Finally, and a bit sadly, our train pulled into the final stop of our long journey, Brussels, early in the evening. After the obligatory Where’s Waldo hotel search, we again decided to head out in the evening and get a view of the city at night. We beelined for Brussels’ Grote Markt, or Grand Place, or Main Square if you don’t speak Flemish or French. This square was even more impressive than Bruges’ version, with a stunning array of architecture giving witness to the affluence of the city in various periods of its past, from medieval to colonial times. All lit up at night, it was simply stunning.
On the way back to our hotel we hit up a Carrefour grocery store for a quick, easy dinner and to load up on Belgian chocolate and beer at a much lower price than the horde of touruist shops all around the historical city center. The beer’s the same, and the brands of chocolate are either similar quality or just the exact same as in the chocolate shops. Needless to say, both are delicious. Also delicious is the ubiquitous Belgian waffle, more dessert than breakfast item here. They’re richer and sweeter than waffles elsewhere in my experience, and can be covered with all kinds of fruit, chocolate, and sugary sauces.
The next morning we got a leisurely start on our last day of sightseeing. Our first stop was the Cauchie House, one of many Art Deco houses in the city. This distinctive architectural movement began in France and Belgium with architects like Le Corbusier and Victor Horta, before sweeping the world and becoming a distinct motif of the 1920s and 1930s. Unfortunately, due to rather odd entrance hours, we didn’t go in (although we saw plenty of Art Deco furniture in the Musee D’Orsay in Paris), but the outside was a beautiful example of the style.
After that we get our last Belgian patio beer and enjoyed the sunny noon air before heading back towards Grote Markt to see it in the daylight. Spoiler: it was just as impressive.
We also checked out the impressively large Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula then headed for the Mannekin Pis statue, which was an unexpectedly tiny considering how much of a bit deal it is statue of… a boy pissing water into a fountain. It must have been the first one of these ever, because otherwise it’s kind of a head-scratching choice to be a tourist attraction and symbol of a city.
We’d mostly stayed out of non-beer or french fry-related museums after Paris after hammering them and our soles so hard while there, but Brussels has some great ones, so our least stop was Museum Hill, with its apparently ever-changing roster of museums. The Magritte Modern has become a three-museum complex with a couple other galleries tacked on for one ticket-price, but we went for the whole deal. The first portion is a three-floor gallery entirely dedicated to Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte, whose work you’d surely recognize even if you don’t know the name. Jeonghee knows more about this movement than I do, but I enjoyed learning more and seeing the evolution of an artist like Magritte, who had talents in so many disciplines.
The Old Masters wing of the museum boasted works from famous Belgians like the Bruegels and Hieronymus Bosch sprinkled with the odd Rembrandt, Rubens, and Van Dyk, and even David’s second or third most famous work, The Death of Marat. Outside of the last, the non-native paintings were lesser works, but the Belgian stuff was top-notch. There was only one of Bosch’s signature hellish tableaus, but the two Bruegels out-crazied him with works like The Fall of the Rebel Angels when they weren’t painting detail (and dirty joke)- packed scenes of village and town life in the 16th and 17th centuries. They’re like Where’s Waldo for depravity, which I enjoyed.
The last wing was the Fin de Siecle, or End of the Century, covering Impressionists and other styles at the turn of the 20th century. Like the Old Masters, it boasted a few Seurats and a Van Gogh, but lesser works, especially in light of all that we saw in Paris. We exited the museum, walked past the imposing royal palace, and made for the metro, and our train to Charles de Gaulle, just as it started to rain. Perfect timing, and nigh near a perfect vacation.