For us, people living in Luxembourg and around, Brussels is a city known and unknown at the same time. A paradox, I know, but if you think about it I may be on to something. In my case, I've been to Brussels countless times, to drop someone at the airport, or I myself travelled from and to Brussels Airport, for job purposes, on my way to Belgian seaside or on my way to other Belgian cities such as Bruges or Gent, I've been to theatre in Brussels, I even went once to Brussels just to try out a restaurant, I went to a specific museum once, I went to the flower carpet, I met friends in Brussels, but in almost five years since I live in this area I was never a tourist in Brussels. Never.
The opportunity arose one day to go to Brussels on business, but as it happened I had most of a day free. Instead of sleeping in the hotel room I decided to be a tourist, so I grabbed my camera and started roaming the streets. It was a Monday, so to my knowledge all the museums were closed so I ended up in the tourist information centre in the main square looking for things to do. This is what I came up with:1. Take a free tour of Brussels. I took the walking tour, so three hours walking, but I never regretted it. Of course there is the hop-on, hop-off bus, but I couldn't figure out where the closest stop to my point was, so I went on the walking tour instead. There are two or three companies to choose from, there are even thematic tours (chocolate tour was appealing to me), but for those you need a reservation. For the free walking tour you just need to be in the main square and look for the coloured umbrellas. Mine was red, as I took the 2 p.m. walking tour in English. As a pointer, the yellow umbrella was the same tour but in Spanish. The guide was a guy from Venezuela, a journalist who came to Brussels only two years ago. Although the tour was free, the guide asked us that at the end we rate his performance and give him as much as we want for that.
We walked around the city centre and found out a lot of interesting facts about Brussels. For example did you know that there is a buried river underneath the streets of Brussels centre? We walked and we talked and we found a lot about the geography of the city, about it's history and about it's people. For me it was the right amount of information to consider myself more knowledgeable about Brussels and even to write this post and future ones :).
2. Visit the Manneken Pis wardrobe. Although most of the museums are closed, this one is opened on Mondays. It moved it's location from the main square to a street adjacent to the statue itself. I didn't visit it, but if you are into this unusual symbol of a city, you can do it. It's just 8 euro and they advertise to have hundreds of costumes. You can see from the display window which costume would be next and when the statue would be dressed. I happened to pass by this unusual museum more than once and I saw it was full.
3. Watch an artist work or even do to a workshop. In the same neighbourhood (which I was unfamiliar with, because I always went to the other side of the centre), so the one close to the Manneken Pis statue, there are a lot of artist workshops. I passed by at least four and I gazed inside. I didn't know I could possibly do this, so I didn't look into it, but I would have liked to get my hands dirty with clay and create a statue or something. I think it is a lovely way to start a week, you relax and learn something at the same time. And who knows, maybe you discover your future passion or even a future career :)
4. Walk without a target in the city centre and discover the hidden alleys and small shops. If you are in a mood for walking, let the city show itself to you. I did that for almost an hour, I just walked without a target, I entered all the hidden alleys and all the small shops and I survived :) My budget was a little shaken, but I bought wonderful souvenirs and I shared a coffee with a shop-owner who showed me his merchandise and shared his stories. If you are opened to this kind of experiences, it could be fun.
5. Drink beer at Delirium. If you are in Belgium, you know already it is the home of the frites (chips), the chocolate and the beer. In every tourist brochure I've read, every guide I've trusted and every co-worker I've meet in Brussels, I came acquainted to this Delirium. Besides being a well known (to some) beer brand, there is also an establishment in Brussels, where the myth says they have over one thousand beers from all over the world. It is a must if you like beer and if you are in Brussels. It's not me saying that, because I don't like beer :( I went there, I had the experience of not knowing what to choose from the menu, I chose a fruity beer I didn't know and didn't like and that was that. But being there, sharing that beer with friends was an experience in itself that I will never forget.
6. Buy Belgian chocolate. You would ask what is so special in buying chocolate in Belgium? Well it is, because buying chocolate form the right place in Belgium is an experience. I am a chocolate lover, but I consider Belgian chocolate to be too much for me. In other words I don't prefer it. It is too heavy for me, too buttery, I don't know the reason why I don't like it, but one praline is enough for me. Turns out that it's exactly what the Belgian inventors of chocolate intended. In their mind, chocolate is enjoyed, it's experienced, and not gobbled with coffee, as I sometime do.
