Country number 12! Admittedly we were driving along a motorway on a grey and rainy day, but we didn’t have much compulsion to leave and explore the south east of the country. It sounds like there are some nice woods, and some nice chateaus. Instead we continued on to Brussels for some mussels!
As we drove closer to the capital, we passed through the other side of the storm, and we were now treated with sunshine and clear skies – though now with the muggy humidity that comes post storm.
I honestly didn’t know much about the town, and was going to pass straight by on our way to Bruges. I knew that there was a large atomic sculpture, as well as some gilded churches – neither sounded that exciting to me. My first glimpse of something exciting came as we approached a large Arc de Triomphe (this one is actually called the Cinquantenaire). Maybe there is something worthwhile seeing in Brussels after all.
We arrived around 8PM, parking not too far from the old town and markets, which we were going to return to later. Instead, we started by catching the metro into the Northern Quarter, and walked back into the centre. It wasn’t a particularly nice area to walk through, feeling a little neglected, with a large immigrant population staring at us as we walked through the parks.
We originally came out this way for Risa to have some mussels in Brussels, but even though I’ve been wanting to have mussels and fries for the entirety of our trip, I balked at the €22 price most restaurants were charging. Risa didn’t want to eat solo, so it was a stand-off.
I was hungry, so I followed a friend’s suggestion and got some fries from Fritland, with several of the sauces. I get it, it was tasty, but it wasn’t life changing for me. The chips and sauce could have been from any chip shop in any town – there didn’t appear to be anything too unique or exciting about them. That said, they were tasty, and I promptly finished them in their entirety – and considered purchasing a further smaller portion.
It was right about now, outside the old stock exchange that I started to realise that I had severely underestimated Brussels. This area was beautiful, with incredible decoration, and surrounded by beautiful cafes and restaurants – and I chose to eat from the nastiest place on the block…
We walked a little further towards the centre, into the central market. I wasn’t prepared for this. It was incredible. I don’t think I’ve seen this much gold on a building before – not even inside the most lavish of Italian churches. The gilding that coated the facades of these buildings was incredible – and it was an entire 360˚ view from the centre of the market. There were young people just sitting around in the centre, and I was a little jealous of their ad-hoc picnic. I couldn’t think of a nicer view to accompany a meal in Brussels.
It wasn’t the best timing for photos, but I thought the place would look nice a little later in the evening once the sun sets, and the lights are turned on.
Risa was getting hangry, and decided to get mussels and fries after all. She ended up at what looked like a mussels and frites institution – Chez Leon. We sat, she ordered mussels and frites, while I confused the waiters and watched her eat dinner. I’m actually a little glad that I didn’t get a serving, as the sauce that the mussels are served in was heavy on celery. Celery is great smothered in peanut butter or hummus, but I’m not a fan in a soup.
And, this is where my battery in my camera gave up on life. I knew it was running flat, but I thought I had a spare – I usually carry a spare. Tonight my spare was flat, and I was going to take no further photos. I thought that shaking it, and warming it up a little might coax it into letting me take a few more photos, but it was all wasted effort. I was frustrated that I’d made this mistake, but it was only photos. I put my camera back into my bag, and let Risa be the official photographer for the rest of our time in Brussels.
We made our way through a beautiful undercover shopping mall, which still had some shops open and selling chocolates at 11PM! I had forgotten that many of the chocolates that I love are Belgian – I hadn’t however forgotten how expensive they were, and they were no cheaper here.
As I thought, the grand market place was even grander after sun set. And, as expected, the photos I took on her iPhone make me cringe, and hate myself for forgetting to charge the spare battery.
I kept seeing images of a little boy pissing, not realising that it’s almost the town mascot – I really went into Brussels blind. Risa showed me the statue, and it was so hard to believe that something so small, could be so famous. It must be 20cm high, and it’s on a non-descript corner in a back street a few blocks away from the central market square. It amused me that they have daily costumes that they dress little Mannekin-Pis up in. For example, today was dressed up to celebrate the national day of Montenegro – however, these costumes are removed around 4PM. There was also plenty of signs warning of CCTV surveillance of the area, though I wasn’t able to spot where these cameras were.
Our walk back to the car took us through more beautiful lanes, filled with boutique shops, restaurants and hip bars. It really stunned me how beautiful this part of town was. And to think that I was going to skip Brussels!
It was nearly midnight by the time we got back to the car. There was a free park half-way between Brussels and Ghent, so we started on the 30-minute drive. The fan belt had decided to start squealing again. It smelt bad, and the alternator warning light was faintly illuminated. This happened just as entered a 5km tunnel – and I wasn’t going to stop in the middle of a tunnel to tighten it. I slowed down the engine speed, and hoped that we’d be OK to make it out the other side where I could have some space (and fresh air) to tighten (or replace) the belt. I’m not quite sure why the alternator occasionally comes loose, but I’m never in the mood to get my hands dirty tightening it up – even if I’ve got it down to a 10-minute job. I definitely wasn’t in the mood for doing it after midnight when and a big day of sightseeing – but I couldn’t keep driving it as is. It took less than 10-minutes to tighten, and about as long to clean my hands afterwards, and then we were back on our way out of town, struggling to keep my eyes in focus on the motorway.