Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Brussels


I have been to Belgium a total of three times in my life, and every single time, it’s rained.
Luckily, many of Belgium’s most pleasant activities involve staying inside and eating hot things. It’s no accident that “low season” in a Brussels hotel happens in August and not in January.

Brussels is only an hour and a half from Paris (on a very fast, very chic train!) and, having left after work one evening, I was quite surprised to find myself in a foreign country. I think this effect was increased by the fact that I spent the train journey reading the French “Le Routard” guidebook, the first few chapters of which are mostly about reassuring French people that the food is good in Belgium and reminding them that it’s not a good idea to try to imitate the Belgian accent if you’re actually French. Sound advice, I suspect.

On the first night, we went out for a delicious, meaty meal at “Le Pavé Bruxellois” near the main square. Afterwards (and for most of the weekend) we went for a walk and I amused myself by taking pictures of the endless circumstances in which you find copies of the Mannekin Pis statue. We even saw the real one. (There is also another, less well known statue of a little girl peeing but it was too rainy for us to be motivated to go and find it.)

Chocolate, tourists and the Mannekin Pis

Mannekin Pis Chain Gang

Chocolate Mannekin Pis

Mannekin Frites

The next day saw us darting between bars and chocolate shops, trying to keep our umbrellas intact in the howling wind. (Brussels for me was a real reminder of what it’s like to live in northern Europe. By comparison, Paris is for sissies.) We went to the Chocolate Museum which, like most chocolate-related things which don’t involve lying on the sofa under a blanket and eating lots of it, was a little bit disappointing but not a bad way to spend a rainy hour, and they did give a demonstration of how to make the outer shell for pralines by hand and hand out a small free sample at the end. Afterwards, in an attempt to be more cultured, we went to an exhibition at the tourist office called “Europe in Brussels, Brussels in Europe”, where we learned all sorts of things like the number of immigrants in the city and what the 12 stars on the EU flag mean. (Apparently the number 12 symbolises unity and it has nothing to do with the number of countries in the union as I previously thought.) It was very interactive and we enjoyed building Brussels out of soft, giant bricks and pressing numerous buttons to make things light up.



As well as sausages, beer, chocolate and waffles, Brussels is famous for its BDs or comic strips. So much so that there are murals like this on the ends of many buildings. Like the other items on the aforementioned list, they brightened up our grey day as we walked around.


Finally, chased by the cold and the rain, we arrived at the train station an hour early and went to ask at the information desk if my ticket was exchangable. The guy replied sarcastically, “Yes, for seventy two euros” (the price of a new ticket) but it was worth asking the question just to hear the Belgian “septante – deux” instead of “soixante-douze.” I went home happy.

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