…but first, a disclaimer: I was only in Brussels for about 14 hours, and six of those were allotted for sleeping. My camera was filled to capacity and out of batteries, so I took no pictures. Therefore, my memory of Brussels is fuzzy at best.
Brussels is not a touristy city, but we made it our mission to be as touristy as possible when we arrived: we vowed that at the very least we would have Belgian chocolate and a huge Belgian waffle. When we got to the heart of the city, we couldn’t turn a corner without encountering at least one of those things, so our mission was easily fulfilled. One block off Grande Place, the main square in the center of town, was a waffle stand where we immediately descended and took in the sugary, chocolatey, creamy smell of pure bad calories and fat. Yum. I ordered a chocolate-drizzled waffle and got more sugar than I bargained for (though I wasn’t complaining): in the very center of the waffle had been cooked in a spoonful of nothing but granulated white sugar. I see a cavity in my future.
And even more dental problems were to come, I knew, when I realized there were more chocolate shops than restaurants in Brussels. Even those who skip dessert every night and get their sugar fix from half a grapefruit can’t resisit the call of the Belgian chocolate truffle, or bar, or stick, or easter bunny. There are literally at least two little shops eagerly handing out free samples on the front stoop on every block of the historical center, and they’re molded in the cutest of shapes that make them hard not to accept.
But when I wasn’t tasting chocolate, I was taking in the buildings whose rounded tops couldn’t have been seen in any country south of Luxembourg. Grande Place was truly grand with its huge square and stately buildings whose gold leaf details shone in the late afternoon light and almost looked like they were on fire. Buildings I saw walking down the narrow streets reminded me of pictures I had seen of Copenhagen and Amsterdam, that quirky fairytalelike style of architecture that you’d expect to see in an illustrated Hansel and Gretel book.
Just when we thought we couldn’t get more touristy, we could. We visited Atomium, a model of an iron molecule blown up to 165 times its real size, a relic from the 1958 World’s Fair. Then we went next door to Mini Europe, possibly the silliest attraction I’ve ever visited in Europe thus far. It’s a Disneyland of models of famous structures from all over Europe shrunk down to 1/25 their real size, which actually gave interesting perspective to famous monuments that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. For example, I didn’t know Big Ben was so infintesimal in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, and how unassuming Mt. Vesuvius is in comparison with other famous mountains. However, I cop to having the most fun not thinking about proportions but playing around with funny juxtapositions like these:
At night, we returned to the center of the town and grabbed a variety of foods–sushi, gyros, fair food–and sat on a fountain in the middle of a small plaza. Jaqui and I spent the better part of an hour staring at people’s boots as they walked by, comparing the merits of each type of boot depending on its material, heel height and style. Emily and Barry finally tired of our nonsense, so we moved on to a famous bar where 2,000 varieties of beer were on offer. We perused the fruit beer menu, where every flavor from banana to coconut was on offer. We opted for the raspberry, but left after one drink because everyone else in the bar was far louder and more drunk than us.
And that, in a nutshell, is my short but pleasant experience in Brussels. After a short night of sleep in a dodgy motel above an Indian restaurant, I skipped out of the city via tram, then metro, then train to the airport to fly to Dublin.