Friday, January 20, 2017

Brussels and around

Grand Place, Brussels

What, exactly, is Belgium famous for, apart from unelected bureaucrats and Brussels sprouts (which are not featured that much in Belgian cuisine)? OK, beer. Fine, chocolate. French fries. Mussels. More beer. But, apart from the bureaucrats, sprouts, beer, chocs, fries and mussels, what have the Belgians ever gave us? Here's my short list.

  1. Salvatore Adamo, the best-selling Belgian musician of all time
  2. Aka Moon, jazz-rock trio
  3. Jacques Brel
  4. Jan Ceulemans, the football legend and "the only football player to have posed with fhe A.C. Milan board for the press that never actually became an A.C. Milan player"
  5. Kim Clijsters, former world number one female tennis player
  6. Charles De Coster, the author of The Legend of Thyl Ulenspiegel
  7. Lara Fabian, the best-selling Belgian female artist of all time
  8. César Franck, arguably the greatest composer of organ music after Bach
  9. Francis Goya, classical guitarist
  10. Justine Henin, another former world number one female tennis player
  11. Audrey Hepburn, a British actress born in Brussels
  12. Hergé, creator of Tintin
  13. Georges Lemaître, father of the Big Bang theory
  14. René Magritte
  15. Maurice Maeterlinck
  16. Amélie Nothomb, a top-selling novelist
  17. Hercule Poirot
  18. Ilya Prigogine, physical chemist and Nobel laureate
  19. Django Reinhardt, jazz guitarist
  20. Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone and flugelhorn
  21. Georges Simenon
  22. Stromae, rapper and singer-songwriter
  23. Toots Thielemans, jazz harmonica genius, who died last year
  24. Jean-Claude Van Damme
  25. Emile Verhaeren, one of the chief founders of Symbolism
  26. Zap Mama

I'm sure you can save a lot of money if you plan your holidays well in advance and do your homework. Well. We bought our tickets to Brussels some three weeks before the actual travel. By that time, if there is such thing as cheap accommodation in Brussels, it was long gone. We managed to book a reasonably priced accommodation in a sleepy Brussels suburb of Ruisbroek. The place boasts couple of restaurants, three or four bars, Carrefour Express and, most importantly, a rail station in less than a ten-minute walk from the hotel. Which is great because there is not much to do. So, every morning we were taking a train to Brussels and beyond. Belgium is a small country and seems to be easily explorable by train. During the holiday season, there are special "shopping" tickets which cost €10 for a same-day return in 2nd class to any destination in Belgium. So we went to Ghent, Brugge and Antwerp.

Grand Place, Guildhouses

The ceiling of the Gent-Sint-Pieters Station, Ghent

Sitting area outside the Ghent City Museum (STAM)

Timur and his shadow

Gravensteen, Ghent

A well-deserved pint

Timur was paying a lot of attention to dogs in Belgium, finding them overall fluffier and cuddlier than LP's "rat on a leash" all-time-favourites.
Here is a couple of nice ones.

Chandelier in a café in Brugge, where we had our daily portion of waffles

Brugge in the evening. Bloody cold, it was.

Now it was not that cold but still at least 20 °C below my temperature of comfort. Solution? Layers and layers of clothing. That's why I prefer life in Canarias where I rarely need more than one layer. As we were flying to Brussels with budget airlines, we only took hand luggage. Still, we brought back two more scarves, two T-shirts and a pair of gloves, minus Timur's hoodie which we left somewhere in transit.

One thing that we appreciated very much in Antwerp was that they put wood burners (with actual wood burning) all over the place — on the square, in the park, on the riverside — for people to enjoy and keep their hands warm. They also had an ice rink surrounded by live fire. Just what you need.

Guildhouses at the Grote Markt, Antwerp / Possibly even more imposing than ones in Brussels

For kultuurfreaks Belgium has a lot to offer — unfortunately, the ticket prices for museums and other attractions are way beyond our budget. There was an exhibition called Draken (Dragons) in Ghent City Museum (STAM), and it's free for kids (who are defined as "under 19s"!) so we let him go explore. Otherwise we concentrated on survival, that is, maintaining the sufficient level of chocolate in the system.

Ice rink at the Grote Markt

Some sort of igloo where you are supposed to kiss under a mistletoe, Grote Markt, Antwerp

The ceiling of a "kiss me" igloo

Pictures of Belgium on Shutterstock — here
Text by Kirill, photos by Tamara

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