The last of our long haul trains were now over. As a result, the two and a half hour train from Amsterdam to Brussels felt as though it was over in a flash.
We arrived into Brussels Midi Station at around 11:30. Fortunately, it was just a 15 minute walk over to our hotel, but what was not so fortunate was forgetting how tricky it is to navigate two suitcases over pretty much any walking distance. We always knew it would be worth it in the end, of course.
It soon became apparent that the centre of the city is fairly compact. After an hour wait to check in, no ones fault of course, we freshened up and made our way to the central station. Whilst in the process of getting ready, we received a message that two Belgian friends from Erasmus were on their way to meet us in the city. A fantastic surprise! We’d have half a day with each of them, it would seem.
Tess met us outside the central station, it is a very aptly named train station, it must be said. It was great to see the sights of Brussels with someone familiar with the city, my particular favourite being the Grand Place. Bang in the middle of the city, the most noticeable building being the Town Hall. Its looming tower hangs over the square and it completes the Grand Place’s typical European look. It feels like a hugely vast space, in reality it only feels this way as a result of winding down many narrow streets and walkways.
Brussels has one of the more unique tourist attractions. Manneken Pis, or ‘Pissing Boy’ as it is in Flemish, is literally a small peeing boy. Located on a street corner and generally out of the way, it is one of the first things that will come up in a search for things to see in the city. It's 61 centre metres high and has been in place since 1619, making it as old as it is curious. It’s worth checking out and you’ll see the crowd of people before you even get close to setting eyes on the statue itself.
If you like dessert, then Brussels is the place for you. Most areas of the city centre have the intoxicating aroma of waffles and/or chocolate. In fact, the street up from Manneken Pis is practically lined with waffle and chocolate shops. For 3.50 Euros I grabbed a fresh waffle bathed in melted Nutella, if there was a way to capture this taste you’d have the best souvenir around.
We were then taken up through the city past the Royal Palace, an outstanding building which really feels tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the centre. Straight over the street from the palace is the Warandepark, an expansive park which covers 32 acres. Even in the freezing cold temperatures, the park is a fantastic experience. You can only imagine how nice it’ll be in the height of summer.
Tess headed home after this, but we were only without a Belgian for only a matter of hours. Alice joined us and took us to a little bar within a tucked away piece of the city. Belgians are proud of their beer, and after these few days then I can very much see why. This bar offered a whole host of all kinds of beers, and as I’d soon find out there would soon be a bar with more beers that I could ever have imagined. It had been great seeing our friends so far, we’d see them again very soon too.
The following day was our one solo day in the city. First up, we jumped on the Metro across town and towards a monumental building which dominates the Brussels skyline. The Basilica of the Sacred Heart has been a gem of the city for over a century. It was a Wednesday morning and we were seemingly the only visitors within the church. It doesn’t cost to enter, and an entrance to the panoramic view on the rooftop is available for just five Euros. The weather was kind once more, and we were able to enjoy a fantastic view of Brussels. All of the other towering structures were visible for miles around, even through a spring haze. I felt as though I could remain at the top of the church, which is the fifth biggest in the world, all day. However, there was more to see.
I’d visited the European Parliament in Strasbourg a few months ago, a trip to Brussels allowed me to add the official seats of the European Commission and the Council of the European Union to my list, a list which I never really thought I’d be able to make. There is an exhibition within one of the buildings which takes an in depth look into the rollercoaster history of Europe. As it turns out, most of it seems to be based on war. That seems to have been a theme. Just as in Strasbourg, the buildings in Brussels were free to enter. It is equally as unusual walking around thinking that England won’t be part of proceedings at the EU soon. What a jolly thought.
That was just about all we had time for in Brussels, a city which hadn’t disappointed. The following day we’d be off to Ghent for a proper student experience with our favourite Belgians... We couldn’t wait!