This past week brought me to Brussels, Belgium for a conference. Work trips are generally hit or miss in the “tourist” department, but since I had a couple of mornings where I could fit in an early pre-meeting run, I managed to do a bit of sightseeing this time around. The biggest difficulty was actually photographing anything I saw, since the sun hadn’t even risen yet when I was out and about. Winter. Bleh.
The Historic District
First off, I made sure to hit a few of the requisite tourist spots. My morning run took me past both the Parc de Bruxelles and the Palais de Bruxelles, the European Parliament, Église Notre-Dame de la Chapelle, and Mont des Arts. The architecture takes the starring role here, that and the clear city planning – if you stand at the Mont des Arts you have a clear view of the Eglise Sainte Marie-Madeleine and the Sint-Katelijneplein spires in the distance. Behind you is the Place Royal, while beside you, the Carillon Mont des Arts; which is this neat clock with figures standing at each hour. I also made a quick and uninspired visit to the Manneken Pis, who is, in reality, the size of a doll, more or less, and quite uninteresting (if I do say so myself). My commute to the conference took me past Saint Boniface Church, which was decidedly prettier. There were probably other places too that I have neglected to name. All around you, something lovely and elegant. Fun to see, easy to tour on a run or a walk.
I don’t often take photographs of food. Drinks or deserts, occasionally. Consequently, I don’t have photos of the many exquisitely simple and elegant meals I ate while in Brussels. Mussels in a ceramic crock with perfectly cooked frites alongside. Canard (duck) roasted and plated with fork-tender, well-seasoned potatoes. A salad dressed lightly and topped with some sort of cured duck sliced thin, foie gras beside it. I strongly recommend Ma Folle de Soeur, I ate two meals here and both were fantastic. I absolutely love eating in Belgium. It’s probably in reality my favorite European country in which to eat. Don’t get mad, France, Denmark, Spain, Greece, I love you too.. But Brussels, geez you really know what you’re doing. On your next visit, be sure to calculate your expected dining budget and double it. Then double it again. Or maybe that second time is just me.
Lights and Shadows
Some of my favorite photos from this week are simply the result of consequential great lighting. The streets around the historic district are cozy, and a bit of Christmas lighting had begun. The mornings brought golden streetlights, combined with sunrise and a bit of fogginess. Softness and warmth, it felt very autumn.
I didn’t experience even a miniscule fraction of the outside art in Brussels. There are murals and statues everywhere, often comics, namely Tin Tin, but contemporary and art deco styles as well. It was really fun to turn down a street and stumble upon another new artistic touch. I’d love to go back and really hunt out the great street art here.
First, the obvious. Everyone knows Belgian chocolates are a key take home item. Myself, I generally go for the Caffe-Tasse multi-pack, because there are lots of different chocolates to try, and they are individually wrapped so we can take our time eating them (as if we don’t eat them all in one sitting in my house, ha). If I’m splurging, it’s a fancy box of Neuhaus all the way. I also picked up some Belgian Trappist/Abbey beer for my husband, and luckily some of the top-ranked beers of this type are available in the duty-free at the airport, which means you can easily purchase them on your way home. Here’s an article outlining some good options, I went with the Westmalle Dubbel. I also picked up a jar of truffles for risotto. Dinner plans.
I have a soft spot for toys – I worked in a toy store for years as a teenager, and I could literally spend hours browsing through a well-stocked independent toy store. There is an excellent one, Serneels, attached to the Steinberger Wiltcher’s Hotel on Avenue Louise. Tin toys galore. Beautiful wooden tops and cars, stuffed animals, Steiff bears, costumes and books and games and art supplies and baby toys and jewelry and music boxes too. I found a really cool shadow puppet set, which I am stashing away for my girls for Christmas. If you’re in the area, I strongly recommend ducking into Serneels.
Overall, Brussels really delivered, even on my tight schedule. Although I spent the majority of my time in conferences and meetings, every meal was divine, and when I did have a chance to steal away, it was easy to get out and see the sights. Next time I’m there, it’ll be street art-spotting all the way.