Friday, June 15, 2012


We arrived in Bruxelles, Belgium in the late evening after a day spent in the Delta region in the Netherlands and in Brugge. The Basilique nationale du Sacré-Cœur greeted us, the waning light reflected in the stained-glass windows. Oskars, friend and host awaited our arrival and we excitedly discussed what we would see the following day over a beer. Then the two older boys headed out to go meet some of the local Latvians, leaving the two younger ones with me to catch up on some sleep in preparation for a long day of seeing the sights.

Originally Flemish, the city today speaks mostly French although English is commonly spoken as well. The name comes from the original 10th century settlement in the area, Bruocsella, a Frankish word meaning “the village in the marshes.” No marshes in evidence for us! The city has a long and fascinating history which I will not retell, but will suggest you have a read.

The Maison de Brasseurs on the Grand Place

Our official tour guide brought us right to the very center of town via subway, and we emerged to see that Brussels had its very own fête taking place that day, the Red Bull Zeepkistenrace – similar to a pine-car derby that almost rivals Queen’s Day in Amsterdam… almost. Or not at all.

But as the cars weren’t rolling yet, we headed straight for Grand-Place, the humongous square that was built after the French destroyed the town in 1695. The guildhalls were restored in the 19th century; this is when they received the ornamentation and gilded motifs. All the merchants had their hall: the haberdashers, the tallow merchants, the archers guild, the bakers, the butchers and the cabinet-makers. With gorgeous Baroque facades in the three architectural orders (Doric, Ionic and Corinthian), there are legends and stories galore to match each and every building that faces the Grand Place. The most intriguing is associated with the Hôtel de Ville and its construction which took place over several centuries. Looking closely one sees that the front entrance doesn’t line up, and it was this flaw among several others that supposedly drove an architect to commit suicide from the beautiful tower that is topped by a copper statue of St Michael.

What would be a trip to Brussels without a look at Manneken Pis? The fountain, which was sculpted by Jérôme Duquesnoy the Elder in 1619 provided the district’s water supply. The current copy (as the original is under safeguard after being stolen several times) was wearing a costume, but I can not tell you which one. One day when I have some free time I want to explore his online “closet” which has pictures of the 800 outfits that have been presented to him over the years.

We returned to watch a portion of the derby, and Lauris even got a backstage tour. The carts were hilarious and the hilarity contagious.

* Note - I did not accompany the boys behind the scenes... *

As by this time we were thirsty and two members of our party were asleep, we headed for Délirium Café, famous for the thousands of varieties of beer available there. And what would be a visit to Brussels without a meal of moules and fries, so we crossed that off the list too.

That evening we were lucky enough to be invited to a folk dancing exhibition in the Latvian EU building, but soon we were on our way back to the center of town for dinner at the Fin De Siècle. Our host described the restaurant as having big portions of local fare, and as one of the top spots of the year. With no sign outside, the menu printed in a careful hand on a blackboard, and an owner that bounces around the table talking to everyone, we found the place to be our top restaurant experience on the entire trip. Four local dishes were suggested by the owner: rabbit, sausage, beef stew and a giant serving of ham. Along with a glass of Belgian beer the dining experience was not only worth the wait (spent sitting outside at a table with a couple of local beers until the owner came to bring us to a table) but I wanted to run after the people who were turning away seeing the line out the door to tell them it is worth every minute! If you’re in town, go to Fin De Siècle, Rue des Chartreux 9, in Brussels, Belgium.

Finally, a trip up to the top floor of a parking garage to take in the city at night. It pays to have a local tour guide, as the 360° view was free and included not only the center of town but we could see as far as Atomium, the relic from the1958 World Fair.

The following day we hopped on the subway to a brocante, but on our way passed the massive Palais du Justice. From all the amazing architecture we saw on our trip, this immense structure (in the style of Assyro-Babylonian) was the most impressive in my point of view. Belgium’s supreme court of law is situated high on a hill, giving it a great panoramic view of the city below, and measuring 20,000 square meters, the building is about 3 times the size of the Royal Palace. Commissioned by Leopold II, one of the first Kings of Belgium, it took 20 years to complete and cost about $300 million in today’s terms. The architect was Joseph Poelaert, who died 4 years before the building’s completion in 1883. Between the 3,000 homes that were demolished to provide the land, and the source of the funds (Leopold II was famous for acquiring the Congo for his personal possession and over 20 years looting it for rubber, ivory and other commodities, killing millions in the process) the building has caused quite a bit of controversy, and is still in the limelight. Currently on the UNESCO World Heritage "maybe" list, the building is badly deteriorated. "Under renovation" since 2003, "actual renovation" must soon be started or the building may become too decrepit to restore.

Then a quick meal, a stop at Leonidas, the chocolatier, and before long we were off to our final destination on this trip, Fountainbleau. A huge thank you to Oskars for playing host and tour guide, it wouldn’t have been the same without you!

And this is how we roll...


  1. That looks like a great trip. I love that the fountain had on a costume. He was keeping warm in the cold weather.

  2. Menneken Pis :-). I had no idea he had a wardrobe. Very funny.
    Looks like you've been out and about quite a lot - enjoy!

  3. Lovely post, Liene. Well done. I lived in Lille, France, with my family for many years. We spent a lot of time in Belgium, and Brussels was always a favorite destination. I was happy to see my old friend the Menneken Pis. So nice of them to dress him for cold weather. When I last saw them, he was but a wee child, a cherub, shivering in the rain :-) Off to Paris in a few hours. Will be reporting from France next. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

  4. (sigh) Great post, made me sad as I miss Brussels horribly. I loved my time there (lived there for 2.5yrs) and your photos and descriptions bring back all the great memories. Thx!

    1. Your welcome! Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you get to return to Belgium sometime soon.


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