Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.
Brussels is a strange city of extremes. Beautiful, ornate, gold-gilded Baroque buildings are a mere stone’s throw from a metro station that smells overwhelmingly like a urinal. Stunning eye-catching comic-style street art sits at the entrance of an alleyway overcrowded with smelly trash. Amazingly well-dressed fashionistas stalk past on gazelle-like legs, as homeless beggars huddle in doorways.
The contrasts hit us as we wandered through the city, and I was left with a certain level of discomfort as I became distinctly aware that Brussels felt just that little bit more dangerous and shadier than our previous stop at Amsterdam. As much as I didn’t want to become the paranoid tourist, I clutched my bag just that little bit closer to me as we went through the city.
I don’t want to give a damning account of our time in Brussels though, because it certainly wasn’t a negative experience by any means. We had a fantastic time on our chocolate walking tour of the city for example, and had some great meals including one at Chez Patrick. There were other smaller happy coincidences – like how we stumbled across a flea market on our first day in the city, and mingled with the locals, enjoying market treats such as smoutebollen and Jamaican jerk chicken.
In terms of other food we had while in the city, there’s no denying that the dessert scene in Brussels can’t be beat. There’s chocolatiers on every corner of course, and we visited a few of them on our tour. We also treated ourselves to afternoon tea snacks of Belgian waffles, or eclairs, or macarons. Every café had homemade cakes and tarts as well, which were very hard to resist.
As much as I would have liked to spend all our time eating sweets, I had to keep in mind that we are technically on our honeymoon, so what K wants to do should also factor into our holiday plans! A lifelong comic book fan, K was keen for us to follow the comic book trail in Brussels, of large multi-storey graffiti art murals on the sides of buildings in the city centre.
We also visited the Belgian Comic Strip Museum, purely dedicated to the art and history of the comic strip. Unfortunately, much of the value of the museum was probably lost to us as we don’t speak French particularly well (my high school French is a bit rusty!) and many of the comic strips displayed are in French. Still, the displays on the Belgian comics the Smurfs and Tin-Tin were particularly well received by K.
Overall, we had a particularly relaxing few days in Brussels. We weren’t rushing around from attraction to attraction wanting to squeeze everything in – it was more a case of wandering the streets, stopping at whatever seemed interesting, having plenty of sweet treats along the way, and exploring at a slower pace.
I quite enjoyed our stay in Brussels but I do think that more can be done to improve the overall state of the city, its inhabitants and its amenities. Until then, I would recommend taking greater care when visiting the city as a tourist – and perhaps getting out of Brussels to the smaller cities in Belgium like Bruges, Ghent or Antwerp.