When people ask me what my favourite place is in Europe out of all the cities I’ve travelled to, I never really give a straight answer. How DO you answer this question, when each place is so unique, so charming? Yet, I always ALMOST say Brussels, because that’s what comes to mind when I think of places that I really love.
So then Brussels became sort of my de facto favourite place in Europe, just as it is the de facto capital of the European Union. It’s right in the middle of Paris and Amsterdam, two very popular cities, but ironically, these are two of the most overrated European cities in my opinion. Brussels lies there, unnoticed and often overlooked by travellers, but what a gem it really is! I’m lucky that one of my co-tutelle universities is in Belgium, so I have plenty of chances to go to Brussels, which is just an hour away by train from Louvain-la-Neuve, my university. It’s not quite a place I’m super familiar with, like Bordeaux, yet not JUST a tourist destination for me either.
I realize, though, that during the two and a half years I’ve been in Europe, I’ve had six sessions in Belgium and countless visits to Brussels, yet I’ve only written about this beautiful place once or twice. And it deserves much more attention than that.
I stopped by Brussels the night before my departure to Lisbon, and the view at Mont des Arts just swept me off my feet. All I could say was…wow. I love cities in the night, and Brussels got me completely mesmerized. Never thought I’d see a rainbow at night!
No matter how many times I go to the Grand Place in Brussels, I am still awestruck at the indescribably beautiful architecture that surrounds me in every direction. I never cease to admire the grandiosity and the atmosphere of the place, and just standing in the middle makes me feel like I’m out of this world, especially at night. This really is one of the most beautiful places in Europe.
I wanted to say that Brussels is a humble place, because it looks oh-so-ordinary compared to other large European cities, but how can it not be proud of itself as it shines in glamour when night falls? OK, to be fair, the Grand Place is stunning whether it’s day or night. I am absolutely in love.
City hall seen from a distance. For a long time, the tall white building became a landmark for me so that as long as it is within sight, I would not get lost.
A friend and I visited the Royal Greenhouses in Brussels in April. Each year the greenhouses are only open for several weeks, and I was lucky to be in Belgium during the opening week this year. There’s a Japanese pavilion that stands right by the gardens, and apparently there is a Chinese pavilion too, but we made a detour and didn’t go nearer to see it.
The greenhouses sheltered a lot of exotic flowers and plants, and it almost felt like a mini-Keukenhof at 1/8 the price (entrance fee was 2 Euros). To take a weekend to just stop and smell the roses – that was probably the most relaxing thing I did in April 2013.
When in Brussels, I like to wander around and pretend I don’t know where I’m going, which is true half of the time. I try to blend in like a local but let’s face it – with an Asian face and a camera in my hands, who’s gonna believe me? I went to a church in the city centre every Sunday last summer, and I’ve walked by some interesting places on the way. These wooden boards in the shape of bulls (???) were displayed outside St.Michael cathedral. Of course I really had no idea what they represented, if anything at all…
Not exactly when and where and why I snapped this photo, but it caught my attention as I was sorting my Brussels pictures, mainly because of the three men hanging out by the windows. The variety of signs also made the whole scene a bit more interesting.
A guy sat by a sculptor right by the triumph arch in Cinquantenaire Park, looking a bit down. Maybe it was the typical rainy and gloomy Belgian weather that dampened his moods?
I saw these hanging shirts outside central station, and I was reminded that I saw similar things before – shoes hanging in Louvain-la-Neuve, and swimsuits hanging in Amsterdam. I never understood the meaning of it, but my friend provided an explanation. She said that the act is a declaration of attachment to the city. So, when someone decides to settle down in a particular city, they hang a piece of clothing in this way as sort of an announcement. Hmm, interesting. It sounds convincing, and I’ll have to find out the origin of this custom, if it’s true.
Ah, let’s end the post with the Grand Place right before dusk. All that was captured was the distinct silhouette of the buildings on one side of the Grand Place, and even so, I still found the place undeniably amazing. Oh, Brussels, I’ll be back for you, at least one more time.