***image1***As soon as our tour group arrived, we headed to the Grand Place, known as the “belly of Brussels.”
It truly is one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. As I looked around, the ornate baroque and gothic guild houses of what was originally built as a merchant’s market ? set against the beautiful blue sky ? were absolutely breathtaking. On one side of the Grand Place is the striking gothic Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) which dates back to the 13th century. The needle-like spire is 315 feet tall and is topped by the archangel St. Michael.
Surrounding the square are charming little cafes, lace shops and chocolate shops.
***image2***We decided to duck into one of the lace shops in the square to have a look-see. Not knowing very much about lace and how it is made, I was fascinated by how beautiful it was and how time consuming the process is. Sure, I would have liked to take home the gorgeous princess lace table cloth on display but I didn’t have a spare €800 on me that day. There were plenty of less expensive, and almost as beautiful, items to choose from and each of us managed to leave with a lace tablecloth or doily memento for approximately €30.
As for the chocolate in Brussels, I am speechless: I am without speech. Just know that if you are buying them in individual pieces for a gift, you’ll need to get that heavenly stuff to the person in a few days. The fresh chocolate doesn’t last more than a week. You can buy the packaged boxes if you need something that lasts longer.
We then set out to find the famous statue of a little boy peeing in a fountain called Manneken-Pis. This unique Brussels icon has been amusing visitors on the corner of Rue de L’Etuve and Stoofstraat since 1619. One legend of Manneken-Pis is that during a war he peed on a smoldering bomb or explosive and saved the Town Hall from being destroyed. The other story (which I find more entertaining) is that Manneken-Pis was a mischievous little boy who decided to play a prank on the town’s witch by peeing on her front porch. Well, he must have been giggling whilst he peed because she caught him and turned him to stone. Over time it has become a tradition for visiting heads of state to donate miniature versions of their national costume for the little naked boy. If you want to see the wardrobe of Manneken-Pis, go to the Brussels museum where the exhibit includes over 760 outfits – even an authentic Elvis jumpsuit.
Around lunch time we headed toward “seafood alley” or Rue des Bouchers (Butcher’s Street) to find the lesser known Jeanneke-Pis, who was rumored to reside in a dead end alley somewhere nearby. As we walked down the street, countless restaurant maître d’s tried to bargain with us for lunch, as is the customary behavior. We never felt so wanted and considered walking the street a couple more times for fun. After we found her and took our photos, we headed back to bargain for some grub. Nothing beats an aperitif, fresh seafood, dessert and cherry beer for €25.
***image3***We managed to fit in a tour of Notre Dame du Sablon, a beautiful church with brightly colored stained glass windows and Place du Petit Sablon, the charming little park across the street that was originally a horse market, before we boarded the bus and headed back home.
There are many more must-see sights. And, if you have time, be sure to check out the following: Cinquantenaire Arch; The Belgian Center for Comic Strip Art (Center Belge de la Bande Dessinee); The Museum of Musical Instruments; and The Royal Palace.
°For more information, visit www.visitbelgium.com.