"" Writer's Wanderings: Brussels Day 2

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Brussels Day 2

 Groaning when I heard the alarm sound on Bob's phone, I wished for just a bit longer time to sleep even after logging ten hours through the night. Maybe it was because my body was saying it was only 1:30 AM at home. Our Hilton breakfast was more than we expected. All sorts of eggs, sausage, breads, muffins, etc. as well as the trademark waffles. I wondered how many people actually got waffles there for breakfast when we were surrounded by the delicious Belgian waffles in the shops and restaurants nearby.

Our plan for the day was to start with a walking tour following the GPS My Walk app for Brussels. Love this app that not only gives you commentary on the sites but leads you by GPS to each spot and talks to you to keep you on track. 

First up was the Grand Place, again. It is the central point for all tourists. What we didn't count on was all the early morning delivery trucks in the square. Not only did it make picture taking a challenge but you had to watch that you didn't get in front of a moving vehicle. Most of the buildings in the Grand Place were built in the 1860s. and are old guild halls along with a town hall. Each seems to be very unique in design. 

The thing we have loved most about Brussels is that no matter what side street or alley you wander, you will find unique shops and restaurants and of course numerous chocolate shops. The most unusual one that made us chuckle was a Graffiti Shop, "All the supplies needed for graffiti." And then there was the mall we happened upon that was filled with only nail spas, at least 25 of them plus one unique clothing store that featured clothes neither of us would wear even when we had younger bodies.

The Neuhaus chocolate shop opened 1857

We walked past the Boutique Tintin which is supposed to be a gallery and store for all things to do with the comic strip character Tintin. Since we weren't familiar with him, we didn't feel we missed out when we discovered the gallery closed. 

Our tour took us to the Royal Galleries of Saint-Hubert which is one very long arcade with shops and restaurants. It's in two sections, the King's Gallery and the Queen's Gallery. Each is about 700 feet in length with an arched glass ceiling. Reminded us of the arcade in Cleveland except that there were more people here. I took a picture yesterday before I knew what it was called (see previous post).

Mr. Neuhaus in chocolate

Next up was a stop that would explain all the little naked chocolate boys we'd seen in the chocolate shops, the Manneken Pis. Basically it is a small statue of a little boy peeing into a fountain. There are lots of stories behind the figure, mostly heroic actions by a little boy like peeing on a fire to put it out. Whatever the truth, the statue has become iconic and very famous in Brussels. Later we would see a female version of the statue, a little girl peeing into a fountain. I'm guessing it's something you wouldn't see in the States.

The Stock Exchange Building was interesting but under renovation. Near it was the Saint Nicholas Church which was a nice respite to sit and wonder at. The foundational elements of the church date back to the 11the century covered by a 14th century facade. The church completely burned down in 1695 during the French bombardment of Brussels. A cannonball is still lodge in one of the pillars that survived. Near it sits a painting by Rubens of The Virgin And Child.

Cannonball and painting

While the Saint Nicholas Church was interesting and beautiful in its own right, it in no way could compare to the majesty and wonder of the St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral. We walked into an expansive sanctuary that took your breath away. Huge pillars extended up to vaulted ceilings In addition to the amazingly detailed stained glass windows, there is a huge wooden sculpted pulpit that features the original downfall of Adam and Eve. The cathedral is where all of the royal weddings take place. 

By the time we got to the Royal Park and the Royal Palace, we were running out of steam and looking for a place to sit and get some coffee and tea. At this point we were no where near as many cafes as there are near the Grand Place. We trudged on through the park, took a picture of the half covered Royal Palace which is not a residence but rather a seat of government, and stopped to evaluate the other two stops on our list. One, a museum, we scratched and the other, the Mont des Arts, we had seen the day before. It was our scenic view that overlooked a pretty garden (see picture in previous post). 


Determined to get a break, we went back to our hotel, refreshed and decided to forage for lunch. We found a Frite place (French fries) and since they are large orders, we split one and indulged in two Belgian beers to see what they tasted like. The fries were amazing but the beers were a bit different. Lots of vanilla in them. It is said that there are around 300 different Belgian beers. I think two were enough to try.

At breakfast we had decided to buy tickets for the Hop On Hop Off Bus for the afternoon. There are two lines, a red and a blue. The red stays in town and took us past some of what we'd already seen but it was nice to see the rest of the bustling city that is Brussels. Lots of traffic unlike the area where we had been exploring on foot. The full red route took a little more than an hour and when we got off, we hustled to the nearby stop where the blue line began. 

The blue line takes you out of town a bit along a canal and up to the area where the 1958 World's Fair was held. It is now a lovely wooded area with a few leftover buildings from the fair but the centerpiece of the area is the Atomium, a huge structure that resembles an atom with nine spheres. It is 335 feet tall and you can take a very fast elevator to the top sphere where windows allow you to view the surrounding area. There is also a restaurant there above the observation area. Had we been there earlier, we would have had a snack there at least but we were concerned with getting back before the bus stopped running. 

Once back at the hotel, we took a few minutes to refresh again. (Amazing how just washing your face can help.) The night before we had decided that today we would get mussels at the Brussels Grill. It was a neat place with sidewalk tables and indoor tables. Since a chill wind had started up, we chose the inside and sat near a lovely fire that was a centerpiece of the dining room. The mussels were wonderful and more that we've ever eaten in an order. We probably could have split it.

After a little more walking in another pedestrian area we hadn't found before and with dinner settled, we decided on a waffle for dessert. I had one with hot melted Belgian chocolate and strawberries as a topping. Yum!

The challenge for the evening was to stay awake long enough to make another attempt at seeing the lighted buildings in the Grand Place. We managed to stay awake until 9:30 and walked the short distance to the square. It was worth the effort. The buildings were lit just enough to make them look like sparkling jewels. Bob did a Chevy Chase nod of the head and said, "Let's get to bed."

On our way back, we saw a small group of police who were interviewing a couple of shop keepers. It's the first time we'd seen any kind of activity of that sort. Must have been shoplifting or robbery. We heard them describing someone. We have never felt uneasy or less than safe in the city that is quite clean. A few beggars here and there and a small homeless encampment near the church by the hotel but actually mostly out of sight and the rest is an area of tourists, business people and what appear to be lots of students.

Ah, yes, there's the step count for the day, 16,900+. I'm sure we've worked off those waffles.

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