I will be honest. There wasn't much about Brussels that I knew of prior to our visit. Brussel Sprouts, maybe. I knew it was an international place of politics, or something like that. That's about it, however. But from the moment our train from Rotterdam approached it's downtown area, I knew there was something special about this city. Something about it resonated with me. Perhaps it was the dark and brooding appearance of it's old and well-architectured buildings that connected with my gloomy and miserable cold symptoms. I don't know. But I am absolutely mesmerized by this city. In a spiritual sense, it spoke to me with warmth and friendship. It sounds silly, I know.
We left the Central Train station and headed toward Grote Markt. I was immediately struck by it's grandeur. Yet, it had such a calm and down-to-earth feel. Children of many nationalities were out laughing and playing on a nearby plaza. Food vendors (and street beggars) were out attempting to get the attention of passerbys. The old and young couples strolled on the cobbled-stones. And I do not lie but the sounds of music and flavorful smells filled the air. It was like a page from a classic story and appeared to be the everyday. Nothing special was going on--accept to someone like me.
We went to the Royal Saint-Hubert Galerie. It's the oldest mall in Brussels, maybe even Belgium. It's definitey grand. Chocolate stores, one right after the other. We went out of the doors and into an alley way literally lined with restaurant after restaurant. The waiters/proprietors stand at their outdoor tables, seemingly, as if they're saying, "pick me, pick me." So many types of foods and smells. It's incredible and beautiful.
However, we continued on to the Royal Square, where the Palace sits and many beautiful buildings house museums. This City Center was full of young people, tourists, restaurants, and everyday people shopping or taking a break from work, I guess.
Finally, it hit me that one of the reasons I really liked Brussels: NO BIKES! Don't get me wrong, all the bikes in Amsterdam and Delft, and most of Holland, I suppose, is charming. Very charming. But it adds a certain amount of anxiety. There are bike zones to watch for and one is literally looking out for his or her life, with all of the bikes to the left or the right. And the thing is is that most of the riders seem to be in a big hurry...on a mission...intense. From the 8 year-old rider to the 80 year-old. Get out of the way quick! But in Brussels that intensity is greatly diminished because hardly anyone was out riding a bike.
About 85% of residents speak French and the other 15% speak Dutch. However, signs are in both French and Dutch. It is a somewhat English-accommodating city, as far as menus, pamphlets and brochures. But not as much as I've seen in The Netherlands. Everyone we encountered spoke English well enough. When they didn't, Simon made up the difference in the little French I speak and what needed to be said.
From there we went to what Simon had determined to be a little known restaurant. It was way back with an alley-like entrance. Once you were inside, it was like a cave or some medieval tavern (I thought of the movie Beowulf). There he ordered some type of Belgium beer which was the recipe from the middle ages. Man, was it gross! But thanks, Simon, for the opportunity to experience a beer I probably wouldn't have thought of trying in all the days of my life.
After lunch we continued to walk until I saw a sightseeing bus. I asked Simon if he would prefer we do one of those because my feet were getting tired. So, we took the Brussels City tour. It was a double-decker bus with a partly opened top. It was a great view and we set off for the 90 minute ride around Brussels. (Near the end, we had to go into the covered part of the bus because it was freezing outside with the gusty wind).
When the tour was over we did some final shopping. I stopped at Leonidas for some chocolate. Yum! Simon stopped at a unique meat market which sold his coveted black pudding, white pudding, and other very unique meats I probably could never try. I mean this meat market, to me, looked completely alien. I guess I'm not a delicacy eater.
Finally, we walked back to the station just as the hourly train was about to head back to Rotterdam. The train was packed. We were not able to sit down for the first hour of the ride. At one point, Simon and I were separated and I was forced in a corner with little ventilation. I didn't panic...it was uncomfortable, but no one else seemed surprised. It was a normal thing, I guess.
Anyway, way to go Brussels! Ik hou van jou!