Taking In The Sights in Brussels
by Harold Stephens
Travel Correspondent of Thai Airways International
Brussels is one of Europe's premier cities and yet it is a very misunderstood city. “Don't let its unjustified reputation as a dull, faceless centre of EU bureaucracy deter you,” declares the Brussels’ tourist office. “In postwar years, the city has become a thriving, cosmopolitan city.”
All one has to do is take a tour of the city and he or she will agree with the Tourist Office. Brussels is a marvelous, exciting city to explore. Fortunately while most of the cities of Europe were destroyed by the Germans and Allies during World War II, Brussels suffered little damage in comparison.
It is entirely surrounded by Dutch-speaking Flanders and its constituent Flemish Brabant province. Being at the crossroads of cultures (the Germanic in the North and the Romance in the South) and playing an important role in Europe, Brussels fits the definition of the archetypal "melting pot", but still retains its unique character. The population of the city of Brussels is one million and the population of Brussels metropolitan area is just over two million.
Brussels can boast of many charming and beautiful attractions, with deeply ornate buildings on the Grand Place. Grand Place-Grote Market is surrounded by the city tower and a range of beautiful 300 year old buildings. In the evening, surrounded by bright lumination, it is simply ravishing. Some evenings a music and light show is provided with the buildings serving as a canvas. Have a "gaufre de Liège-Luikse wafel" here (Belgian waffle with caramelized sugar)—the best ones are available from the little shops off the northeast corner of the Grand Place-Grote Market.
In St. Catherine's Square stroll along and stop in for a drink at one of the many bars on Place St-Géry/Sint-Goriksplein,
Ixelles - Elsene is a vibrant part of town with a high concentration of restaurants, bars and other services to satisfy most every one. You might enjoy small bookshops and the ethnic restaurants tucked away in side streets.
The Matongé district just off Chaussée d'Ixelles/Elsenesteenweg is the city's main African neighbourhood.
Marolles/Marollen is a neighbourhood (part of Bruxelles - Brussels) close to the city's heart. Although this is one of the few places where the Brussels dialect which is a dialect of Dutch (also called Flemish) can still be heard, it is more common in the outer districts of Brussels Capital Region. The area is best known for the flea market held daily on the Place du Jeu de Balle/Vossenplein as well as a plethora of shops selling everything from old radios and bent wipers to fine china and expensive Art Nouveau trickets. Visit on Saturdays or Sundays.
Saint-Gilles/Sint-Gillis - The city's bohemian epicentre with thriving French, Portuguese, Spanish, Maghrebi and Polish communities. The area around the Parvis de St-Gilles/St-Gillisvoorplein is the arty part, with the area around the Chatelain/Kastelein and the Church of the Holy Trinity being decidedly more yuppified. Like Schaerbeek, Saint-Gilles boasts several Art Nouveau and Haussmann-style buildings.
St-Josse/Sint-Joost - The smallest and poorest commune not only of Brussels, but of all Belgium, this commune might not always be too pleasing on the eye but does have a few small, welcoming streets. The mid-part of the Chaussée de Louvain/Leuvensesteenweg is also home to a relatively small Indo-Pakistani community, so this is the place to head to for a tikka masala. The Turkish community which was the largest community only a few years ago has declined rapidly, as they moved to relatively wealthier communes by St-Josse/Sint-Joost "standards".
Schaerbeek/Schaarbeek - While there might be little interest in this commune to the casual visitor, it does host some very ornate Art Nouveau buildings. The Chaussée de Haecht/Haachtsesteenweg is also the heart of Brussels' vast Turkish neighbourhood.
Jette - Jette, together with Koekelberg and Ganshoren, are three communes in the north-west of Brussels. These green(-ish), mainly residential communes, house the Basilica of Koekelberg on their shared territory.
Uccle/Ukkel - Brussels' poshest commune. Green, bourgeois and starched like all posh communes should be. Uccle has retained many of its charming medieval cul-de-sacs, tiny squares and small townhouses as has nearby Watermael-Boitsfort/Watermaal-Bosvoorde.
Molenbeek - Commonly known as Molenbeek-St-Jean or Sint-Jans-Molenbeek. A commune with a very large Moroccan and, lately, Romanian population. With a reputation for being unwelcoming, if not downright dangerous, this is a place few locals venture to - let alone tourists.
The weather in Brussels is colder and more damp with a high annual average rainfall. After October, temperatures drop off quite rapidly and winter months are damp and chilly; however snowfall is rare, generally occurring once or twice a year. The summer visitor should always be prepared for rain in Brussels.
If you are on a short stay, the Brussels International Airport has a luggage locker service (Floor 0) where you can leave luggage for a fixed duration. The lockers say that you will have to retrieve your bags within 72 hours or else they will be removed. But they are actually moved to the room next door and stored until you retrieve them. This is a useful facility for people wanting to stow away big suitcases somewhere safe. The rate is €7.50 per day.
Try to see the landmarks of Brussels: Grand Place-Grote Market, Manneken Pis, a short walk from the Grand Place-Grote Markt, a small bronze statue thought to represent the "irreverent spirit" of Brussels.
Parc du Cinquantenaire-Jubelpark - Definitely check out the Arc de Triomphe-Triomfboog on the east side of town. It's in the Parc du Cinquantenaire-Jubelpark. It is possible to go up to the terrasse above the arch, from where you'll have a good view of the city. Entry is through the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and of Military History and is free. Take Metro line 1 east, exit Schuman and walk east or exit Mérode and walk west.
Atomium Square de l'Atomium Take Metro line 6 direction Roi Baudouin-Koning Boudewijn and get off at Heysel-Heizel, The Atomium embodies its ideas of the future and universality, half a century later.
Don’t miss the Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire. This museum has an important collection of art objects from different civilizations from all over the world. The museum was founded in 1835 and was located in the Hallepoort/Porte de Hal, one of the last remaining medieval city gates of Brussels.
Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts de Belgique and the België Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium are a must for ther art lover.
Don’t let anyone tell you that Brussels is a dull, boring town.
E-mail: ROH Weekly Travel (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Note: The article is the personal view of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the view of Thai Airways International Public Company Limited.