I took the train from Bruges to Brussels in one hour and walked through the rain in the capital to my hostel which weaves through the business district (huge sky scrapers). The city is known as a headquarters for world commerce, NATO, and the home to many of the EU institutions. I saw all of Brussels in the one day I had here which goes to show you how small the tourism district is. On my walk to the main city center I grabbed a steaming hot strawberry and Belgian chocolate waffle. I walked into some really interesting shops such as the plethora of Belgian Beer Boutiques that claim to have over 250 beers in store! One of my favorite stops was at a Speculas cooking bakery. Speculas are a thin gingerbread cookie that are baked in molds from the tiny to the huge (they had some cookies the size of large babies). Most of the cookies are baked into the shape of famous Catholic Saints as well as windmills and other local landmarks and animals.
I arrived at the Grand Place and was in awe immediately. Brussels Grand Place has been declared Europe’s most beautiful Square and I agree entirely. The square is small but surrounded by the most beautiful and diverse architecture I have ever seen. The gold and rounded Romanesque Opera is at the front with an Art Nouveau apartment complex to the right. The huge cathedral and Hotel De Ville are Late Gothic and Neoclassical masterpieces. I wandered the streets and finally found the Musees Royaux des Beaux Arts de Belgique (The National Art Gallery). This gallery blew me away and I would have to say it is one of the top 10 art galleries to visit in Europe. I luckily walked into the gallery at 12:50 and found out that the first Wednesday of each month offers free admission to the gallery from 1-5pm! The gallery is housed in a famous Art Nouveau hotel and the walls and doors are stunning stained glass and gold rimmed. I started at the top floor at the 15th and 16th century masters. The artists that dazzled me were the Master of Flamal (Robert Campin), Hans Memling, Bosch’s triptych of hell, Lucas Cranach’s Adam and Eve and Albrecht Bouts several triptychs. This one floor really goes to show you that the Belgian art masters loved to paint on wood paneled triptychs as every room is wall to wall full of them! My heart skipped a beat when I entered the Peter Brueghel room (the younger and elder). The famous Belgian peasant interactive landscapes were breathtaking. My eyes bulged out when I got onto the balcony and saw the famous Jacob Jordaens “Allegorie van de Vruchtbaarheid” which is a wonderful painting which focuses on the smooth and pearly white buttock of a fine lady. The 2nd floor housed the 17th and 18th century collection with an impressive series of Rubens and several Belgian artists that I had never heard of but thoroughly enjoyed. The bottom floor houses the Modern Gallery from 19th to 20th century. The entrance displays a huge steel Henry Moore sculpture. In the back of a winding hall you find the FAMOUS and a personal favorite of mine: Jacques Louis David’s the Death of Marat. Also found here are several Gaugain, March Chagalls and crazy Belgian modern art pieces that dazzle the eye lids.
Leaving the gallery I walked past the huge Palace Royal which looks out onto the expansive Parc de Bruxelles. At the end of the park you will find a huge fountain which sprays water directly into the air and the wind carries this mist across the square. My last stop of the day was to find the famous Mannekenpis (a very small statue of a little boy weeing). The statue is notoriously dressed in costume every other day. Once I finally found it I noticed it had been dressed up as a Swiss Yodeller. Beside the statue (and through the thick crowd of tourists taking pictures of this weeing fountain) I found a chocolate shop and indulged in a special purchase. I bought SIX boxes of sea shell Belgian Pralines. I don’t know if I will ever eat them all but they only cost me 15 euros! I spent an hour searching for the perfect spot to have my last Belgian dinner. I finally found a great spot overlooking the Palais de Justice. The dining experience was humorous as the couple next to me seemed to be competing in the lover fondle Olympics (which they appeared to be winning). The dinner was fabulous and contained the following: I wanted to try the Brussels specialty beer called Kriek St. Louis which is a beer flavored with fruits. I had the most traditional red cherry flavour but other ones included raspberry, peach and cassis. My entree was a Belgian specialty called Waterzooi de Volaille a la Gantoise (Chicken brazed in a cream sauce with julienned carrots and celery with boiled potatoes). I had to have a large pint of Stella Artois before I left Belgium so I ordered that as my final purchase of the evening and stumbled back to the hostel as the local shops started to close up.
Belgium is wonderful and by far one of my favorite spots. The unique food scene is a mix of German and French haute cuisine styles and the amazing Flemish master artists are housed in one of the most beautiful galleries I have ever been fortunate enough to wander through.