Is it bad that even the locals seem to think that their own city could use a little more sparkle?
When I arrived in Brussels is morning, the customs agent asked me what I was doing here. I replied, "vacation." To which he responded, "... what are you doing here?"
He started to chuckle at his own wittiness, and I of course laughed with him. It wasn't super original, but you don't mess with customs. (Frankly, I don't even think they should be allowed to make jokes, especially after a red eye flight, but it is what it is). But the joke stuck with me because everyone seems to think Brussels is just.... Meh.
I wondered if all this were true?
And... I was happy to discover that it was all false! Is Brussels a city I would dedicate a full week of vacation to, maybe not. But it's definitely a working city with tons of charm.
First of all, it is definitely a working international city. It actually reminded me a bit of Washington D.C. A busy city during the day, with culture and restaurants around, but a very sleepy city after business has closed for the day.
I headed straight for my hotel to drop off my bags before exploring for the day. I stayed in a neighborhood called St. Catherine. This neighborhood is known for being off the main touristy drag and located near several great restaurants frequented by locals. I loved it! My hotel was located in the shadow of a great white church and the neighborhood was constantly filled with lively cafe goers. But I was determined to see as many sights as possible before settling down for a snack or two.
First, I went to visit The Grand Place, or main town square. It was beautifully ornate and seemed to shine more than usual on that perfect Sunday. While there I snapped a picture in front of the most successful Guildhall on the square, the Belgian Brewers Association. If you're interested, there is a brewery tour and tasting on the premises, but I decided to wait until the afternoon to partake in libations.
After seeing the sights for most of the morning, I was definitely in search of some food. I headed back to St. Catherine and stopped for a snack at Mer du Nord. It was an outdoor standing bar serving seafood. It was perfect. The staff was upbeat and friendly. The atmosphere was lively and exciting, and the weather was perfect. So I jumped in line and order the local specialty, shrimp scampi. I also ordered a glass of sparkling wine - it all hit the spot.
After that delicious pit stop, I continue on my own personal walking tour of the city. I headed toward the southern side of town. Walked by the Mannikin-Pis statue, but it was definitely a let down. If you haven't heard of the statue - it's basically a little statue peeing into a pool. I know - so silly. But people are obsessed. I found the people watching the most entertaining of all.
After several hours of walking, it was clear I needed to stop for a Belgian waffle. I choose a classic version topped with speculoos. It was decadent and delicious.
After finishing that delicious waffle, I walked backed to St. Catherine and viewed some local street art. I was definitely fighting jet lag at this point, but I was determined to stop at a local bar and try local beers. I stopped for a drink at Mort Subite, it was traditionally a blue collar bar that is now known for local charm and classic Belgian brews. I ordered the grimbergen blonde - it was refreshing with some deeper flavors more commonly seen in ales.
All in all, a highly successful day in Brussels. I am proud to say I proved that customs agent wrong - there is plenty to do in Brussels for vacation. Until next time!