Got into Brussels from Berlin early in the morning and of course the first thing really was to find a hotel that was in my price range. I didn’t have much stuff with me, having just packed a night bag from leaving Gary alone in Frankfurt. He was frightfully sick then… so he really wasn’t for any side trips, but also told me that I should just go alone, since he didn’t want to hold me back really.
One of the things you notice as you mature as a traveller is that, the destination and the number of places decreases in importance and the quality of the time that you do spend in any one place rises in importance. So for Brussels, which is a larger city, the organized bus tours are always a good thing to get your bearings about town. I was wrong; I actually figured out where everything was in relationship to everything else by walking from the Belvedere Museum to the Charles of Lorraine Museum but this was only after having taken the bus tour. Before the bus tour though, I decided to walk through the Grand Place and have lunch in Brussels. The Grand Place was a meeting place for merchants and as the city center. It is a gorgeous square with the Baroque buildings, quaint cafes and people watching.
Also while walking around looking for a little place to have lunch, I walked through the Galeries St Hubert, which is a distinctive glass roofed arcade in the center of town, lined with cafes, theaters and luxury stores has the distinction of being the first shopping arcade in Europe. Built in 1847 and recently renovated, the Royal Galleries (Galerie de la Reine, du Roi and du Prince) is definitely one of the place to go shopping… umm if you’re a gazillionaire!!!
There are many luxury stores and great cafes inside the Gallery… the combination of the people bathed in the natural light coming through the glass roof does make it a spectacular lunch venue….
Weekend trips allow you a little taste of a place but I do wish I had more time to visit the Galeria and explore more – but time wasn’t a luxury I had – so the program was walk, photograph and move on.
From the Galeria, it was off to Brussels Cathedral, which is of great historical significance in Belgium, having been built during the middle of the 11th century. In the 13th century, the St. Michael and Gudula Cathedral was thoroughly revamped and many Gothic features were added. The south bell tower boasts almost 50 bells, which makes Sunday mass quite the event – with the bell ringing.
After wandering on foot, I decided to take one of the ubiquitous “red bus” tours that you can find in any European city. I’ve always been a fan of these, as they are relatively inexpensive and give a great overview of any European city. My first gripe though was that I had to look for information and a guide to provide information about the world-famous Grand’ Place with its unique city hall and splendid guild houses.
Often referred to as the Royal Palace of Brussels, the building itself was constructed towards the end of the 18th century, although the present façade was added many years later, in the early 1900s, on instruction by King Leopold II. The Royal Palace is no longer used as a royal residence, as the Belgian monarchy now live in the suburbs, within the Royal Castle of Laeken. It must be nice to have two palaces to chill out in …
Unfortunately, the palace was closed, hence there were no tour available that day, which was a pity, since I would have liked to see the inside of the Belgian Palace – but those are the perils of short touring. Nevertheless, it was on to Brussels park with the views of the Palace and lovely fountains. Of course, the main gates to the gardens were huge pillars that stand to greet new visitors
After St. Michaels cathedral, the Congress Column, it was on to the Heizel district with the renowned Atomium! To be fair, I didn’t really know much about the Atomium, but it seems that for every Expo across the world, there were just larger and larger symbols of the Expo, it does resemble the BioDome in Montreal, that was there for Expo 78.
The Atomium was a monument built for Expo 1958 and is an Iron Atom magnified 165 Billion times. When we were passing by the Atomium, it was closed that date for some reason. I later found out that the Atomium was closed for some time because of renovations. Just like the Duomo in Milan was closed for renovations… why is it that when I got there, it was closed?? eh? Ah well, maybe some other time, I will be in Brussels and I will have a chance to see the panorama from the top. The next stop on the ride was the Chinese pavilion and the Japanese tower.
King Leopold II was so impressed by a Japanese structure constructed for the 1900 Paris Exhibition that he bought the plans for the 125-foot Japanese Tower and had a replica built on the edge of the royal estate at Laeken. The wood doors and sculpted panels are the work of Japanese craftsmen. After the king’s death in 1909, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs took over the management of the pagoda and nearby Chinese Pavilion, and turned them into museums for Oriental arts, first opened to the public in 1911 (Japanese Pagoda) and 1913 (Chinese Pavilion). The Japanese Pagoda closed down in 1947, only to re-open after emperor Hirohito’s death in 1989. It now houses temporary exhibitions, and since 2005, the Museum for Japanese Arts, which possesses a collection of 17th and 18th-century porcelains as well as various works of arts from the mid 19th to the early 20th century
After the Atomium, it was on past Sablon Square. The name of this area refers to the time when it was still situated outside of the city walls of the 12th century.
It was originally a sandy road along which people had access to the city gates. Because of frequent use this road had become hollow and on both sides a yellowish earth layer could be seen.
This type of sandy clay was called “zavel” in Dutch and “sablon” in French. In the 14th century a small chapel in the sablon area was transformed into an important pilgrimage site where a miraculous statue of Our Lady was venerated. Very soon the area became more populated and was enclosed within the 14th century city walls.
Around 1450 the little chapel had been transformed into a beautiful gothic church, the Sablon church or church of Our Lady of the Victories. In the following centuries more and more noble men settled in the area because it was close to the duke’s palace.
After going through Sablon Square, it was on to Cinquantenaire Park. The first thing that greets you as you enter the park is the Arc De Triomph. This arch was built to serve as a monument to illustrate the glorious past of Brussels. It also was to serve as a new entrance gate to the center for people entering from the eastern side of Brussels, via the newly constructed Tervurenlaan/Avenue de Tervueren. The lighting wasn’t the greatest, hence the darker pictures that I got from the bus.
As I contined along in the bus tour, I couldn’t help but notice the streetcar cables and tracks which are very similar to those seen in Toronto.
After the bus tour, it was back to the Grand Place to find somewhere to have dinner and maybe catch the Spain v Tunisia match. This match wasn’t really important in anything but I figured having dinner in a small bistro with a burger or something Belgian style with some Belgian beer would be a nice end to a long day.
The one thing that one notices when walking through old European cities, is the width of the old cobblestone streets. On each street, there always seems to be tons of cafes and tables that spill out on to the street. As the night progressed, I met some Belgian who were fascinated by the flag I was wearing and completely surprised that I was from Trinidad, as they expected someone much darker than me. As is everywhere else I travel, people thought I was Samoan or a Pacific Islander…. well they were right in that I was from the islands, just the wrong side of the world. That night Spain managed to come back from a shock goal to beat Tunisia with two goals from Raul. There was an impromptu parade in the streets but I dont have any pictures as I was quite drunk from the Cherry and Lime fruit beer that I had been drinking with dinner.
I did have an adventure traversing the crowds and trying to find an ATM, since I had run out of money and I had to find an ATM. The cafe owners were very nice in letting me run off to find the ATM. In Trinidad, it would have been a massive problem for me to run out and find money, but I guess when you are a tourist then it is a luxury that people are willing to afford you.