Wow! Belgium sure has a way with food… The presentation of the dishes and meals is impressive. The food literally looks too good to eat! Last Saturday, my program took a day trip to Brussels, Belgium. I thought I would share some information about a few of the sites I saw throughout the city.
As we got off the train, I was so excited to explore the first new city of my trip other than my host-city. Brussels is beautiful even when it’s freezing cold and snowing outside. We first took a stroll through Brussels Park and then made our way to the front of the Royal Palace of Brussels. For those of you who are not aware, Belgium does have a monarch. King Philippe and Queen Mathilde. They have four young children who are homeschooled by one of their royal supervisors. The current prime minister, Charles Michel, has been in office since 2014. At 41 years of age, he is the youngest prime minister in Belgian office since 1845.
Next, we walked past the palace and around the city to find ourselves on a crowded street surrounded by a variety of wonderful waffle and chocolate shops. The magnificent smells of sweetness filled the air. You couldn’t avoid the tempting smells if you tried. As we strolled through the city, we came to a corner of a fountain surrounded by an ornate black wrought iron fence. Inside the fence, there was a small bronze statue (24 inches tall) with a BIG reputation. It was none other than the “Manneken Pis”. It is literally a young boy peeing into the fountain. This is a very famous landmark in Brussels. There are many theories as to why this statue was created and why it became famous. One theory is that a man lost his son and the statue was a tribute to his loss. Another theory is that the statue represents a young boy who was going to urinate on explosives in order to save the city of Brussels from a siege many years ago. Choose what you wish to believe about the story behind this statue, but this little guy has been honored with over 900 outfits from special guests who have visited Brussels. There is even a museum that contains all of his apparel. It is definitely something you should take the time to see when in Brussels. It is sure to make you chuckle!
As we continued our tour through the snowy city we made our way to the “The Grand Place”. “The Grand Place” has been the location of the city hall since the 12th century. This amazing structure has a shady past with a negative history for Belgium because many people were executed in the square during the 16th and 17th centuries. Nowadays, the buildings have a beautiful gold façade and exquisite architectural details. It is also the location of the Belgian Beer Museum and the location of the “flower carpet” which is part of a bi-annual event that showcases over 700,000 begonias. In this area of the city, you can also find restaurants and even a Starbucks if that strikes your mood. I advise you to consider branching out and avoiding Starbucks while exploring Europe! There are so many great little coffee shops and cafes that will immerse you into the Belgian culture. When in Belgium, do as a Belgian would do…
Next, we made our way to “The Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert” which is a high-end shopping center with luxury apartments above the stores. If you are looking for the newest Chanel handbag or Longchamp duffle bag, this is the perfect place for you, but if you are a young college student like me, they have a great assortment of authentic Belgian chocolates. Belgian chocolate is to die for and even better than people say!!! The science behind the homemade delicacies is quite interesting too. The chocolatiers work to create a wonderful after taste for up to 20 minutes after consumption. Neuhaus was the first Belgian chocolate shop in the Gallery in 1857. It was established by a Swiss immigrant. The store is quite lovely and is what I would call the “Tiffany’s” of Chocolate. The other shop that was highly recommended to our group was “Mary”. Mary Delluc is considered the first lady of chocolate in Belgium. Mary was the first woman chocolatier and has been awarded some of the highest honors by royal families in Europe due to her outstanding talents. The store was so quaint and cute that I decided to indulge in my first sample of Belgian chocolate from Mary’s. One euro for one piece of chocolate is expensive, but, hey, I am in Belgium and I wanted to try the real deal. It did not take me long to decide to order two pieces of the scrumptious chocolate. It was the best spent two euros of my trip so far!! It was delicious!!! I highly recommend making a visit to “Mary” if you find yourself in Brussels one day.
~A Word of advice, do not eat in the alley between the galleries. It is known as a “Dumb American Trap”. The restaurants increase their prices to ridiculous amounts in an attempt to rip off tourists as much as they can. For example, 300 euros for a bottle of house wine to one American couple. Just ask around to find the good authentic places for a more warm and welcoming Belgian experience.
After eating lunch with the group in a small cafe and devouring our chocolates, we visited the Magritte Art Museum. Rene Magritte was a Belgian surrealist artist. The museum was very interesting and it consisted of three forums that displayed his masterpieces as well as billboards and old photographs of him traveling the world. I had not heard of Magritte prior to this visit, but the museum was very interesting and I thought it was definitely worth the trip. I recommend visiting it if you are spending a few days in Brussels. It is also inexpensive. The admission fee was 4 euros for anyone under 26 years of age and it was 2 euros with a student ID.
I hope you enjoyed my brief overview of Brussels!