Exploring Brussels in the Winter
Spending Christmas away from home isn’t easy. The prices get ramped up so high that water takes priority more over coffee and I need coffee in the morning. Arriving in Brussels in the early morning, the cold and windy weather should have disheartened me, but the Christmas decorations and smurf statues (Smurfs are Belgian) almost brought a tear to my eye.
Grote Markt is Brussels main city square. I managed to get a Belgian waffle which energised me to head to the Christmas market.
Exploring Brussels in a nutshell
The Christmas market had hundreds of stalls, selling Christmas memorabilia, candy, chocolate, beer, everything. I couldn’t decide if I wanted a bratwurst or piping hot mulled wine, there were too many options. Floating around the stalls with a mulled wine in my hand, I came across many hand-knitted woollen garments, attractive but over-priced. Fortunately, entry to the market is free, so it wasn’t all bad.
Belgium has over 700 comic book authors, famous for Tintin and the Smurfs. The interesting thing about Brussels is there are comic book murals scattered across the city. Every street I walked down had comic book murals on a wall in some form or another. I took a moment to observe the art before my next agenda, to visit the Atomium, Brussels answer to the Eiffel Tower.
The spectacular structure looks modern but was actually built sixty years ago. There was a long queue, as is most popular tourist attractions. It costs 10 euro to see, but once I reached the top, the panoramic view of the city was fantastic. As well as a restaurant, the venue had exhibitions on five levels, so I got my money’s worth. Click here for more info related to enterance frees.
I returned to the market around midnight to grand place for the fireworks display and to take a few snaps of the incredible Christmas tree (supposedly the tallest Christmas tree in Europe).
Things to do
There’s only so many landmarks a tourist can check out in a city without it feeling a bit tedious, so to give myself a challenge, a real challenge, I went to Enigma, an escape game room with a few friends I made at my hotel. Solving puzzles, decrypting messages and figuring out riddles were all part of the task, and without collaboration and team-work, we could have easily lost the game.
The Belgian capital has many sights and famous places. Tourists have the opportunity to check the city out in style with a horse-drawn carriage. You can hop on one near the historic Grand Place, but it’s not cheap at 44 euros and lasts only 30 mins. On a positive note, the carriage runs every day of the year, and you get to visit the royal galleries, Manneken Pis and Place Agora.
Belgians aren’t as conflicted as others assume
Due to the progressive and liberal nature of the country, Belgians are acutely aware of social and political issues and learn more towards progressive viewpoints. I met a few Belgians in my hotel, they had a self-deprecating sense of humour and explained common clichés during associated with Belgians.
The Dutch and French often undermine the Belgians accent and expressions and results in mockeries towards the Belgians. I guess this has toughened the Belgians and they deal with it using humour instead of offence.
Belgians enjoy fries, sometimes with every meal as I witnessed walking past outdoor restaurants and cafes. Mussels and chocolate are also notable for having an essential role in a Belgian’s meal. However, this is no different to Italians and pasta or Spanish and tapas.
The more I spoke with Belgians, the more I learned how self-effacing they are yet wouldn’t hesitate to make a joke about themselves. It seemed a little peculiar and contradictory, but that’s just their culture.
Flemish vs French
The northern half of Belgium is occupied by the Flemish (who speak Dutch), whereas the southern half is French-speaking Walloons. In the past, this has resulted in a troubled history, and Belgium has been invaded, colonised and occupied many times.
The languages aren’t the only thing that’s different. The perception of Flemish is that they are quieter, reserved and industrious compared to the Walloons. The Walloons (or French) are considered more relaxed, easygoing and show more emotion.
Brussels is officially bilingual, sometimes when I spoke to a Belgian in French, they answered in Flemish and surprisingly this isn’t uncommon. I once even asked for directions from an older gentleman. He proceeded to speak in English then switch to French, maybe to articulate the answer faster. I didn’t feel that there was much of a conflict between both communities however usually when politics is involved, tension starts to build.
It’s not all beer, chocolate and waffles
When it comes to Belgian food, the first few things that come to mind are waffles, fries and craft beers but I was so very wrong. I stumbled into what I will call a traditional Belgian restaurant while in Brussels. The waiter was able to tell me about some of the dishes (meaning I didn’t need to resort to pointing at pictures). Most of the dishes on the menu were written in Flemish, French and English. However, it’s sometimes good to ask what the best thing on the list is.
I ordered Chicon Au Gratin/Gegratineerde witloof, a potato gratin made within endives, wrapped with ham and topped with béchamel sauce and melted cheese. This wasn’t even the main course, only a side dish.
Mussels with fries sound strange for a meal, not in Brussels. Normally when I think of Mussels from Brussels, I think of Jean-Claude Van Damme. Moules-Frites/Mosselen-friet is a huge bowl of mussels served with a plate of Belgian fries. The idea is to dip the fries into the white wine broth from the mussels when you are finished with them.
You could have a full stomach, but your dessert stomach is a separate entity to your body. So I was like “bring on the waffles”. Gaufre/Wafel are rich and dense, made with a buttery brioche dough and sugar that’s caramelised over the crust, simply divine.
There were a few other things on the menu that I didn’t have time for but looked exceptional. Maybe the next time I visit I will order them such as:
- Boudin Blanc/Witte Pens: White sausages made from milk, fine texture with a modest flavour. Sometimes served with mashed potatoes or apple compote.
- Stoemp: Extremely creamy potatoes with carrots or leeks thrown in.
- Crevette Grise/Grijze Granalen: Brown shrimps served in a salad and stuffed into a tomato.
- Chocolate: Belgian chocolate is world-famous, and there are over 2000 chocolatiers in Belgium.
- Carbonnades Flamandes/Stoverij: Similar to beef Bourguignon but replace the wine with beer.
- Speculoos/Speculaas: spiced shortbread cookies with decorative design accompanied by a shot of espresso.
- Waterzooi: A rich fish stew though sometimes made with chicken.
- The beer: there are 180 breweries in Belgium, that’s a lot of beer.
Overall, my Brussels trip was excellent. I hope you enjoyed reading this blog. If you have questions, please do contact me. Don’t forget to like and share this blog to your friends and family. It would be even better if you want to reach me on social media 🙂 Anyway, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Have a great holiday!! Ho ho ho!