Monday morning I woke up early to go for a run. We had much warmer weather in Belgium than we had been having in Berlin, so I wanted to kick off the springtime with a little exercise. I ran to a narrow little sliver of park not far from where we were staying, which featured an old gatehouse towering above the open grassy field. The most memorable part of my run was not the tower however. I distinctly recall having to weave through a seemingly endless stream of schoolchildren. Apparently I chose to run right when school starts on a Monday morning in Brussels.
We skipped breakfast and set off to our first stop, the Atomium building in the northwest corner of town. Built for a World’s Fair in the 1950s, the building has a very “new yet old” kind of feel to it, the sort of thing you associate with the ’50s and ’60s where designers were trying to be super modern. Now it feels a little ironic, but only because their conception of the future was a bit off. Who can blame them?
The structure itself consists of several sphere-shaped rooms, each with different exhibits describing the fair and the world of Brussels in the ’50s. At the top we were treated to a view from the observation deck, where we could see the fairgrounds and some of the city laid out before us. Escalators and stairs take you from one orb to another, weaving through the maze of the molecule (fun fact: it’s in the shape of iron). The experience was a little tacky but I thought the architecture was sufficiently unique to justify spending a few euro and our morning.
There was a mini-golf looking setup visible from the observation deck. Turns out this was a “Mini-Europe” featuring scale models of famous landmarks and buildings from various countries. We looked at going in, but the price was sufficiently high to keep us from going in – I forget the exact price but I think it was upwards of 20 euro each. No thanks. We left and made our way back to the city center.
We were in Belgium. We had priorities. We got waffles. Hopping off the metro, we walked along a busy main street and came across a few places selling waffles. We didn’t stop at the very first one, although it didn’t take us long to venture into a shop and try some. My first Belgian waffle had Nutella and Banana as toppings. Needless to say, it was spectacular.
We left the waffle shop and made our way to the nearby “Mannekin Pis”. The statue is world-famous, for reasons unknown to me, though I guess it is an unusual subject for a public statue. I had heard it would be small and unimpressive, but it was still fun to go see – I enjoyed a bit of people-watching as we waited around for a few minutes. Oh yeah, we got another waffle.
Stuffed full of sugar, we walked to a pretty market square nearby. Here, tall, narrow buildings sported gold trimmings, while street performers and tour guides drew crowds of visiting tourists. We walked through the square, examined the buildings, and did a little window shopping (AKA joking about buying Rolex watches).
Exiting the market square we wandered over to the Royal Palace. While it wasn’t particularly impressive, the walk over was relaxing and it was good to get a little exercise to work off all the waffles. We didn’t go inside, we just checked out the palace from the nearby park.
After our brief stop at the palace we were left without much of an itinerary. We decided to aimlessly wander for a bit, so we picked the nearest interesting roof we could find and headed that way. We stumbled upon the Palace of Justice, a massive courthouse. Surprisingly, we had no issues getting inside for free and explored the corridors for some time, unsupervised. It felt a bit like we were trespassing, but there were clearly marked areas where visitors were not allowed, and we made sure to stay clear of these. The courthouse also had a nice view overlooking the city, so we spent a little time outside taking advantage of that also.
We eventually left the courthouse and headed back to the hostel to do a bit of planning and take a breather from the day. We grabbed dinner at a Belgian place, but the highlight of our evening was definitely our after dinner activity. We went to a famous bar called Delirium, where they offer over 2400 types of beer. Needless to say, we were spoiled for choice, and spent the evening sampling and trying all sorts of odd beers. The place itself had 3 bar areas, each with a different feel and different beer list. We spent some time at each. I particularly liked some of the sour beer and fruit beers we got to try, though pretty much everything was delicious. We didn’t pull a super-late night as we wanted to be up at a reasonable time the next day. But I really enjoyed just hanging out and trying delicious drinks in a calm setting.
After our time at the bar, we walked back to the hostel, stopping briefly to admire the illuminated market-square where we had been earlier.
Tired, full of good food and good beer, we headed to bed. We had lots more in Belgium to explore. I’ll tell you about our next stops in later posts. Until next time,
Best wishes and safe travels everyone,