So after five amazing days in Amsterdam (Alyssa in Amsterdam: A Brief Rundown of Awesome Things), my next Eurotrip stop was Brussels…the capital of Belgium that’s world-famous for a few key things. Belgian waffles, Belgian chocolate, and Belgian beer were definitely at the top of my to-do list.
We arrived late via train and checked into the Urban City Centre Hostel. The perk here was that we had our own private room and bathroom. The downside was that this was probably the loudest hostel we stayed at. Earplugs be damned. Regardless, it was nice to have some personal space after sharing an eight-person dorm.
One thing that I quickly learned about Brussels is that the city has a sense of humor. Not in that “I’m trying super hard to be hipster-ish” sort of way, but more of in an “I’m so quirky that I don’t even realize that I’m quirky” way.
Take, for example, Manneken Pis.
Shrouded by legends, mischief, and fancy outfits, this tiny peeing boy statue is a huge deal in Brussels. This shot was taken early in the morning before the crowds piled up. Normally, it looks more like this or worse.
The statue really is that small and just inconspicuously stuck onto an otherwise unassuming street corner. But still, it’s a big deal to these Belgians. So much of a big deal that the little guy gets a wardrobe change just about as much as I do.
We later visited the Museum of the City of Brussels, which was a pretty average museum…until you reached the top floor. This is where all the Manneken Pis replicas reside wearing outfits from different countries, current events, and random themes.
You can actually look online before you visit to see what he’ll be wearing on upcoming days. Spoiler alert: sometimes he’s just naked!
Another big hit in Brussels is the waffles. Don’t believe the hype of the “one-Euro waffle.” It might sound like a bargain too-good-to-be true, and it is. That price is just for the plain, boring waffles that I could pretty much just make at home.
All the real deliciousness is in the toppings…strawberries, bananas, whipped cream, peanut butter, ice cream, and Nutella – from what I saw, all of Europe is obsessed with Nutella.
However, the waffles’ deliciousness is somewhat counteracted by their messiness. They’re impossible to eat without getting schmutz all over your face and the weak plastic forks vendors provide you with are an absolute joke.
Belgian waffles should only be attempted by professionals, those not afraid to look like a fool, and those who are not on a first date.
Another big deal in Belgium is the almighty comic book. We visited the Belgian Comic Strip Center and I was surprised to learn how many comics were created by Belgian artists.
I was a moderate Smurfs fan back in the 80s, and there was lots of Smurfs stuff to be seen here. The museum really wasn’t all that big, but it was more interesting than I expected, especially as a not-so-huge comic book fan. The Adventures of Tin Tin also had a big exhibit here and a whole shop dedicated to Tin Tin memorabilia.
But what got me really interested in Belgian comics was when I spotted GNOMES in a weird Polish comic created by illustrator, Grzegorz Rosinski. His comic is called Thorgal and I bought this particular book of his that featured helpful little gnomes in the woods. It’s called “The Guardian of the Keys” and was pretty entertaining to read.
Although I didn’t sample as much Belgian chocolate as I did waffles or beer, I did make it to Chocolatier Mary, which is a famous handmade chocolate shop that supplies the royal family. You kind of need to be royalty to afford it too.
I settled on a €9.50 box of chocolate liqueurs and made them last as long as humanly possible…which was about two days.
Which brings me to the beer…the strong, delicious, and wonderful beer of Belgium! One of our first stops was the Delirium Cafe. Sure, it’s touristy, but it’s actually a whole alley full of Delirium bars, which is pretty fun.
It’s a cute little alley with outside seating and rare varieties on tap that you just don’t find in the U.S. This is where I fell in love with Delirium Red and Floris Cactus. Floris is a Delirium brand that specializes in fun, fruity beers.
One of my favorite afternoons in Brussels was spent at Au Brasseur, a beer bar in the central restaurant area where I learned about La Corne in its horn-shaped glass & holder and sipped a few of these while drawing in my sketchbook.
And the architecture is absolutely nuts if you’re into gorgeous city scenery and all that.
But never fear…there’s plenty of more weird stuff lurking around the streets of Brussels. For one, the Atomium.
I really expected a science lesson from this visit, but instead I got a history about a world expo in 1958 and a bunch of closed-off areas.
There are eight levels spread across five spheres that you can access by stairs and elevators. Honestly, the exhibits weren’t all that interesting…certainly not worth €11. But this escalator was pretty trippy, so I’ll give it that.
Determined to make the most of our €11 tickets, we took the elevator to the very top to see panoramic views of the city and look down upon the equally-weird attraction of Little Europe down below.
Here’s me sipping a pricey drink from the top sphere and looking down over the city.But one of the most random things we did in Brussels was attending a marionette show at Theatre de Toone. It was all in French and I don’t speak a lick of French.
Well, other than, “Haw haw! Oui oui! Baguette! Croissant!”
This is a traditional Brussels puppet theater that was recommended to us by the son of the owner of Achouffe Brewery. The show recounted the history of a French/Flemish battle in the 1300s, of which I was completely lost about 90 percent of the time.
But alas, attending the not-so-well-attended show makes for a fun story to tell, and it was an absolutely random way to spend an evening in a random city. Meanwhile and elsewhere in Brussels, you can find gigantic cartoon characters and mock their hand gestures……or reprimand fake dogs for peeing on sidewalks…
…or do some laundry, because well, you’ve backpacking for weeks…
…or watch street performers do things like this (whatever “this” is)…
...or try to walk through doors that resemble fake forests.
And then you can write home about it. Just look for the red post boxes and pop in a post card!