Leaving the Gare du Nord on the first day of my first visit in Brussels I was excited to see everything. There was one sight I would never have expected in a million years, but it drew me back. Just to make sure.
Looking out the window of the car I saw something different--from anything I'd ever seen in the USA, even at the movies--a mannequin in a window wearing printed bra and underpants. At that time, in the USA we had colored ones, but not printed.
Suddenly the "mannequin" moved. It took me by surprise and it wasn't until we passed a couple more windows with moving mannequins before I realized that what I had been seeing were actually prostitutes sitting in the windows. I was so intrigued that I went back another day to take pictures.
That street was full of store front windows with hookers wearing nothing but underwear. As soon as they saw my camera they either hid behind the curtian or 'gave me the finger. I thought that was pretty funny. Obviously, I was not detered.
I've made several trips into Brussels as I mostly stayed in other cities while in Belgium. Most of these "trips into the city" were to met with various friends on various days. Each friend took me to see things and their choice of touring was interesting and different from the others.
I hadn't actually prepared to be in Brussels except to change trains. Now I wish I had researched this city before going there so I'd know of all the interesting things to do and see, and then maybe I would have been able to see more of it's many offerings.
Fondest memory: My first time in Brussels, I learned that I had to go to the post office to make a long distance call. That was a first for me. While at the post office, I saw that they sold Lottery tickets. So, my fondest memory is that I did play the lottery and I WON!! (3,50.00BF)
It wasn't really a big win, but I didn't care about the amount, just the fact that I won. These unique, little surprises are the type of moments that I most enjoy while traveling.
The main reason for going to Brussels was to meet several Belgian friends who lived near. We spent most of our time at the Grand Place eating and drinking, so I saw more of this lovely town square thann of the other sites.
One thing I really enjoyed and would suggest is to see the city from a rooftop. Somewhere near the gare du nord there is a parking lot at the top of a tall building. The view is worth the price of parking your car. If you don't use a car, pretend you're going up to retrieve your car and check out the view. Quite a charming city to see.
There seemed to be quite a few interesting things to see/do within walking distance of the north train station, shopping, the Grand Place, Manniken Pis, chocolate shops and lots of places to have a meal/drink.
Fondest memory: Of course, my Fondest Memory of Brussels was meeting old friends.
However, I'd have to say that the prostitutes sitting in the windows, near gare du nord will stay in my memory forever!
Favorite thing: Walking around Brussels you might be forgiven for thinking that you slipped and fallen into the funny pages. Larger than life size comics adorn many building walls in the central districts and sometimes even “come to life” in 3D statues. If you catch the fever, there are numerous comic book stores where you can start your collection and even a museum if you feel so inclined.
The city of Brussels is composed of 19 independent municipalities with very different personalities. This, however, should not lead you to think that Brussels is a sprawling collection of towns. These municipalities are rather like boroughs or districts of the city, which remains compact and dense, if a bit confusing and not very easily navigated (the lack of adequate public transportation does not help much in this sense).
There are sights of interest for the tourists scattered in almost all of the municipalities, but the bulk of the attractions is concentrated in the proper municipality of Brussels (locally referred to as Bruxelles ville), which includes the historic core of the city, known as the Pentagon for the shape given by the former city walls – today replaced by busy and mostly uninteresting boulevards.
From this historic area, the municipality of Brussels has grown tentacularly at the expenses of its neighbours. It also includes today the Quartier Léopold, where most of the European Institutions have their head quarters; the Laeken and Heyzel areas, where the Atomium and the infamous stadium are located; and the Avenue Louise, stretching as far as the Wood of Lacambre, one of the city's green lungs. The rest of the municipalities in the Brussels region differ in size and character, from working-class Anderlecht to BoBo Ixelles or posh Uccle, and they are generally a good place to take a jaunt off the traditional tourist path and to interact with the locals.
The city is built on several hills - some people they are seven, like any city who prizes itself to be built on hills, but I honestly have never cared to count them. This makes walking to some areas quite tiresome, but provides for panoramic views of the historic area of the city from several vantage points.
Favorite thing: If you don't know what are the must-see sites in the city and have just limited time to explore, the best thing to do is to take of the guided bus tours which take you around the city. There is information about the specific sites and their significance. It helps you get the bearings of the city and make the decision on what you would like to spend more time seeing. Besides, it's lovely to just go around and take a quick look of the pretty city that Brussels is.
It happens... forgot the map at home, tourist information centre is not open yet, so you think you will get lost in Brussels?
Well you are lucky as Brussels made since a couple of years a big effort to add direction panels all over the place!
They are very helpful for the lost tourists and not-Bruxelois(e) like me `-)
Fondest memory: Trying to read maps :)
At Rue des Riches Claires/Rijke Klaren straat, very near the Anspachlaan, you will find a quite inner court with a few establishments where you can stop for a drink.
It is so quiet, away from the busy crowded Anspachlaan.
It is here that if you walk to the end of the little square and you look in the corner, eventually you take the steps down, that you will witness a rare glimpse of what is left of the surface of the Senne, the river where Brussels was settled.
The rest of the river is covered up because I think of hygienic reasons.
Every time I look to the little bit of water floating here I wonder if this is really the Senne or if we are getting fooled `-)
Take a walk to the Poelaert square, named after the architect Poelaert, who's name you will find back regularly in my tips when it comes to the construction of buildings in Brussels late 1800, early 1900's.
On this square, you will not only find the impressive Court of Justice, but also the rememberance monument of war.
If you walk just to the end of the square, you will have a good view over the area called 'The Marollen', an area, down town of the commong people.
The Poelaert plein is Up town, litterary as it is much higher then the Marollen.
