Brussels: Survival Edition

Grand PlaceBrussels, Belgium holds the title of the capital of Belgium and the European Union. With over 1.8 million inhabitants in the metropolitan area, Brussels boasts the largest urban area in the county. By looking at the postcards that flood tourist shops along the cobblestone streets, Brussels bears just a handful of interesting monuments and places of interest, including the Atomium, Grand Place, Mannekin Pis, and the Palais de Justice. These are beautiful and provide wonderful photos to bring home to your refrigerator, but how do Belgians have fun in Brussels? According to the hostel map provided by 2GO4 Quality Hostel, there are various tips to guide you through the a trip to Brussels.

Tip #1: ‘Brussels is ugly and we love it.’

The attractions are spread among looming buildings plastered with graffiti and the homeless kneel on every other street corner, some with children, some with dogs. One woman even sings opera near a gallery entrance with her daughter beside her and not hat asking for money. For such a postcard location, Brussels does not have a typical tourist’s dream.

However some areas are bound to draw attention. For instance, visit Grand Place, during the day or night, and your jaw will drop. The tower is visible from anywhere in Brussels and the exterior gold detail glints with the morning rain. Just be careful not to waste euros on a Van Gogh imitation statue who begs for pictures.

But Belgians, I assume, do not visit Grand Place daily. There are seven different streets that trickle away from the square into densely populated restaurant alleys. So while seeing the architecture is a must, traveling to lesser-known areas is more advised.

Tip #2: ‘Use our supermarkets.’

At weekend flea markets, locals make an effort to converse. While weaving through the tents and blankets of trinkets and cutlery, every market participant greets in French with a smile.

DSC_0513Eunice, a market vendor, says ‘hello’ in French, but quickly switches to broken English when he finds out I’m American. He’s not originally from Brussels but actually suggests visiting Northern Europe. He constantly smiles, revealing a decaying set of teeth, and dresses similarly to other sellers, with a simply coat. Most locals, including Eunice, ask about America and excitedly say they’d like to visit someday. Some vendors even offer discounts or haggle prices for their wooden African art (It may be Middle-Eastern art due to the amount of immigrants among the population). Most eye their goods carefully as people browse the dusty books, used dinnerware, fur coats, leather bags, and broken watches.

If it’s imperative to experience the local activity, find a weekend flea market. On The Guardian’s list of Top 10 Flea Markets in Europe, Belgium holds three spots, one of which in Brussels. Just walk through the side streets and it’s simple to find antique shops, small Greek restaurants, and chic boutiques, things you wouldn’t typically find while researching Brussels.

Tip #3: ‘Choose the right beer for the right thing.’

There are five other tips concerning food on 2GO4’s list, so they may be stressing a point. Basically, the important thing is to try the local beer, know what you’re drinking, and eat the local cuisine. The tips include suggestions like stoemp-saucisse (sausage and mash), steak americain (minced meat with raw eggs), and mussels.

Greet, Italian, and Dutch are the primary foods flooding the streets, with a few Middle-Eastern restaurants to spice up the mix. Nearly everything is delicious, including the Greek gyros and Belgian waffles, but the meals depend on the price range. Waffles are found at almost eight locations just along a single street, usually for approximately 3€, and Greek food for under 8€ per meal. The beer varies as well, but some bars may offer a list based on alcoholic content.

Panoramic views are as plentiful as restaurants on the map. There’s one at almost every cathedral and every square, but the Palace of Justice has no competition. From the front steps, dark clouds give you a quick weather forecast and the tops of buildings help differentiate uptown from downtown. Homes reside close together, like any other major city, and lights guide you to popular spots to see. If it’s particularly windy, the Palace of Justice gives the impression that there’s a woman singing from the vents and creates an eerie feel in the late afternoon. Just be careful of hailstorms that plague the city at any hour during winter months.

If you want to see Brussels, follow the map. Tourist attractions may be necessary, but exploring the streets of Old Brussels and observing the chatting people among the roads give you a real glimpse into the real Brussels. At the hostel map’s suggestion, ‘be yourself especially if you’re weird. Easy-going is something everybody wants to be and that real Brusseleirs truly are.’

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