What do you do when you lose your job just before Christmas? Do you stay home, save money and look for a new job or do you embrace the freedom while you have it and do something fun and exciting?
Given my love for travel, I obviously went for the second option, and now I find myself in Brussels, capital city of Belgium. I’ve heard a lot of bad things about this city in comparison to other spots in Europe, but that only enticed me to check it out for myself even more. And what better time to indulge in guilt-free chocolate and waffle scoffing than the holidays?
Disembarking the Eurostar (a great way to travel to avoid the stress of modern day airports) and leaving the train station I was hit with a heady air of urine and cannabis, carried by the remnants of the day’s rain. It was dark and crowded and surrounded by construction work. In a word, your typical city centre station. But all hope wasn’t lost, for within five minutes I turned onto a large road adorned with bridged lighting, promoting all the festive cheer I could wish for. And from there it only got better.
From the most gorgeous of chocolate shops to little Christmas huts, my first impression of dank misery quickly dissolved, no moment moreso than coming across the Grand Place entirely by mistake. All I can really say is wow. I think the photo (albeit a little shaky) explains it!
Spirits lifted, I wandered a bit further en route to my hostel, stopping for a hot dog from a street stand for tea along the way. The first night a resounding success, I retired early, ready for a full day of exploring and embracing this great city.
With no plans, I decided to dedicate today to simply wandering and getting lost, just seeing where I might end up. I genuinely believe this is the best way to get a real feel for a city, and while I often find myself falling into the trap of rushing around to do all the tourist stuff, today was nice, relaxing, uplifting.
And of course, when you find yourself with a free day, there’s time left over for shopping. First visiting the famed Mannequin Pis, which despite its renown is literally just a tiny statue on a street corner of a naked boy that pees, I was opened up to chocolate and tacky souvenirs as far as the eye could see. I was like a child all over again, over-excited at all the options. Naturally, I didn’t leave without a purchase or two!
My brunch today consisted of my first Belgian delicacy, the almighty waffle. Opting for dark chocolate and speculoos biscuit may not have been the most photogenic option when you compare it to toppings like whipped cream or strawberries, but man was it good, incredible in fact! Perched on a wall back in Grand Place I enjoyed some peace and people watching, and admired the beautiful intricacy of the architecure that surrounded me before moving on.
Happening across what appeared to be the main shopping hub of the city, I was distracted for a little while (especially by Flying Tiger!), before realising I was pretty close to the Comic Strip Museum (Adult entry: €10) – and I was beginning to get cold, after all. The museum is slightly tucked away, but Google maps will help you find it with ease.
Scattered all across the city are a number of murals depicting famous comic characters and strips, so it seemed fitting to find out what all the fuss is about and why comics are held in such high regard here.
Almost immediately upon entering I was introduced to a little dude who I can only assume is called Boerke (as that’s the comic name) – or maybe it’s Dickie, as I’ve seen that written somewhere too – and the humour is actually pretty dark, which was refreshing to see.
I then learned more about this timeless craft and the various genres. It’s just a shame I couldn’t read the comic strips themselves, but I suppose that’ll teach me for not paying attention in my French classes at school…
The tour continued upstairs, featuring plenty more celebrated artists and characters, including little blondie Tintin and of course everyone’s favourites, The Smurfs. Learning of the origins of some of these beloved and timeless characters was, in a word, endearing.
All geeked out, it was time to head back out into the elements and find something nice to eat while I waited for nightfall again. In typical me fashion, I ended up in none other than an O’Reillys, with a gorgeous pink mojito to boot. One has to indulge every now and again, after all – and after chocolate, waffles and macarons I needed to be around something a little different. The Christmas music blaring overhead along with the warm buzz of the crowded little pub was just too hard to resist anyway!
It’s another early night tonight with a sneaky final macaron to prepare for an early start for a day’s exploring in nearby Bruges tomorrow, so here’s me clocking off. Maybe I’ll read a little of Chrismas Gifts (an anthology featuring the works of myself and my writing group, available to buy on Amazon, just so’s you know…), but at least until tomorrow, farewell x