Let’s start with saying that I went to Bruxelles on Christmas, just one month later the Paris terrorist attacks took place so I was terribly afraid! I had booked in October, when we still did not know that all of this stupid thing could even taken place, but to be honest I do not regret having visited the Europe’s capital, as politicians like to call it nowadays. I left home just a few days before Christmas with my father, my friend and I would have met my boyfriend there. We had a Belgium tour: we just did not stay in Bruxelles, but expanded our knowledge about this small country which is so diverse and rich in culture more than you could imagine.
Some Information About Belgium
First of all, let me start with saying that Belgians are crazily good at speaking languages! Not by chance, the small country has 3 official languages: French, Dutch and German. French is widely used for this reason many people have this image of Belgium as a France’s ugly copy but this is not absolutely true. Belgium has its own cultural identity; of course, it is tightly interwined with French and Dutch cultures but on of these two cultures, they could base their own. Back in the past, Belgium was part of the Netherlands, they were, indeed, called “the low countries” but later on, the Belgians revolted creating their own country and expanded their influence throughout the globe through the establishment of many colonies, which many of them were African. Belgium is divided into two historical regions: the Flanders, which is the dutch-influenced area, and the Wallonia, the french-influenced area where the most part of native french speakers reside. In addition, there is the small region of Bruxelles-Capitale. The signs are written in two languages in the capital: Dutch and French, as here both of these languages are spoken, even if we can say that French is, however, more predominant. I did not visit Wallonia so I cannot say but in the Flemish region, where I had my two trips outside the capital, the signs were mainly written in Dutch….duck, I do not know this language while I had studied French in high school xD It must be hard to rule a country so diverse like this one; I heard several times that they are experiencing problems regarding this issue: the Dutch speaking region is, indeed, richer than its french counterpart but just mention this, as dividing factor, is supercicial and makes everything sound simpler, while the situation is more complicated. They differ even on the cultural level by having different languages, literatures and I guess, even history.
1. Galleries Royales Saint-Hubert – Koninklijke Sint-Hubertusgalerijen
This shopping gallery could remind you of something, if you have ever visited Milan….well, it is a shopping arcade built a bit before of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, its italian counterpart in Milan. The place is very elegant and full of nice shops, which from outside look very posh. It was built in the 19th century as a place where the richer people could spend their money but it also turned out to be useful as a good location for cafés since the people could stay out, sipping some tea or coffee, something not permitted by the cold weather of Bruxelles. In Christmas, the atmosphere is lively and many people pass through here, looking at the shops’ windows.
- How to reach:
You can use either the violet 1 or yellow line 5 and get off at Central Station Stop, from there it is something like 10 minutes walk.
2. Palais de Justice – Justitiepaleis
Palais de Justice did NOT leave a great impression on me as it was grey, too big – it is said it is bigger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome – and I could barely see it due to maintenance works that are going on in order to renew it. It, sure, is imponent! It rules over the city from this hill, where in the Middle Age, criminals were used to be hanged. The architect, Joseph Poelaert, was highly criticized by Bruxellois themselves because, in order make the construction come true, he destroyed part of bordering neighbourhoods.
Although being in renovation, I recommend you to visit here because you can enjoy a nice view over Bruxelles but make sure the weather is good or else it just looks depressing xD
- How to Reach:
The closest metro station is Louise on the orange 2 or blue line 6.
3. Grand Place – Grote Markt
There is too much to say about this wonderful piece of architecture so I will just write down a few basic informations. Let’s start with saying that it is considered to be one of the most beautiful square in the world, therefore added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage. The origins of Grand Place date back to the Middle Age, when here a small market was established and grew even more later on, because the commercial centre changed from Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, after America’s discovery, making Belgium one of the most important country at that time. Two notable buildings can be spotted on the square: the gothic Hôtel de Ville – Stadthuis (Town Hall), which is one of the best example of public palaces in Europe, and Maison du Roi – Broodhuis. The name in dutch is quite weird because it means Bread House; Why? Well, the dutch name kept the original function of this building: before becoming Duke’s property, this was the place where the merchants used to sell bread.
Suddenly, while visiting around, everything got dark and the various buildings, the Grand Place is composed of, started changing colours from red to pink, from pink to violet etc and a music was playing in the background. I was happily surprised, it was a great scenery and I did not expect this at all.
It is a small bronze statue, which is located on a fountain, portraying a young guy peeing, as the flemish name already indicates. We do not know about the real building motives of this statue but there are a few legends about it I found on internet: Some say it portrays a young boy, that with his pee, managed to prevent a bomb from exploding and destroying the city, some say it portrays the son of a duke that was caught peeing during an important battle. When I visited there, I realized it was wearing a Santa Claus costume and I wondered why…I, later, discovered that the little bronze guy has a large collection of clothes that it wears during important celebrations like on Christmas or on Easter. Along with the Atomium and the Grand Place, it is Bruxelles’ symbol.
- How to Reach:
The closest metro station is the Central Station, which is like 15 minutes walk, but it is worth it because you can pass through the nice streets of the capital, where you can find several restaurants. For the Manekken Pis, don’t you worry, it is located just behind the Grand Place.
4. Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg – Abdijkerk Sint-Jacob op de Koudenbergkerk
This place is one of my favourite in Bruxelles because from here you can enjoy a really beautiful view over the historical part of the city. We used to walk a lot in Belgium’s capital so, as usual, we got off at the Central Station stop and start our wandering around. We passed by a very beautiful square where we stopped admiring the enchating beauty of Bruxelles; for a moment it reminded me of Paris. This place is called Mont Des Arts (Mount of the Arts), I could not find better names for it!
Then, if you proceed, you find yourself in front of this neoclassical building, which was built between the 18th century and 19th century. Before, instead of this cathedral, there was a medieval abbey that was demolished by the Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine in order to pursue his projects of urban renovation. Just a few minutes away from here, you can also find the Royal Palace but unfortunately, we did not have the time to visit. Near the church, we found a small van selling waffles….how could we resist?! Well, simply we did not and ate one per person xD Waffle is one of the most common and loved food in whole Belgium and I must say it is totally yummy 😛 If you will ever visit here, you have to try Waffles and the famous Moules Frites, which means fried mussels, national dish and symbol of Belgium 😉
To be continued until the next article….