After three trains from Valkenburg, we arrived in Brussels. Our hotel, the Hotel Agora, was just a 2 minute walk from the Brussels Central railway station. This cute little 11 room hotel is in a building from the 1600’s but is thoroughly modern. However, they are not allowed to make major architectural changes and thus, there is not an elevator. The steep winding staircase to our third floor room would be a challenge for anyone who is mobility challenged – and was another reminder of why we need to pack lighter!
Like most European cities, Brussels has a grand main square – and this is definitely one of the ‘grandest’ of all. The Grand Place is the historic and geographic centre of the city; it was the town’s market square for 1000 years. The buildings surrounding the cobblestone square are most impressive. Dominating one side is the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) with its 300 foot tower, topped by a golden statue of St Michael slaying a devil. Built in the 1400s, the building now hosts weddings – all Belgian marriages must first include a simple civil ceremony. Opposite the town hall is the ornate grey Maison du Roi (King’s House). This 800 year old structure has served as a bread market and the regional office for the Hapsburg empire of Charles V, and since the late 1800s has housed the city museum. The gilded ornate buildings that surround the square impart a uniquely medieval character. These former guild halls date from the late 17th century when they were all rebuilt after King Louis XIV’s troops tried to take down the spire, but missed it entirely while levelling everything else in sight!
The Grand Place is even more impressive when lit at night. And for the Christmas season, there was even a music and light show cast upon the building facades!
The Christmas Market extends across the centre of the city and culminates in a grand stretch of wooden stalls and the giant Ferris Wheel. We were surprised to see some authentic Canadian wares for sale in a Quebec / Canada booth!
An interesting site was the Carousel – this certainly had the most unusual items on which to ride!
We enjoyed the food and drinks of Brussels – waffles, sausage in a baguette, Gluwein, and Belgian beer and meatballs!
The Manneken-Pis is a symbol of Brussels. This bronze statue of a little peeing boy is definitely underwhelming – built in 1619, the little lad is under two feet tall. He apparently has quite the wardrobe, but wasn’t in costume on our visit.
The Church of St Nicolas was rebuilt 300 years ago, although there has been a church on the site since the 12th century.
During the Christmas season, another light show happens hourly each evening – this show is cast upon the facade of the Church of Ste. Catherine.
The Galeries Royales St. Hubert was built in 1847 and is Europe’s oldest still-operating shopping mall. This glass-covered structure served as the model for many other shopping galleries in cities across Europe. Along the 233 yard arcade, you find hat, cane, glove and umbrella shops, some dating back as far as 1890. And of course, you find multitudes of chocolate shops (as on every street in the city). We did make up for our previous lack of chocolate purchases while in Brussels!
We quite enjoyed our short stay in Brussels – the Christmas Market and atmosphere was exactly what we were expecting (after the first evening when we missed the major part of the market and were somewhat disappointed). There appears to be a lot of things to see in greater Brussels and we would certainly consider returning to this ‘grand’ city.
Bev & Harvey