This is one of the reasons why the Court of Justice is build there: so that people from down town - the ragbags, thieves, criminals (that time about the synonyms for poorer people in the eyes of the bourgeoisie) - could look up in full respect to justice and authority.
The second reason why the Palace of Justice is built there is because out of historical reasons. This place used to be hanging hill, where people were executed by hanging.
Don't miss this area: les Marolles - Marollen. It is the area beneath the Justice palace. You can access there either via Rollebeek street (coming from the downtown area) either from the Palais de Justice. Just take the lift to reach Rue de l'Epée then Rue Haute and here you are.
The area used to be the home of the real Brusseliers, more often, small people. It used to have its own dialect, hence the 3rd names on their plaque. A mix of French and Dutch. To the initial Marollians were adjoined Spanish workers who came to work in Belgium mining. That was decades ago. The area was then totally inhabited by the working class.
For sure, it has changed since some parts have been renovated so that only the rich can afford living there. Real Marolliens have left the area to make place to EC execs on one hand, and to poor foreign communities, on the other hand: African (both North & Subsaharian). The latter live in the social housing. The most famous is the set with names of workers. The street-names there indicate the types of crafts once practised here. For instance, Rue des Orfèvres (goldsmiths) and des Chaisiers (chair-makers). Also, Rue des tonneliers, des Charpentiers (carpenters)...
Beneath Rue Blaes, the area is rather poor with those buildings that may have deserved some coating since years ago. Still, they are there: greyish, dirtyish & dusty with families living in there...
Fondest memory: Still, It is a charming place to stroll in. You will see the many comic strip murales while browsing around. Check the many ascending and descending streets as you walk in either Rue Blaes or Rue Haute.
Then, have a stop in the small eateries there, to have soups, tartines au fromage blanc and the very Marollian cuisine & Spanish restaurants. OK, I have experienced it in De skieven architek and it was perfect (see my restaurant tip). For other restaurants, you'll have to wait till I can try it there in La Grande porte and Les Petits oignons.
The pubs and estaminets are rather specific: one with live music, another with masks on the walls...etc.
Also, don't forget the flea market that is held daily on Place du Jeu de balle, in the morning (till 1 pm). Still, the Sunday market is the most important (till 1 pm).
Apart from the flea market, the area is the place where to find antiques, second hand shops & libraries. With neighbouring Sablon, they form the antiques Mecca in Brussels (cf. shopping tip).
It is always a pleasure to wander in Rue Blaes (that forms with Rue Haute the main streets of the district), entering the many antiques shops with their delicate, sometimes well-worn items. With Eva (diageva), we had spent some hours in there, entering the shops, talking to antiquaires, just browsing around the tables, displaying paintings, trinkets, lamps, books.. whatever...
I WAS LUCKY to see this procession in town. I walked with the music that accompanied them to the GROTE MARKT, you know that wonderful place, so chic with its most wonderful GUILDHOUSES and then suddenly this group!
The went to the TOWN HALL and the Lord Mayor came to say some words and....send them "begging".
They then spread through town and as you can see here and in my TRAVELOGUE, the 3rd one, they carry a collecting box and hope to gather lots of money.
On the board the carry are the words:
OEUVRE ROYALE DESBERCEAUX PRINCESSE PAOLA which means in Dutch/Flemish: KONINKLIJK WERK DER WIEGJES PRINSES PAOLA and in English: ROYAL WORK FOR THE LITTLE COTS/CRIBS PRINCESS PAOLA.
Princess PAOLA is now QUEEN PAOLA, and she founded this group to gather money for the poor families with many children.
Their collecting boxes are dressed as babies....
Fondest memory: The clothing of the group is so recognisable and original that everybody will give money.....
OF COURSE THERE ARE SPECIAL SHOPPING AREAS but walking through the smaller streets the chance to see this wondrous things and many others....is far greater and I for one love seeing such surprises!
The bike in the photo is completely made of ROTAN, even the saddle and the handle bars, everything except the wheels.....
It was perfectly done, using thick and thing, light and darks pieces of bamboo!
I had to take this photograph.
BTW the bike was in front of a shop selling ROTAN/BAMBOO furniture which I love very much.
Fondest memory: Just walking there, keeping my eyes wide open and my mind alert.....
Having an ice cream in the summer on a terrace and a hot chocolate in winter in a snug and cosy place.....
Talk with the friendly people, lots of them here speaking my language, my Dutch, although Brussels is a FRENCH enclave on Flemish ground......
The tour starts at the central station and takes you to all the main landmarks of Brussels. The bus stops 13 times at the different places and you can get on and off the bus as much as you want.
Fondest memory: I made the tour on a sunny November saturday. I sat in the open upper part as I didn't want the dirty windows on my pictures. But, jesus, after 1h30 it was quite cold! If you do it in the next months be sure to have proper winter clothes on. I'm still wondering that I didn't get a cold ...
Favorite thing: Belgium is not only known for it's chocolate and waffles. Comic books are also a big part of their culture. To celebrate this fact, walls all over the city have been painted to commemerate one of the Belgian comics. I've seen 3 during my stay in Brussels, but there are many more. You can even do a Comic Art Tour and try to see as many painted walls as you can. Go to this website: http://www.brusselsinternational.be/en/comic.htm
While you are enjoying the christmas market around like tasting foods, not only belgians but there are always chance to find food specialties from other countries.The very popular 'gluwhien', hot chocolates and Jenever are just around the corner.
If kids are bored hopping around, put them in the carousel, I'm sure they will appreciate it, there was a giant ferries wheel too.
Fondest memory: Hanging out with the family during xmas season is always the best thing.