I will admit that the reason I was so excited to visit Belgium was not for its grand architecture or history, not even to see the capital of Europe. I have been dreaming about the simple things Belgians have to offer, I lusted after waffles, frites (fries) and beer!
I was not disappointed at all in my quest for Trappist monastery creations and fried doughy goodness. In fact, I was blown away by the waffles and frites acquired on the streets. Oh and the beers... the beers are really good! Maybe the best I've ever had. Those Belgian monks have learned a few amazing things from continuously brewing beer since the twelfth century. That's something I can't do a great job conveying through a blog except to say: you have to go. If you enjoy beers and fried food, this is a place you must visit. Go and experience the thousands of beers available, all at the highest quality and good prices, afterwards stumble or saunter our of the drinking establishment to the nearest frites shop or late night waffle stand. It's perfection. When you're in Brussels, do as the Belgians do!
First thing I did was head to find some frites from one from a highly rated stand. These fries are fried twice and come with a variety of sauces (I went with Andalouse as it is apparently a local favorite). Not a few hours after my train arrived in Brussels, Val, my gracious host, arranged for us to meet his friends at a local bar called Stam. It was a fantastic start to my stay because 4 different beers were ordered for me after much discussion among the locals about which ones I should try.
Previously, when I had mentioned that I was going to visit Brussels, some people mentioned that Belgium is mocked because it's sort of a hybrid combination of cultures that isn't entirely Flemish (Dutch) and not completely French. My experience showed me a country diverse and caught between two cultures, blending into a unique fusion of both. Brussels is officially a bilingual city, signs are both in Flemish and French. The Brussels inhabitants are from all over Europe, likely working for various governmental entities of the European Union. Beyond that, it is diverse with cultures beyond the continent. Walking along the street I could hear many different languages. The energy is of a vibrant, eclectic place. It may not be a top destination for weather, but they have lots of politics and chocolate too. What more do you need?
Now, while I wasn't especially excited about the architecture or history beforehand, after my first full day, I was blown away. My former colleague connected me with their cousin living outside the city. We sped away first thing in the morning in her tiny brown Mini Cooper to first see Atomium, a futuristic structure built in 1959, before cutting through the countryside to Waterloo. No, not Waterloo, Iowa, THE Waterloo. The site where the great Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of France was finally defeated in battle to usher in a relatively long era of European peace (the Concert of Europe) from 1815 until the Crimean War of 1853. It was quite a sight to see the gigantic mound of earth taken from the battlefield. To me it represents our willingness to admit that our societies are fragile, and our freedoms are continuously lost and hard won. Tyranny is always lurking around the corner, "The history book on the shelf is always repeating itself. Waterloo knowing my fate is to be with you, Waterloo finally facing my Waterloo." -ABBA. Yes, that song was stuck in my head for two days on endless repeat. I've linked it here for your easy viewing convenience.
I really appreciated my trip into the countryside. Thanks Diane! In the evening, one of Val's friends arranged to show me the center of Brussels. That's when I had my first waffle (1 of 4) with warm chocolate inside. A stroll through the streets lined with restaurants and bars, filled with people out enjoying their Thursday night. It was this night I first laid eyes upon the magical spot that is Grand Place of Brussels while I enjoyed waffle number two (Caramel and Cream). my mouth dropped open as I walked into this square, lit up light a dream, each building adorned in statues and gold. It is so impressive, I can't believe something like it actually exists.
Brussels is a special place that I enjoyed visiting immensely! Thank you Val, Thibauld and Yanni for your generous hospitality! I felt very at home. The capital of Europe has made its home in fun and unusual place. A city that features multiple statues of peeing children (see the photo gallery) and where it's perfectly acceptable to pee on the side of a church, this one to be specific. You can buy clothing at a second hand store based only on the price per kilogram but you can't get Brussels Sprouts (I know, I thought it would be a thing, but apparently it isn't). I was so determined to eat those little green cabbages so I cooked some myself. Luckily I could find them in the supermarket!
The oddities of this place are endless, even the fact that the European Parliament's address is 60 Rue Wiertz. Who is Wiertz? Well he was a not-so-famous, neglected artist who created dark, demented paintings and somehow, quite miraculously managed to convince the government of Belgium to subsidize his studio and keep his art open to the public for free in perpetuity. I'm impressed, this man missed his calling in life to be a negotiator. Thus, you can wave to the members of the European Parliament at their desks from the Wiertz Museum just across the street. He painted some really dark stuff, like babies being cooked in a pot over the fireplace. I'm not making this stuff up. The most shocking thing, he had envisioned Brussels becoming the "capital of Europe". He wrote that in 1839. There you have it Europe, your selection in capital cities was foreshadowed by a demented Belgian painter in the 17th century, albeit he was a skillful negotiator.
Until next time Brussels! I'll always have dreams of your waffles in my heart!
Brussels Photo Gallery: