I landed in Belgium on a cold and gloomy Sunday. In late May. After having spent the past week in a very warm Granada and quite hot Lisbon. Going from summer to the equivalent of the worst day in a California winter was a disorienting transition to say the least. But I suppose the weather is what makes for an authentic experience.
I was only in Brussels for about 48 hours. A brief stopover before heading to Paris. It was my first time in Belgium, and it was my first true solo trip to a country that felt truly foreign. I didn’t overly plan the trip, so I felt free to wander, vaguely in the direction of famed landmarks, stopping frequently for fries, beer and waffles.
I’ll admit I wasn’t swept off my feet by Brussels. I wasn’t expecting to be. Among the many glorious cities in Europe, Brussels hardly stands out. And the foggy weather doesn’t help. But having spent only 48 hours there, who am I to judge.
I opted to stay at an Airbnb in Ixelles. A traditional apartment house with different rooms on each level. It was incredibly spacious with high ceilings and large garden windows. The perfect cozy haven from the gloom outside.
I got to the city mid-morning, taking the train in from the airport and dropping things off at the Airbnb before heading out to explore, starting at Palais de Bruxelles and making my way around the many museums in the area. The streets and the architecture felt undeniably European, but in an unremarkable way. Official, but boring, I remember thinking. It made sense why its home to the European Union.
a warm coffee break @ fika
Since it was a Sunday, a lot of stores were closed. So I spent a lot of the day admiring the cute closed storefronts. They’d be a lot cuter if they were open.
The next morning I started with the greatest hits, walking over to Grand-Place. It was early enough for the galleries to be relatively empty, but by the time I finished a sweet breakfast at Maison Dandoy, tourist groups had started to coalesce in the square.
The streets felt notably busier than Sunday. The traffic and construction made for
The greatest hits also of course had to include the street art. From the peeing statues to the cartoons on the walls, there’s no shortage of public art in this city, often tucked in corners, filling otherwise nondescript spaces in the city with colorful stories that add a lot of character to the streets, as you share them with these cartoon characters.
picked up some obligatory chocolate @ Laurent Gerbaud
checked out a church (as one does in Europe).
stumbled upon Halles Saint-Géry and appreciated how Bourse was decked out for pride.
took a deliberate detour to Mammouth for lunch.
grabbed a beer at Mort Subite.
Then passed by a lot of quiet government buildings and headed over to Parc du Cinquantenaire, which was just as quiet on the gloomy Monday. Kept up with the outdoor theme stopping by Le Botanique, which, you guessed it, was pretty empty and quiet.
The morning of day three, I got a quick breakfast at a cafe and took one last look at the 50 degrees and foggy city before catching a one way train to a sunnier Paris where everything was (rose) gold.
Brussels was, at first impression, underwhelming and cold. I thought, maybe this is the kind of place that is better to live and work in rather than travel to. But looking back, it does have a solid chance at charm. Maybe we’ll try it again during tulip season next time.