With our two nights in Ghent done, my travel-buddy assistante and I packed our bags and headed to our final stop in Belgium, the big and bilingual (French and Dutch are the official languages) city of Brussels. We took the train over, arriving in the Belgian capital in the late afternoon to grey, overcast skies. Not the cheeriest way to start off our one-night stay, but that didn’t deter us from discovering what it had to offer.
Upon arriving at Bruxelles-Midi (the south train station), we realized that our hostel was not as close to the city center as we’d originally thought; in any case, we took the tram over, walked for about fifteen minutes, and arrived at the hostel in the outer peripheries of the city, in a not-so-happening neighborhood as well. We checked into our hostel during peak hour (around 15-16h00) and found out that we were placed into separate rooms since we had booked our spots at different times. It wasn’t a big deal and afterwards we headed to our respective rooms; for me, I dropped off my stuff in one of the big lockers and took a small nap on one of the unoccupied bunk beds. Usually, I don’t take naps, but for some reason, I was feeling especially drained that day.
I woke up an hour later and another hostel-goer was just coming in to get settled in as well. She actually struck up a conversation with me, and we ended up talking for a bit. She was from South Korea, and she was here doing her tour of the main cities of Europe, including Brussels. We decided to hang out later that night, along with my travel-buddy assistante and another assistante with whom we had been in contact and had plans to meet up.
We all met up at 19h00 in the hostel lobby and went into the city center to explore. Along the way, we got some quick kebabs (where funny enough, the waiter had hit on the assistante who had joined us, giving her his number after we’d finished eating. While it could’ve come across as creepy, it actually was more comical than anything). We proceeded to head over to the Grand Place, which is the city’s well-known plaza with the town hall, the city museum, and plenty of fancy restaurants and hotels around it. It’s classified as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and I thought the classy, gaudy architecture was absolutely gorgeous, especially lit up at night. Really, it was the highlight of my stay in the Belgian capital.
Tourists and locals were everywhere, swarming about and taking photos from all angles of the plaza; the Korean hostel-goer was an architect, and so she took plenty of photos for reference, perhaps for her next big project. We even got a group photo in to commemorate this lovely experience in the Grand Place.
Afterwards, we decided to go find the Mannekin Pis, aka the “little man Pee” statue as it’s translated; as the name suggests, it’s a fountain of a man (rather, a boy), erm, pissing into the basin. There are tales surrounding the reason behind this bizarre statue, but in any case, I was actually very disappointed when I finally saw it, for it was tiny (according to Wikipedia, it’s around 61 centimeters, or 24 inches). I should’ve known that it was going to be a let-down, but at least I can say that I saw the boy pissing.
The four of us wandered around some more in the city center before heading back to our hostels at 23h00. Back in my room, I showered and freshened up before turning in for the night (fyi had a minor dispute with one of the other hostel-goers, who was sleeping as I was showering and apparently making too much noise. I admit, I was being a bit inconsiderate doing so, but she was quite hostile telling me so. Thankfully, we apologized to each other and made up the following morning, and so things were good then).
The Korean girl left early the next morning while I lay in bed for an extra hour before getting ready to explore as much of Brussels before I had to check out of the hostel and leave later in the evening for my next destination.
I headed back to the city center, where I visited la Bourse (the Stock Exchange). I also found a sea snail food stand, where I purchase some, you guessed it, sea snails for breakfast. I was told that it is a Belgian street food and I, being the adventurous eater, found it nice and chewy like squid; I thought it was pretty good! Plus, the hot, savory broth that the sea snails were immersed in was a great way to warm up in the chilly, October morning.
I had made arrangements to meet up with another assistante who was also in Brussels to spend the afternoon hanging out and exploring more of the city. We met up at noon in front of the Mannekin Pis (also disappointing-looking in the daytime) and visited the Botanical Gardens of Brussels, which were slightly outside of the city center before heading back into town where I got myself a mitraillette (just like the one I had gotten in Ghent, being heart-clogging and all) and later a Speculoos Belgian waffle. Savory and sweet, it was a food fest of Belgian dishes at its finest; I was definitely satisfied for the rest of the day!
Later in the afternoon, we returned to the outer periphery of Brussels to check out the Palais Royal and the Parliament. Both were decent, but not as grandiose as I had imagined them to be. What impressed me instead was the Parc de Bruxelles, which was filled with autumn trees and foliage…something which one could never find in my hometown of Los Angeles! I even saw a wedding photo shoot going on, which always surprises me every time.
We headed upwards to the Palais de Justice, where from there we got a rooftop view of the city buildings:
It was around 16h00 when we decided to head back in the direction of my hostel. We parted ways there, and I returned inside to check out, retrieve my belongings, and rest a bit in the lobby before it was time for me to head out and catch my BlaBlaCar ride back to Paris (interestingly enough, that was my first and only ride to date that crossed European borders). I met up with the BlaBlaCar driver around 18h30 and from there left the Belgian capital.
To be completely frank, Brussels was not my favorite city to visit while in Belgium; while I admit that it has its beautiful moments (e.g. the Grand Place at night, the autumn foliage at the Parc de Bruxelles), everything else really didn’t interest me, let alone blow me away. Perhaps it was due to the fact that it was entirely overcast the whole time I was there, which probably dampened my overall impression of the city. Or maybe it was that there really wasn’t much touristy stuff happening there, considering that it’s also the political and economic capital of the country.
I also have to confess that I didn’t feel particularly comfortable wandering the streets at night, even with other people; there were a couple of moments when some men had approached us with pickup lines and catcalling, much of which I certainly did not appreciate. Brussels is a large place, so it’s bound to have its safe and shady parts like any other large, European city.
In any case, I was saying goodbye to Belgium for my Toussaint vacation, but still had another week to fill up with more travel adventures. Next up, we will be leaving the comforts of Western Europe and heading over to the other side of the continent. Stay tuned for the wonderful gem of Prague, Czech Republic! Until then, à bientôt!