Earlier this week, I got in touch with one of my best friends from LSE who is about to start an internship with the European Commission in Brussels. Since Brussels is only a 2 hour train ride away from Tilburg, and because I’m applying for jobs in Brussels myself, I decided to venture into Belgium for a few days to explore the city with her before her official start date.
On Thursday, I got up way earlier than the time that I usually roll out of bed. I caught an early morning train from Tilburg to Roosendaal, a town right on the border with Belgium, where I had to change for the train that continued on to Brussels. I arrived in Brussels by 11:30am, where I met Lauren. She happened to be on her way to Luxembourg to visit another friend and planned to spend the day discovering Brussels with us. Once we got our bearings, we headed to the hotel to check in and drop off our luggage. The hotel was only a ten minute walk away, but by the time we arrived I had developed a deeper appreciation for paved roads than I ever thought possible. I think if you took all of the cobblestones left in all of the streets in the U.S. and put them in the Brussels city centre along with all of the cobblestones from all of the streets in all of London, I still don’t think there would be as many as I saw. If I never have to drag another suitcase across cobblestone in my life, I will be happy. I wasn’t sure my little carry-on would last with the abuse it received from those Brussels cobblestones, but it managed. Good little suitcase.
We made it to the B&B and were met by the owner, Mario. Mario was a short, bald, hilarious Italian man who insisted on showing us everything in the building before he would give us the key. Kind of like a proud rooster showing off his chicken hutch. While Mario was figuring out how to fix the apparently-broken TV, Lauren asked him what things we shouldn’t miss seeing while we were in town. First on his list: the Manneken Pis statue. If you don’t know, this is a statue of a little boy peeing into a fountain that has somehow become a symbol of Brussels. He even has over 800 outfits that he gets dressed in at various times of the year. But Mario then went on to describe in his broken English how Brussels itself is “a place of peeing…the boys, the girls, they are all peeing”. According to Mario, the statue is not just a symbol-citizens of Brussels actually PEE all over the place. Hmmm. I’m not sure if that is the information I would lead off with if I were running a business relying on people wanting to come visit the city, but to each his own. (Side note: what do you even call someone who is from Brussels? Brussel-ians? Brusseltons? Bruxelleois? No idea.) So, armed with city maps (and carefully avoiding any suspicious puddles on the street), Lauren and I set off to meet Suzanne.
The first Brussels must-see we came to was the Grand Place, where some sort of concert stage was being set up. It was beautiful, but disappointing that we could not get a picture of the gorgeous old buildings in the square without having scaffolding/a stage in the way. A street over from the Grand Place, we had arranged to meet Suzanne for lunch. It was so nice to get to catch up and to have some general “girl time” discussing our post-grad school lives. From our conversation topics of apartments, insurance, jobs, and travel, I think we may even pass as actual adults now…fun, but oh-so-scary to think about!
After lunch (and post-lunch Belgian waffles, of course) Suzanne had to split again to go view an apartment she was thinking about renting, so Lauren and I headed out to the Atomium. By the time we got to the tram station nearest to the structure, it was pouring down rain…just our luck. We also had some fun trying to find the entrance to the Atomium. One would think that it wouldn’t be too difficult to find the entrance to such a massive structure looming in front of you. We felt really dumb when we realized we had managed to essentially circle the entire thing before we realized there was an obvious path leading directly from the place we had started to the ticket area at the foot of the monument. I was glad no one else but Lauren was there to witness our epic blonde moment! If anyone ever asks me about it though…I blame the rain. It clearly blinded our vision.
After we got over our initial embarrassment at living up to ditzy tourist stereotype, we finally entered the Atomium. We got on the elevator to be whisked up to the top level by what was the fastest elevator in the world (in 1958, mind you; it crawled like a caterpillar compared to those speedy elevators they have today in Asian and NY skyscrapers). The view from the top was less than spectacular, considering the rain and the 8 euro entrance price. I did learn a few random facts about the Atomium while we were there though. Everyone knows I always love a chance to pack a few pieces of random trivia in my brain for future pub trivia nights! Here are some of the tidbits I learned: the Atomium is actually supposed to be an exact replica of an Iron atom, blown up millions of times. It was built for the Universal Expo in 1958, but became such an “icon” (I’m still not convinced as to its qualifications for icon status, but to each their own) after the expo ended, so Brussels is now graced by its presence into the 21st century. Craziest Atomium fact: eight babies were born at the expo. That must have been some sight to see if eight women went into labor at the excitement of it all!
When we had our fill of Brussels city views and picture-taking of big iron spheres, we headed back to the center. We had no troubles getting back to the station, as clearly we were experts at navigating the Atomium-area by now. We met back up with Suzanne for dinner. It took us a while to find a place to eat, since the combination of our individual requirements for dinner narrowed down our options. I have a personal policy of not eating in a place that has a menu posted in seven languages, since that means they cater to tourists and will not be authentic, or cheap. Lauren had been up since 5am to catch her train and was craving some energy in the form of massive carbo-loading, so that meant Italian. Suzanne is an actual Italian, so she was skeptical of the Italian offerings in central Brussels. All three of us are too nice and indecisive to want to step on each other’s toes and insist on a certain place. Eventually we found a perfect place on a side street off the Marche aux Herbes that wasn’t too expensive, had an all-French menu, and served copious amounts of authentic-looking pizza/pasta. Either that or it seemed perfect because we couldn’t comprehend anything other than our rumbling stomachs. We spent quite a while there enjoying the gorgeous evening.
Lauren had to catch her train to Luxembourg that evening, so after dinner we went back to the hotel to pick up her stuff and walk to the station. Suzanne and I made plans to meet up again the next day, and I headed back to the hotel, where I reveled in my huge comfy bed. I chatted with Willem for a while and then fell asleep, ready for another day in Brussels!