Brussels sprouts on the horizon
Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
149Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
I found a hostel, installed myself in an eight bed dorm and chatted to Roberto, an ERASMUS student from Rome who was having trouble finding digs in Brussels
Monday morning I bought a guide to Brussels and spent at least 90minutes studying it, before concluding that there was no point trying to visit anything on a Monday in Brussels. Its shut. Everything is shut. However, the guide included a map with some themed walks that one can do under just these circumstances, so all was not lost. I chose the ´Art Nouveau´ walk, having briefly studied the movement at school and therefore feeling a pang of nostalgic enthusiasm. What I didn´t realise, however, was that to reach the starting point of this walk by foot (the bike stayed in the hostel the whole time in Brussels - I didn´t want to be worrying about it) would take 2hours. Admittedly I stopped for a while in the Parc Du Bruxelles, to listen to the free music festival that was going on. I think the band may have had something to do with punk, but the leaflet was in Flemish and I have little generic music knowledge. They were good though. The Brussels parks have fountains, grass, trees, sculptures, everything you´d expect really, but they´re much smaller than London parks.
Eventually I found a point on the route. I followed it for about a kilometer along a main road, enjoying the ambiance of traffic noise and smog. It was raining, intermittently but hard. At the end of this picturesque trek I came to the first Art Nouvea house. It was a bit unusual. Curvy. There´s a photo, if you´re interested. Beginning to lose faith in the Art Nouveau walk, I nonetheless plough on, ever hoping that the next example will be a treat
Having sacked off the walking tour, I head for the EU building for the 3o´clock tour of the central european bureaucrisy. I should have known that this would not be easy. At the first building I tried, the receptionist said this was not part of the tour. At the second the armed guard asked me very politely to go back the way I came. Now. At the third the receptionist told me to fill in a form, then told me she didn´t know where the tours were. By now it was 20 past three, so I sacked off the EU and went in search of beer.
In particular I was looking for the ´Grand Place Brewery´. I can find that, I think to myself. The clue´s in the title. Except it isn´t. Nor, apparantly, is it in the address. Eventually I sack off the brewery, and console myself in the ´Music Village´ Jazz bar that I found while looking for other things. The band are warming up, and they sound pretty good. The barman allows me to drink a beer and ´profit from the ambiance´ so when I´m asked if I´m coming for the concert, I say maybe. I have something to do first. Then I remember that every other bar on this street is hanging a rainbow flag above the doorway. I pause. ´Le concert... est-ce que c´est pour... tout le monde?´ ´Oui. Bien sur´. Good.
Not far away from this street is the Mannekin-pis. A very small boy, pissing eternally into a bowl. This is the emblem and spirit of Brussels. Every year, on the national day, they dress him up in a themed costume, usually donated by another city. So far, he has accumulated a wardrobe of over 760 outfits, many of which are on dispay in the Musée de la cité de Bruxelles. It is a very strange exhibition. Rows of glass boxes, each containing a life-size replica of a 60cm tall statue of a small boy pissing, each dressed in a different outfit. From Ice-Hockey mannekin-pis to matador, Nelson Mandela, John Bull (donated by London, you´ll be pleased to know, as were 4 others) a Maharajah and an Azerbaijani. Even a cyclist, with miniature bike and flourescent jacket. The best part of the exhibition, however, is a short film of tourist reactions to the little fella. Comments such as ´is that it?´, ´that´s not it, it must be further on´, ´my husband has one just like it´ and lots of giggling and pointing. Made me smile, anyway.
Of course I went back to the Jazz concert. I could hardly not, having made it my mission, (apart from cycling to Australia) to visit a jazz club in every capital city I visit. The music and the ambiance were perfect, but I felt alone and drank too much. I left before the end, as I was nodding off in my seat
Someone else left at the same time as me and started walking in the same direction. ´C´etait bien, non?´ I say. ´Sorry, I don´t speak French´ she says. Excellent. Neither do I. It turns out she´s Isreali and staying at the same hostel, so naturally we sit up talking politics until past 1am. This is, as you know, my idea of fun. However, I was a little sorry to sack off my plan A, which was to visit (I kid you not) the Streetlamp Museum of Brussels. Keswick´s pencil factories, Belgium´s Tour de France and Provence´s BonBons can take a running jump. We have a winner. No fewer than twenty, that´s right, twenty, different streetlights that have illuminated Brussels throughout the ages. Combined with the puppet museum that I also didn´t see and the Mannekin-Pis, I´m beginning to suspect that there is some kind of long-standing competition in the Brussels tourist office.
On Tuesday I went to the Museum of the city of Brussels, as I wanted to get a feel for history and character of the place. As well as the Mannekin-Pis exhibition, it was a pretty good whistle-stop tour of the city´s economic and political history. As I know it will fascinate you, I will now impart my new found knowledge.
First, there were cabinets for altars, then there were tapestries, almost as good those that I didn´t see in Tournai, for reasons I shall mention later, then there was silver. Porcelain came next, with examples by Elterbeek who "also produced some sculptures, fine groups in bisque". I think bisque is a kind of soup, so he must have been very talented.
Unfortunately the political stuff on the top floor for some reason didn´t have a guide printed in English, so I can´t enlighten you.
I had intended to visit the main art gallery, but it was far away and expensive, so I sacked it off. That evening, as I was heading out in search of dinner, I was joined by Annie, who I´d chatted to while using the hostel´s internet that morning. She´s American, but despite this was excellent company. Over dinner she mentioned that she played in a big band so, keen to share the love, I introduced her to the Music Village. Another thoroughly enjoyable and, more importantly, sociable evening ensued.
All good things must come to an end, however, so at 11am on Wednesday morning I put Brussels behind me.