Not Just Fries and Mayonnaise in Brussels

Posted on 18. Sep, 2010 by in Travel

We visited Brussels in early May of 2009. It was the first leg of our backpacking trip and we were all very excited, to say the least. The rather early Eurostar ride from London St Pancras was smooth and complemented with mustard fields along the way. Our excitation kept us from sleeping for the whole ride, which only made us even more giddy. We couldn’t wait to start our very own eurotrip!

Knowing we were headed to Amsterdam in the evening, we left our bags at the Midi train station and walked to the city center. Along the way we noticed a lot of comic strip walls, which were quite impressive. I mean, a fifty feet high drawing is always impressive, right? It was like a happy form of street art, which is usually a little more grunge - we loved it.

As every member of the team was hungry, we stopped by a little restaurant near the Stock Exchange and ordered the classical Brussels meal: a mitraillette. Apart from being an artery-clogging kind of meal, it’s a delicious sandwich made of steak, fries and  a large amount of mayonnaise. Typical and tasty.

We strolled on Rue au Beurre, stopping at a few places along the way to make sweet provisions for the train ride later on. We couldn’t believe the deal we had: one kilo of Belgian chocolate for €10. In Canada, that would’ve cost us a week’s paycheck (slight exaggeration). There was enough sugar in there to make us run to Amsterdam and back, so we tried not to taste every piece on spot. I wasn’t very successful at that.

When we finally got to the Grand Place, we were floored. We knew it was grandiose (something about the name) but we were not quite prepared to be that impressed. It is one of the most beautiful sights I remember from the whole adventure.  From the golden arches to the delicate gothic details, everything there is perfectly preserved. The only downside, if I may call it that, is that the Grand Place being a large square, it’s impossible to photograph as a whole. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful moment.

To celebrate, we decided to have a typical gauffre au chocolat. It was very good, but being on the Grand Place, it wasn’t cheap. After a minute of whining about the costs of travelling and tourist traps, we reminded ourselved that 1, we were lucky enough to travel and 2, that we had a giant box of belgian chocolate to eat later on the train. I’m not sure which one of these affirmations made us happier.

We slowly made our way to Les Galeries Saint-Hubert, the world’s first shopping mall, where we quickly window shopped before getting to the Tintin Museum. I had to go there as my dad is a big fan and I wanted to buy him a souvenir. I settled on a funny postcard (and a stamp!) that I was truly excited to mail home. Funny anecdote: I come from a small place. So small, in fact, that when my dad went to the bank to get British pounds before I left, everyone at the bank gathered and examined the notes because none of them had seen something like this before. I was so excited to imagine the reaction of the mailman when he would see a Belgian stamp!

Slowly, but surely, we climbed the street up to the Palais Royal, where the Prince of Belgium, Albert I (the grandfather of Albert II, the face side of the €1 coins), was born and used to live. It is not a royal residence anymore, but it is indeed very pretty and peaceful. It reminded me of Versailles a little bit, on a much less over-the-top scale. Facing the Palais is the city’s largest park, which makes for a well appreciated and relaxing pause (and is modelled on masonic symbols - take that, Dan Brown).

And before we knew it, it was time to head back to the train station. We still had two attractions on our list: the Manneken Pis and a few famous wall-sized comics. The former was the most disappointing sight of our whole trip (even worse than the evening light show of the Eiffel Tower). There were roughly 200 people blocking the way and trying to take a stupid picture with a tiny little bronze man, dressed in an orange suit that day. I just don’t understand what the big fuss was all about! Needless to say we didn’t bother checking out the Jeanneke Pis.

The latter part part of the walk, however, was much more interesting. The wall-sized comics are spread out around the city but some of them are quite close to each other,  not far from Rue de l’Étuve. The greatest one for me what the second picture down here, which I believe is set on Rue du Chêne.

We were a bit sad not having the opportunity to taste classic Belgian beers, like the Leffe. We thought we could apply the “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere” rule but I wasn’t sure our train was going to wait for us. When we did make it to the station, we started discussing about what surprised us in Brussels and the general answer was without a doubt the weather, which went from one extreme to another and back. It started with sunshine and clear skies, and then came the incredible wind, and the rain, and then back to the sunshine and so on. At one point we started expecting tornadoes and hail. It was crazy!

Brussels is one of the few city where we didn’t feel nostalgic leaving. Not because we didn’t love it, but because we knew we could come back one day… and because we were heading to an even greater place: Amsterdam.

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12 Responses to “Not Just Fries and Mayonnaise in Brussels”

  1. Elaine

    18. Sep, 2010

    How fun! You’re so lucky you have the opportunity to visit such great places like Brussels!!

    Reply to this comment
  2. Steve

    27. Sep, 2010

    Great story. Brussels would be a great place to visit. Too bad you didn’t get to try any of their beers while you were there though. Belgian beers are some of my favorite.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      27. Sep, 2010

      They are some of my favorites too. I don’t define myself as a beer-lover but I do like a soft beers once in a while. Guess I’ll have to go back to Belgium!

      (Bruges is already on my list, as well as Liège!)

      Thanks for your comment. Always appreciated :)

      Reply to this comment
  3. Darrell

    11. Oct, 2010

    Good post; informative and colorful but short and to the point. We will be there in early November, staying for a week. Side trips will be decided once we get there.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      12. Oct, 2010

      I hope you enjoy your time there. Hopefully the weather will not be as crazy in November as it was in May!

      I heard that Bruges, Amsterdam and Liège are interesting daytrips from Brussels. My vote goest to Bruges!

      Reply to this comment
  4. pontevecchio59

    16. Oct, 2010

    Thank You. It was a nice post and made us want to plan a trip in that direction. I will get my teeth fixed before hand and enjoy those chocalates.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Huguette

    01. Jul, 2011

    Have you been to Brussels? We listen to you… and you take your chance to win a weekend in the capital of 500 million Europeans.
    Share your experience here http://www.visitbrussels.be/qualitydestination

    Reply to this comment

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