Four days-four cities and a half 🙂
Our first day in Belgium started quite stressful-we had to get up at 3.30AM. Horrible experience, which I don’t wish to anyone, especially someone like me who get so excited the night before that the whole amount of sleep turns out to be an hour or so…But every good thing requires sacrifices, in this case – the early flight.
The travel itself was fine, I managed to see an almost sunrise and admire how gorgeous the Earth is at night, especially from this height.
We landed at Charleroi,, city near Brussels, on time, but were immediately greeted by a huge problem- no telephone connection. Our telecom messed up big time, no matter my so called special roaming plan… You couldn’t buy any SIM card on the airport or pre-paid phone. A lovely man helped us and let us use his phone to call our parents and calm them. From almost full flight maybe half of the people managed to get a connection… We were already used to the idea of no phone and a miraclehappened- a network showed up! I have no idea how or why it wasn’t available for the past half hour, but only I had that luck. Apparently you get one per family 🙂
After a half hour transfer by bus we got to Brussels – our harbour for the whole trip. The shuttles stop at Gаre Midi, where we bought public transport pass for the day. Keep in mind that the machines accept only card payment, so if you have cash you have to find a cash desk. With this mission completed we got on the underground and left our luggage at the Central station, it was too early to check in at our hotel, and our adventurous spirit and 20 kg backpack didn’t get along very well.
Our first stop was the closest one – The Grand Place. We were greеted by magnificent Gothic and Baroque buildings, amazingly beautiful and impressive. It is one of the city’s symbols together with the Maneken Piss and the Atomium, also an UNESCO site. You can see the Town Hall and the Royal House. It was almost completely destroyed during the Nine Years War by the French in the 17th century, but was later restored and guild buildings were erected.
After considerable amount of photos, posing and secretly hating the other one million tourists (main feature in every traveler’s character is the hate for other tourist and never accepting that you are one of them) lurking to jump in front of your camera in the exact moment, after stalking you in the last five minutes during you preparation for the perfect shot, we headed to the Maneken Piss. I didn’t have any expectations and opposite of all the negative reviews I’ve read, I liked the city quite much. It’s not the most interesting, unique or entertaining one, but it has enough qualities to be visited at least once in your lifetime.
Small, picturesque alleys , smelling of hot waffles and chocolate lead us to the fountain.
There’s a legend in Brussels saying that the statue was made to recall the events of the Grimbergen war, when the cradle of the young Duke Godfrey III of Leuven was tied to an oak tree as a symbol of encouragement for the troops. And encourage them he did — every now and then the little Godfrey stood up and peed on the heads of the Berthout enemies. Godfrey’s allies won the battle and celebrated in Brussels, where they planted the oak tree. Legend states that this is why the street next to Manneken Pis is named Rue du Chêne, meaning ‘oak street.’ And, of course, next to the oak, they erected a statue of the young peeing lord.
Another popular story states how the boy saved the city of Brussels. In this particular story, Brussels was surrounded by enemies who pretended to retreat, but in reality, they were hiding gunpowder under the city. A little boy named Julien saw the burning fuse and quickly peed on it. Out of gratitude, the city made a statue to his likeness.
During our visit it was dressed as a cleaner. I couldn’t find the origins of the dressing ritual, but the fact is that there are over 600 costumes kept in the city museum and the day, when the boy gets a new one it pisses beer, not water!
Since I’m a control freak I’ve made a plan what landmark to see and for the first time I was thankful to myself. After the minimum amount of sleep we were so spaced out that if there wasn’t that magical peace of paper we would wander around the city not knowing where we are or what we are doing here.
Let’s get back to the next site – Porte de Halle. The Halle Gate is a medieval fortified city gate and the last vestige of the second walls of Brussels. Built in 1381, the gate was renamed for the city of Halle, which it faces. It’s quite impressive, located in a lovely park and you should definitely visit it inside, not just marvel the architecture. Our initial plan was that – to see it from the outside and to continue our tour. Only one look was enough to change our minds. The tower itself is a museum, the stairs are majestic, decorated with statue and on every floor there is an exhibition showing the life at the gates. The centerpiece are the last floor and the panoramic terrace. Brussels is more beautiful and calm seen from above.
Our tour continued with the Place du petite sablon, where we got impressed not by the cathedral and the antiques market right on the square in front of it (apparently the markets are very popular in Brussels, we saw at least five) but by the small garden with beautiful fountain opposite of them.
Here we rested for a while and gathered our strength for the big event – the Museum of Old Masters, part of group art museums patron by the King of Belgium. Honestly, I expected more … Keeping in mind, that Belgium is the country where so many art geniuses were born and lived the collection was unimpressively small. However, I saw Bruegel and Bosch, I came for them, but it could be better.
During this walk our bodies gave up and we decided that it’s about time to check in at the hotel and rest our feet for a while. Our hotel was close to Gare Noord, which turned out to be a Bulgarian-Turkish-Romanian neighbourhood. Brussels managed to make itself even more welcoming and international, at least to us, when we found out popular Bulgarian products in almost any store – from sunflower seeds to waffles and beer. I have no idea why I always pick that kind of boroughs without even trying. Never mind, the hotel is buildings of apartments, I recommend it. The one we had was on the last floor with a lovely view, new furniture and huge.
Rested and happy we continued on plan with sites close to us. They weren’t popular but was just as impressive. The first one was the Japanese Tower, right next to the Museum of Oriental Art. I knew that both of them weren’t working at the moment, they were under renovations, but what we saw was beyond my expectations. The Japanese Tower rises at at least 7 stories above ground and is huge, totally authentic building. The Museum is a Chinese pavilion, quite impressive and luscious.
The next stop was Laeken park, where the Royal palace is located, current residence of the King. You can’t see much of it, but the park is beautiful, calm and just begs for a long walks.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the desire or power to do so and the Brussels’ rain wasn’t helping at all.
However we managed to get to the city center and see the original Palace and the complex of buildings surrounding it. The photos you see are made when one us is taking them, the other one is holding umbrella over the camera 🙂
It was already dinner time so we sat at a Turkish cafe, ate some duners, quite different from the Bulgarian ones, the traditional fries and to top it all – waffels .
I had never set foot in Belgium, but Brussels seemed very welcoming and cosy and in some strange way reminded me of Berlin. And if Germans and Brits complains from emigrants they should come here and see what it’s like. I felt, at least here in the capital, that the Belgiums are a minority and not only in our Turkish borough. Apparently, to be Europe’s capital have it’s perks and negatives…
After few Belgium beers I put a stop on this day so I could catch up with my beauty sleep with one of the most beautiful views I had the pleasure to rest with…