for it and of course, I was very much disappointed once I found it. I imagined the sculpture to be as high as a normal man, standing in the middle of the Grande Place and pissing into a large round fountain. Ehm, no. The tiny boy is 10 minutes away from the Grande Place, glued into a corner and would be overlooked if not a hoard of tourists stood in front of it (It strongly reminded me of the Little Mermaid Experience in Copenhagen). Oh and this is actually only a replication since the original is in the local museum. At least he wore that cute uniform.
  • Atomium: I took a couple of typically touristic pictures but didn’t climb the sight since Brussels’ skyline seems to be little stunning.
  • Neuhaus Chocolate Factory: Today’s secret tip for you – trying all kinds of luxury and high-quality chocolates without paying a cent. And if you decide to buy a box, you pay a lot less than you do in Brussel downtown or the airport duty free. This, I call chocolate heaven!
  • European District: As I consider myself as a European, I absolutely wanted to check out the European district with its Commission and the Parliament. Luckily, sun was shining at its best, so that we could include a walk through the mostly vitreous buildings (the European tax payer pays mainly for window cleaning…). We quickly checked out the Parliament museum where we could have stayed a lot longer, if weather had not been so nice. I loved the square "Jourdan" with its lovely Sofitel and another great chips place!
  • Mont des Arts: Brussels’ downtown is fairly manageable. The Mont des Arts (Art Mountain) is only a stone throw from the Grande Place and welcomes you with a lot of museums and garden alike installations and ends with the Royal Palace on top of it. It was actually the most peaceful place in the city which is why I liked it the most probably.
  • Hoogstraat/ Rue Haute: If you like vintage clothing, this street is an absolutely must-see. You find shops where you pay by kilo and not per item. On Saturday morning there is also a flea market on the nearby square.

Personal recommendation
  • If you stay longer than a weekend, plan a trip to Ghent or Bruges that are both easy accessible by train. The SNBC offers a ticket for 50 Euros that allows you to undertake 10 train rides within Belgium. Only the rides count and not the person detaining the ticket which makes it a great opportunity for groups (they have other great offers for particularly young people).

More Information

Personal Data
  • Visiting Date: Weekend March 2014
  • Accommodation: Private accommodation at a friends’ place
  • Highlight: Chips? Waffles? Beer? Chocolate? All that unhealthy stuff, you know. I felt so guilty that I only ate apples and vegetables three days after my trip. But those treats make life great! 
European Commission
Neuhaus Chocolates
Manneken Pis ...
... or Manneken Peace
Park at the European Parliament

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