I must admit, when we were first planning this trip and deciding on the cities in Belgium that we should see, I was not really interested in traveling to Brussels. All I knew about Brussels was that lots of International Government agencies are located there and that there had been an attack in the Brussels airport in 2016. These two points did little to fuel my desire to go to the city. I guess, to be honest, I was a little scared. But after reading about the city, and seeing all that it had to offer, we felt that we had to add Brussels to our itinerary.
After arriving in the city by train from Ghent, I immediately felt more at ease seeing the level of security in the train/metro station. There were groups of armed military walking through the tunnels, which comforted me but scared Brandy a little. From the train station, we decided to take the metro and head out into the city. Brandy had picked up a cool Visitor's Map (Use It Maps) for the city of Brussels and had done her research, so she lead the way. The first stop we made was to a parking garage. Now when she suggested this I said, "a parking garage?", but I must say it was a cool idea. Parking 58 is a ten story parking garage that tourists visit to have a great view of the city. From the tenth story, we were able to see many of the sites we were planning to visit, even a view all the way to the Atomium.
From the bird's eye view from Parking 58, we started on a trek to see the sites that Brandy had mapped out with precision. Right next to Parking 58 was the Sint-Katelijneplein Place Sainte-Catherine. Of course, the Cathedral is exquisite, but the adjacent little square is just as beautiful with its reflection pond situated in the shade of the cathedral. There were so many people just sitting by the pond and enjoying the day. For what felt like the heart of the city, this spot was unbelievably relaxing.
From Sint-Katelijneplein Place we headed to the Brussels Stock Exchange. Now, when I go to these cities I am all about the architecture and the Stock Exchange did not disappoint! Of course, this site was a major tourist site and had so many people lounging on the stairs of the exchange. It was hard to believe that any serious work was being done here.
Our next destination was right in the heart of Brussels Old Town, the city's main plaza known as Grand Place. The architecture of this square doesn't quite seem to all match but somehow dazzles, nonetheless. One of the buildings certainly shows off with its ornately carved stonework, and gold decoration along the entire facade. There were so many people milling about and we even saw a professional photo shoot taking place, although we did not know what it might be for.
By this time, we had been traveling and walking (that's what we do) all day and were ready for dinner. Brandy had mapped out a little vegan restaurant called Moon Food, but, of course to get to it, we would have to climb many steep hills! Oh, how I love those hills. Now, on our travels in Europe, vegan restaurants are usually set up in a buffet-style offering lots of cold pastas and salads, not always my favorite. Moon Food was a little different. While they were set up buffet-style, the array of food was much more sophisticated. I think we both definitely enjoyed our meal here.
After dinner, we headed back onto the crowded, tourist-filled streets of Brussels to take in a few more sites. Brandy had mapped out the Mannken Pis, but I'm sure she didn't know what it was. My husband and I have a shop where we sell concrete statues and fountains and we were very familiar with the little peeing boy fountain. I never much liked the little guy, as I thought he was rather tacky, until one day when an FSU professor had come by to shop and told me the legend of the boy. He said that a wealthy family had their young son go missing and formed a search party that scoured the city to find the boy. It is said when they found him he was happily urinating in a small garden. As a gift of gratitude to all those who had helped in the search, his father had a fountain built depicting his son at the time he was found. There are a couple of other stories out there, so who really knows for sure. What I do know is that I will never take this little guy for granted again. Brussels certainly does love their pee-pee boy!!
One thing we really did enjoy seeing as we walked through the city was the beautiful graffiti on so many of the street corners we turned down. I'm not sure you can even call it graffiti as it looked more like commissioned art pieces several stories high. As we'd walked down the streets, it seemed we'd turn a corner and come upon one whimsical piece of art after another! As the sun was setting, I was more than ready to head back to our Airbnb to rest up for the next day's adventures. As we relaxed, Brandy did a little more research on the places we should visit the next day, but decided to keep them a secret. What would the next day bring?
The next morning we got up and out to really enjoy some of the lifestyle of Brussels. Brandy decided to surprise me with a trip to a locals daily flea market. The Old Market in Marollen is open every day from 6 am to 2 pm and is so expansive, it covers a city block. Oh the treasures we saw and would love to take home, but when you travel like we do, there is not much room to take anything extra home, especially that really cool table I saw. Oh well, it really was so great to experience one of those European flea markets that I had always heard about. From the flea market we headed to De Biomarkt and Melting Pot Kilo! When you think of these think sustainable living! De Biomarkt which is a really cool warehouse set up as a local grocery store. People were lined up with baskets in hand to get their daily/weekly local, fresh fare. You can get anything here from fresh produce to grains to dairy! From there we walked down the street to find Melting Pot Kilo, a second-hand store where everything you buy is priced by the kilo! Brandy was very happy to find this little shop and the cute leggings she bought there.
After our walk around residential Brussels, we hunted for a place to eat. Using our trusty google we were able to find a little hole in wall pizza joint called Ai 6 Angoli, that offered vegan and gluten-free options. Brandy went for a gluten-free, vegan pizza and I chose a beautiful Arugula Salad. After we filled our bellies we were ready to take to the streets again and once again Brandy set our course.
Our trek was once again an up-hill climb, the end point was well worth it. After about a 20 minute walk we made it to the Royal Library of Belgium, at the very center of Brussels. While the smell of books drew Brandy in, I was thrilled by the maze-like gardens, simple round fountains and a walkway lined by beautiful shade trees. We walked up the steps to get a better view of the gardens and pause for a moment to take it all in, and then continued on our way.
Our next stop was a walk toward the Royal Palace of Brussels. This is a such a stately expanse of building without being too over the top. Although we paused a moment to take in the beauty of the royal house, we were actually looking for the gem directly across the street from the Palace, Brussels Park. This park seems very reminiscent of Central Park in New York City. While still being right in the middle of everything, this is was a very welcome oasis for us, a place to sit and relax after a long day of moving through the city! We sat and people-watched, caught up on social media and just recharged our batteries. I even got into bird watching as I was seeing some birds that we do not have here in Florida like Magpies and an elusive green bird that Brandy didn't believe I saw. I would be visited by the "green birds" later in our trip and get my proof.
The last stop on the itinerary that we felt was a must before leaving Brussels was a trip to the Atomium. So, we hopped on the Metro and headed North. I had never heard of the Atomium and really didn't know what to expect. What a cool site! The Atomium was built for the World's Fair in 1958 with five spheres that house permanent and temporary exhibitions and all spheres being open to the public. We were content to hang out on the green space area to take pictures and help others to take their pictures.
With our last day full of walking and site-seeing in Brussels under our belt, we decided to head back to our Airbnb and relax for a bit. We laid down to nap and regroup. As night was approaching we tried our best to find a proper vegan restaurant. We decided on Mr. Falafel after reading all the great reviews people had left. We headed back to the tourist area in search of the best Falafel in Brussels. When we arrived, we were surprised by the small little hole in the wall restaurant with a total of four tables on the interior. When we tried our falafel pita, we understood what all the raving was about. I think it, by far, is the best falafel and hummus I had ever had! We were very pleased with our dinner choice. After dinner, we decided to head back to our room and get our things ready to take off for our next destination. The next morning we would be headed to the Brussels airport for an early morning flight to Copenhagen, Denmark.