If you want to enjoy chocolate the way Belgians do, go to Royal Galleries and look for Neuhaus Chocolaterie or Mary. Neuhaus was the first artisan chocolatier in Brussels, he invented the chocolate box we all know and buy today. Mary was the first woman chocolatier in Brussels and she succeeded in an industry dominated by man because she became the royal chocolate provider. You can read both stories if you visit any of this brand of chocolates, but what I'm talking about is the experience of buying chocolate, of tasting samples and deciding on what praline to buy, than decide on what package to put them on. I tell you, it's an experience.
And another thing, the guide told us that Godiva and Leonidas were commercial brands, or tourist traps. A real Belgian would never buy those brands, because they don't offer the experience. Belgians don't eat a lot of chocolate, just a praline at a meal, but when they do, it is the most special praline in the most inspired package. I believe the guide said something like: "if you have people you don't like, or you are forced to give chocolate to your boss, which you don't like, buy Leonidas". Also, "the airport offers of Godiva, buy three for 10 euros is just an insult to Belgian chocolate".
I went to Neuhaus close to Valentine's Day and I choose five pralines and I experienced the right way of buying Belgian chocolate and now I understand, and I even admit to like Belgian chocolate :)
7. Try frites (which are nothing more than chips), but in Brussels they are an experience. So I've heard. I've eaten Belgian frites in restaurants, but I have to admit that I never bought them on the street. I'm not familiar with the logistics of holding a camera, taking pictures, walking and eating frites with mayo at the same time. I would need at least four hands to do that and I have just two. I imagine I would have to stop and I don't know how familiar you are with the centre of Brussels, but there aren't many places to sit, except for terraces of course. I've read somewhere that in Brussels there are establishments or terraces where they indicate that you are allowed to bring your own frites, if you buy a refreshment form them, of course.
Even though I've never tried it, I saw a lot of people eating frites and I know the Belgians appetite for finger food and I think there is an experience to be lived, it's just not for me. Did you know that French fries are actually Belgian frites? Apparently the Americans came to the this area, found the frites, observed that people are speaking French around here and concluded they are in France. They called the firtes, French fries and that was that.
8. Hunt for peeing statues. I did it. I admit of doing it. It is a special tour you can "buy", or you can document the thing and go hunting on your own. Belgians don't take themselves too serious, it seems, and that is one thing I like about them. Other capitals have as symbols towers (London, Paris), ancient monuments (Rome) or animals (Berlin, Madrid), Brussels has as symbol a peeing boy. How funny is that? There are legends, thematic tours, costumes industry, souvenirs, books and pretty much all you can think of with Manneken Pis, the peeing boy.
Well, in Brussels there is also a peeing girl and even a peeing dog. They are all statues and although they don't have their own costumes, they have their share of fans. The peeing girl is called Jeanneke Pis and is close to Delirium bar and cafe, and the peeing dog is called Het Zinneke and not Zinneke Pis and is relatively close to Manneken Pis.
Although the peeing girl is rather hidden and you have to cross the smoking population near Delirium to see it and when you take pictures they protest for some reason, the peeing dog is on a street, it's visible from a certain distance and you have to queue to take pictures with it or of it.
9. Take the comic strip tour without a guide. Maybe during the summer they change the schedule, but on February the comic strip tour was not available on Mondays. If you like comics and you think visiting a museum and a memorial house dedicated to them is not enough, you can tour the city looking for murals depicting comic book characters.
This is the most well-known one, but there are others. You can download a map of their location form the internet, or you can buy the map for one euro from the Tourist Information Centre, or if you reach one mural on a small plaque they indicate the nearest ones and you can jump from one mural to the next. I've heard there are over 50 comic murals in Brussels, but I didn't check that information.
As a bonus, I always like to walk through the Tintin shop close the main square and other comic book stores close to the centre. If you are passionate about comics or you have friends back home that like this genre, you can find interesting and affordable souvenirs.
Well folks, that is all I came up with as things to do an a Monday in Brussels, if you are a tourist. If you like my article check my Facebook page, Dichisuri.ro.