A couple of days after we returned from Spain and Portugal, we were off again to Belgium. I had a kickoff meeting for a new project on Thursday and then Kelley joined me on Friday evening – perfect! Brussels is a funky place. On one hand, it is the political center of the European Union and headquarters for NATO, but on the other, the city’s unofficial mascot is the Manneken-Pis statue, which lives up to its name, so they have a bit of a sense of humor.
Brussels and Belgium has a colorful history and has always been a crossroads quite literally, as the country was created as a buffer between France, Germany, and the Netherlands after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. In the middle ages, Brussels gradually became a commercial center specialising in textiles. This brought a huge amount of wealth to the city, so each guild built these elaborate guildhalls in what is now the Grand Palace. In the late 17th century, the French utterly decimated the city and the guildhalls, so what we see today is the second version.
To get oriented with the city we took a walking tour that took us to the major sites and perhaps most importantly pointed out some of the better places to eat. The tour started at the Grand Palace and our first stop was the statue of the Manneken-Pis. The statue is comically small! When we arrived there was an AARP marching band playing some tunes as they changed the statue’s outfit, which happens daily. I think the most interesting part was watching people try to jockey themselves with their selfie-sticks.
Our next stop was the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, which were built in the 19th century so those rich people did not have to get their hair wet while shopping…
Our final stop on the tour was the former Royal Square, where we witnessed a wedding precession and the bride darting from the car to the church between the volleys of rain.
After our walking tour we did what Belgians do: eat food and drink beer. Belgium has a rich history in brewing dating back to the 12th century during the first crusade. Those cleaver Catholics gave permission to abbeys to brew and sell beer as a fund raising method. Beer was pitched as a healthier alternative to that nasty drinking water of the day, when people pooped in a bucket and threw it in the street each night – the good times! The abbey brewing tradition is still strong today and an average Belgian drinks only 72 liters of beer each year, compared to 200 liters in 1900 – come on guys! For comparison, Ireland drinks 84 liters and the US drinks 75 liters – who are these people! I think the most curious thing is that each beer has its own specially designed glass, that is said to enhance the flavour.
Beyond beer, Belgium also has waffles and fries, which are fried twice! So delicious!
After dinner we headed once again to the Grand Palace for some night street photography. When we arrived there was an opera performance of sorts in the dumping rain!
After exploring Brussels for a day, we headed to Bruges, which is known as the Venice of the north with its whimsical architecture, canals (but no singing gondoliers), and windmills. We wished we could have spent more time there, as it was just a nice place to relax and drink beer.