My short teaser of Brussels.
With my Belgian host suddenly unwilling to accept me before 7pm, I confined myself to the compounds of Bruxelles-Midi station for nearly three hours. I could leave my luggage in the station at the baggage hold counters for a price, four Euros to be exact, but with just three hours to the arranged meeting time, it was neither here nor there. There was too little time to head into the city to sightsee, but too much time to spend in the station considering that I’d only be in Brussels for just 22 hours. While the station isn’t an epicurean, cultural or retail ambassador by any stretch of the imagination, there were fortunately enough low-cost options where I could hang around for a bit, like the food court.
It’s only when I board the Brussels Metro that I discover how small Brussels is. It’s not so small that it’s completely walkable, but everything’s no more than a couple of Metro or Tram stops away. I find my host’s coop centrally located, off the shopping district of Louise/Louiza. Across the Belgian capital, every district has a name in French and Flemish, and while some names, like “Louise” and “Louiza” are similar, others are not. It’s a posh district – the shops are stocked with high-street labels from Longchamp to Superdry, and the hotels regal in their exterior. I come up within a stone’s throw away from an embassy. The townhouse is reminiscent of those fancy New York ones: you’ve to be buzzed in. My host occupies the first and ground floors. Inside, the interior is airy with its high ceilings, and humanized with an artsy, chic, state-of-the-art decor. Despite its swanky interiors, the building never ceases to remind you that it’s been here for a long time – “built by King Leopold himself”, my host tells me. She seems friendly, but in Europe, it’s difficult to discern politeness from genuine emotion. The basement’s mine. It’s a great spot, and I could totally imagine myself staying here, if not for the spotty Wi-Fi connection. With not a lot of time, I head back out – something I’m apprehensive about. The dampness that shades the capital makes the city a lot colder than it is, and with temperatures at night hovering, officially at least, at about freezing, it’s chillingly cold.
There are two ways of getting around Brussels – trams and subways. Unlike Amsterdam, the former isn’t necessarily easier or more convenient. The Metro doesn’t have quite the reputation of the Dutch capital’s, and it’s pretty user-friendly. While the routes of the older lines are fixed, the newer lines might come off as confusing because firstly, they use what are obviously tram cars (although it’s classified as a metro). Another point to note is that these newer lines have service numbers, and while there’s only two platforms at every station, it’d be disingenuous to assume everyone’s going the same way. Fortunately, it’s still pretty manageable, and pretty easy to get around.
My first, and only stop for this short “layover” in Brussels is, in English called the Main Square but you’ll never see this iteration being used. Instead you’d see the French term, la Grand Place, and its Dutch equivalent, de Grote Markt. It’s a city square, surrounded by the city tower and a range of other beautiful 300 year-old buildings. By the time I reach the Grand Place, it’s evening, and the lumination is stunning. The square isn’t packed, but still there are people, and with nearly no lights at ground level, it’s definitely a spot where one has to be careful. I note the presence of Chinese tourists, and note a slight improvement in civic conscious and manners, at least, on the surface. At the very least, they’re not talking loudly. There are gaufre de Liege, or Luikse wafel, or commonly known as Belgian waffles sold at every other stand. I don’t buy one to taste. They don’t look appetizing, what with all the whipped cream and all (I’m trying to eat clean here).
Following the flow, I find Manneken Pis, which is said to have no real significance. The bronze boy is usually dressed up, but on this evening, I find him unclothed, and still peeing.