Brussels: love at second sight

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Most avid travelers I spoke to would not visit the same place twice. Too little time, too many unseen countries and why spend money to see the same place again?

But this second visit to Brussels, the capital of Belgium, has changed my mind.

I arrived in Brussels during its lovely October weather, to their breezy winds and falling autumn leaves. The drizzle came on now and then, but it did little to dampen the charm of the place.

This is my first time travelling solo in a foreign land where the spoken language (mainly French) is not one that I speak or understand. And perhaps, having visited Brussels before and did not quite like it the first time, I also came with a carefree attitude of not having to do everything but rather to go about exploring at my whim and fancy.

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Brussels, like other major cities in Europe, has a huge square in the middle of the city centre. Such a “square” forms a central meeting place, where locals, visitors, merchants and lovers would congregate. Overpriced cafes, gothic cathedrals and a museum would usually line the area but in Belgium, this square is remarkably different. Known as the “Grand Place”, chocolate shops with cocoa treats piled high on window displays also surround the area at every turn.

During this weeklong trip to Belgium, almost every visitor I saw toted a chocolate shop carrier mainly from the brand names of Godiva and Leonidas. But I later learnt that the best chocolates are actually tucked away in nondescript shops bearing no flashy signs and often hidden in a quiet corner.

On my day trip out to Bruges, a medieval town about an hour away from Brussels, walking away from tourists’ crowds has in turn led me to taste one of the best chocolates I ever had.

Brussels is place that allows you to explore alone as English is widely understood, thanks to the European Union’s headquarters there. The Belgians, be it the train conductors, drivers, or shopkeepers are also extremely friendly and polite, ever ready to give directions when asked.

Without a companion or a strict itinerary to adhere to, it was much relished freedom for me. I could sip cheap white wine for hours at any café I stumbled upon, walk up and down their long shopping streets, or simply sit outside an old cathedral and be charmed by the melodious church bells.

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Food is also another major highlight in Belgium. Apart from the chocolate shops that allow customers to buy one or two pieces of pralines and bring you on a premium sugar rush, there are also their very lovely Belgian waffles. In the cold autumn chill, biting into freshly made ones that cost just one euro brings immense joy to my soul.

I would definitely recommend their Belgian mussels too – each piece succulent with flavours from hours of stewing in spices and sweet white wine. Just one try, I guarantee that it will leave a delightful taste in your mouth for a long, long time.

And to round off the entire meal, drink a glass of wine that cost just two euros or grab a mug of their famous Belgian beer – alcohol cost much cheaper than water there so treat yourself to as much booze while it last.

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Looking back, it dawned upon me: this little city has changed little since I left two years ago, but a second look at it has changed greatly about how I feel about it now.

So, a third visit, you ask? Yes, I would say, anytime.

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