Brussels came to me as a shock. Why is that? Because I didn’t expect anything. Certainly not anything outstandingly beautiful. But boy, was I wrong! I must admit that this part of Central Western Europe is a bit of a mystery to me. Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg are blind spots on my map so far. Brussels thus had all the more of a chance to sweep me off my feet, and it took it.
Being in town for work, I didn’t have an infinite amount of time on my hands; but it was more than I have had in a while. Not only did I discover an unknown place, I also spent some much needed quality me-time. I didn’t have an agenda, but I just walked through the streets lined with beautiful buildings and took in what I came across. It did help that my first night in town I met up with friends who had couchsurfed with me in Berlin a while back and who gave me much appreciated insiders‘ advice.
Apart from the food (the waffles, the chocolate, the fries and the geuze beer were seriously amazing!), it was most definitely the architecture that had me quietly rejoice on my walks through the city. The first place I went to was Grand Place, or Grote Markt in Dutch, and I swear, my heart skipped a beat as I emerged from one of the small alleyways around it to find myself surrounded by sublimity.
Unfortunately, my first day in Brussels was so cold that I couldn’t spend as much time in Grand Place as I would have liked. Instead I went for some hot chocolate and a waffle (heaven!) before I made my way to the Cathedral. I don’t know France very well, but I felt that the Cathedral was proof of closer proximity to it. I spent about an hour inside marvelling at the glass stained windows and watching art students draw the pillars and ornamental details – and again, if it wasn’t for the cold, I would have lingered much longer at the square in front of it that so majestically led up to the church.
After the cool stillness and the white of the cathedral, the houses that could be found in any random street were all the more so colourful and enchanting! Be they combining white and red brick stone to an elegant whole or be they keeping their rough exterior resembling granaries, with jutties, counterforts and beautiful doors and windows. I could not get enough of it.
One of the most interesting corners was in the Marollen quarter where there are five tiny streets lined with social housing that are architecturally remarkable. I wish they built stuff like this in Berlin instead of lining up the gazillionth house full of lofts that no normal person can pay rent for. The flats had large balconies and the small streets they were lining were quiet and peaceful.
What I like most, however, is the sheer infinite number of beautiful small buildings in the streets outside of the city center. Very often they are in Art Nouveau style and display pretty little ornament or an unexpected glass stained window in their staircase. They come in all shapes and sizes, and they are everywhere, not just in the touristy streets around Grand Place where the crowds gather and take fries to go. As I stroll through those residential areas that are filled with these absolute gems, it is easy to imagine living here. Granted the areas that have them feel quite gentrified, but what can I say, I am not immune to hipsterdom.
As is the case so often, places are easiest to like when you don’t expect to find anything amazing in them. Brussels was unexpectedly easy on the eyes. I think it may be the most underrated city I have visited in Western Europe.
Have you been to Brussels? What did you think when you first saw it? What is your favourite architectural gem you discovered there?