#1 My road to Brussels was never easy.
I failed on my first attempt to apply for a full scholarship in Belgium. One year later as I wanted to give it another shot, the Belgian Government decided to close the scholarship permanently. Then the terrorist threat started to mount and I had to think twice about getting a MBA’s degree there. Feels like the harder it got the more I wanted to go there. Last month I ended up visiting Brussels for three days as a traveler. It was already cold and gloomy then but those were very pleasant days! I don’t care about those who call Brussels one of the most boring cities in Europe. It was one of my favorites among over twenty European cities I’ve been to this year.
#2 Decent winter snacks
Brussels has an undeniable reputation for chocolate, waffles and fries. The long line outside the Waffle Factory first caught my attention as I was looking for the Manneken Pis. Then the warm and sweet smell reminded me that I was starving, and before I knew it, a classic plain, powdered, made-on-the-spot waffle was ready to enter my mouth. I returned there the next day to try another mind-blowing waffle, this time topped with melted chocolate that would sit in my belly a little longer. Absolutely worth a few euros more. Those delicious sweet treats can be spotted anywhere within the 1km radius of the Grand Palace, but the most popular shops can be found on Rue de l’Etuve and Rue du Lombard.
#3 Illuminated Grand Palace at night
Traveling from France’s quiet countryside which almost shuts down after 6-7pm, I was pretty exhilarated by the lively and buoyant Brussels’s nightlife. It was my second night in there — the temperature was close to zero or it felt something like it…I was waiting for a friend in front of the city’s history museum when the uplifting melody of some billboard song started to play and all of a sudden the whole Grand Palace was lit up in vivid colors. The beam of red lights first shined the palace’s highest tower then quickly stretched through its main body, while beautifully choreographed to the cheerful music. As the crowds cheered on, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the illuminated halls, trying to memorise every detail of it — my first Christmas away from home.
Anyway, the light display is still open till 4 January if you’re interested:
- Monday to Thursday: from 5 pm to 10 pm, every hour
- Friday to Sunday: from 5 pm to 10:30 pm every 30 minutes
#4 Lots of green space
Since public transport in Brussels was rather costly, I chose to explore the city on foot instead, and from time to time it rewarded me with real quick escapes into nature. Gardens and public parks are everywhere. Brussels Park, opposite to the Royal Palace, was a perfect spot to rest and wait for the sun to set after a long day of sight-seeing. Petit Sablon was more like a tiny hidden oasis of greenery, just a few minutes walk from the Justice Palace and Church of our Blessed Lady of the Sablon.
Then there were a few more parks I passed by along the way and had no clue what they were, but I did not bother searching for their names on the map. I wouldn’t be able to remember them all:D
#5 Top-notch museums are a few mins walk apart
The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium is situated at Rue du Musée, housing thousands of masterworks from 15th to 21st centuries in the same building of eight floors. Although tickets to each museum and exhibition are sold separately, at least you could have a glance from the turnstiles in between (once you’re in) and decide whether you should devote time and money into them. I’m not that into art but decided to visit Museum of Magritte after a local friend showed me some of the artist’s weird yet witty paintings. It costs me only two euros (for students aged below 26) to get access not only to the huge collection of Magritte’s works but also to its beautiful terrace and other magnificient paintings in the hallways.
Another two worth-checking destinations include the museum of Brussels city and the Belgian Comic Strip Center, both situated in the heart of the city and just 10 mins walk apart from each other. For those who were wondering about the contemporary look of the Grand Palace, I strongly advise you to drop by the city’s history museum for a more insightful view. In late 17th century, a heavy bombardment devastated nearly a quarter of the city and left several monuments in its historic heart in ruins. The Grand Palace was just one of them. And cartoon art lovers, do you even know Brussels is the birthplace of Tintin, Lucky Luke and the Smurfs? The Comic book museum would tell you stories behind these characters.
The Belgian Comic Strip Center
#5* Getaway trip to Bruges
This — I will tell you more in a couple of days. The quaint and elegant Bruges deserves one separate post.