September 12, 2019 – Day 2, Brussels, Belgium
We are ready to explore Brussels, but of course, not without our morning run. Luci has given us directions on how to get to two parks nearby, and in the delightful morning weather (perfect running weather – which we never get in Mumbai, except for maybe all of 3 days in January) – it’s about 12 degrees Celsius, we hike to the park. Parc du Forest is the first park we reach, and a large overflowing tree with green leaves reaching the surface enveloping the area around greets us at a side entrance to the park. It is about 7.15 a.m. in the morning and the park is relatively deserted with the odd dog parent playing catch with his/her four legged baby, and the occasional runners. We decide to do a quick run to explore the park along various paths as we watch the city wake up for the day. The park is in the middle of a large residential area, and traffic noises can be heard in the distance. Picking up some fruit and bread from the Carrefour express (which is almost at every corner in Brussels), we head back for a quick breakfast, and a walking tour of the city.
Brussels is remarkably well connected with metro stations and trams all over the city. The day pass (which costs 7.50 Euro) entitles you to hop on and off trams and metros throughout the day. Horta station is the metro station close to our house, and tram 3 and 4 take you from Horta to Centrum, which is the city centre and from where you can explore Brussels.
Our walking tour group is small (only 2 of us) with our wonderful tour guide, Anna (who is in fact Italian and has moved to Belgium) (and yes, yet another Italian in Belgium), who lets us marvel at the dazzling Grand Place (Grote Markt). The Grand Place is the French equivalent of Grote Markt (which is the central square), which is a majestic square ensconced by the brilliant Town Hall building (with the statute of St. Michael, who is the patron saint and the dragon at the top) standing tall as the symbol of the city. The traders’ guild buildings shine with the gold plated embossing as Anna tells us the significance of each building (with each building reflecting the symbol of the trade which was carried out from there), and to the other side lies the magnificent Museum building (which presently houses the city museum). As we walk, Anna regales us with tales of the city’s past, and shows us the numerous hand painted murals throughout the city. Besides being famous for fries and beer, Brussels also has magnificent murals painted throughout the city (on walls and ceilings) – the most famous one being the mural of the smurfs painted on the top of the ceiling at Brussels Central (also one of the most bustling stations in Brussels). We walk through the various streets, and attractions (including a huge mural of Tin Tin, the infamous Manneken Pis (the famous symbol of Brussels (the boy peeing)), the magnificent palaces, and parks of Brussels, with Anna giving us various titbits of local information on the way. The church of St. Michael’s dedicated to the patron saint is in the centre of the city (where in earlier times the river used to flow by). The museum of Brussels houses the wrought iron model of St. Michael slaying the dragon (which was perched on top of the town hall, but is now housed in the Museum)
We end our tour with recommendations on places to eat, and places to visit, and with freshly baked waffles from one of the food truck. If you are looking to explore all the museums in Brussels, and have sufficient time, I would suggest buying the 1 day tourist card (which costs EU 27) and entitles you to free access to 39 museums and public transport. A visit to comic strip museum which is located quite far from the city centre at Rue des Sables (where Tintin, the smurfs, and local comics greet you) was next on our list. This is housed in a large 3 storied building, with a separate area dedicated to each comic, a sprawling comic book library, and a huge comic book store at the bottom of the building.
Lunch was at the brilliant Noordzee (Mer du Nord) (highly recommended), a sort of a tapas bar, at Place St. Catherine, where you get all kinds of seafood and the catch of the day. Through a side viewing window, you can see the fish which is ready, and tell the servers what you want, and they will make it up for you as you stand there. The attendants shout out your name when your order is ready, and it is full of friendly ribbing and laughs, and you can see the camaraderie amongst the staff. We stood and ate at these long stools with the pigeons strutting between the stools hoping to catch some food with me hopping from leg to leg to avoid the two legged monsters.
(The famous fries places (Friteland and Tabora) are the must try places for fries and the serving of fries at Friteland was humongous – enough for two people, with a generous dollop of sauce, and the Andalouse sauce was an absolute delight. We scarfed down the fries, having walked around 25 km that day, with sodas as we watched the city slowly shut down for the night. Note to Self: In Belgium, one must always ask for sauce with fries (failing to do so will leave you being met with unfriendly stares from the locals – just kidding).