Surely no place is worth a 12-hour coach ride in the pouring rain…Well, that’s what I thought until I saw Brussels for the very first time. I had never been to mainland Europe before, predominantly under the assumption that most countries in Western Europe were extremely similar and quite frankly, interchangeable. But that’s one of the greatest beauties of traveling, your assumptions are always proven wrong. Belgium was a spectacular country; full of quirky history, wonderfully diverse people and plenty of quaint buildings begging you to get snapping.
Initially driving through the streets, instantly it was plain to see just how small the Belgium capital was. With a population of 110 thousand people, Brussels is one of the smallest capital cities in Western Europe and the country itself has an inhabitancy barely larger than the city of London at a modest 11 million. However, roaming through the charming city, its small size was actually rather refreshing. While in London you can easily fill swept away in a tide of people and pandemonium, Brussels decides to ignore all the chaos and instead stroll at its own pace.
When in Brussels there is only one place to start and that’s the Grand Place. Opulent and beautiful with a quaint charm, the Grand Place houses some of the most incredible structures you could ever have the pleasure of seeing – no wonder it was declared by UNESCO as a world heritage site. With gold finishing’s and ornaments bright enough to shine through the greyest days, seeing the market square made me feel like I was stepping into a world of royalty and extravagance. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in Brussels during the “flower carpet” ceremony in which an enormous carpet of colourful begonias is laid out in a stunning pattern every second August, but just being able to see the Grand Place was enough for me.
You only speak English? Not an issue, because rather remarkably pretty much everyone under a certain age speaks English among French, Flemish and a few can add Dutch and German to the mix, earning the Belgians the title of polyglots. However, it wasn’t merely their linguistic skills that stood out to me, but how warm and friendly they were. While in England you would be lucky to receive a faint smile or subtle node, in Belgian it seemed every shop I entered I was meet with a giant grin, a “how can I help you” and them practically doing my shopping for me (I’m even pretty sure if I asked them to do my course work they would have said yes too). I guess it’s because Belgium is so diverse and surrounded by so many different countries, they have this innate sense of solidarity. Either way I couldn’t help but love them for it.
However, the prize for the most bizarre country obsession has to go to the Belgium’s and their insistence on plastering every window display, toy shop and water fountain with a naked little boy peeing, also known to the locals as Manneken Pis. But that’s not the most bizarre part of it all, the strangest thing is that no one knows the exact origins or the reasons for the little boy and instead over time people have merely become desensitised to its odd presence.
With my day drawing to a close I swung by the restaurants and cafes of Brussels. My first stop was unavoidably every store that sold a waffle, because as we all know Belgium is world famous for their waffles and trusts me there is a reason why. Igniting your taste buds with the smoothest, richest and most incredible goodness, Belgium waffles for me were the closest I could ever get to tasting heaven and thus biting into those delightful little things was the highlight of my trip.