After I may or may have not gone gaga over the chocolates, I decided that it was time to leave the pissing boy alone, because the heavens were also pissing on us, and I was starting to get pissed off as well. Anyway, another thing you’ll appreciate about Brussels is that the main tourist attractions are just within a few minutes walking distance from one another. If you run towards the right direction, you will reach the Grote Markt in less than five minutes, I reckon, from the Manneken Pis. Wait, the what?
This is Brussels so everything is bilingual in French and Flemish. They call it Grand Place and Grote Markt, respectively. The funny thing is I do not know what the official English translation is, but taking a cue from the French, it must mean something like Grand Square, or Grand Market if you rely on the Flemish name. All you need to know is that it is a very huge square surrounded by shining, shimmering, splendid architecture on all sides. And did I mention how almost all of them glitter in gold?
The first structure that will meet your gaze is the ever imposing Brussels Town Hall. This one just towers over everything else and to say that the exquisite design is attention-grabbing would be an understatement. At first I thought it was a basilica or something given the obvious grandeur of the façade, but the lack of domes and crosses just negates that theory. You would then think that it’s probably a castle or something. Well, no. It’s the town hall.
The façade is full of people, and by people I actually mean sculptures of mostly men in medieval costumes holding their crotches as if they were ready to piss at you. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating a bit here but I hope you get my drift. Many of them will have swords and some are busy slaying dragons and other sinister creatures. Some of them just stare at you, and that’s a bit creepy. For those who forgot to brush up on their history, more info about the place is available at the entrance.
But you won’t reach that entrance right away, not that it’s inaccessible, but because you will be quite overwhelmed by all the other buildings surrounding that square. Many of them are glittering in gold. Whether those are real or not is out of the question. Opulence is the keyword here, and we can say that whoever designed this square sort of overindulged. Well, if you have the budget for it, then I don’t see why not. Most of these buildings house museums, restaurants, as well as political institutions.
And then there is that curious one which decided to print an impressive façade on a giant tarpaulin and let it hang there for everyone to see. It’s as if the owner of that restaurant just crumbled under the pressure. Like, “Damn, I need this restaurant here but we’re surrounded by all these extravagant buildings and I don’t have the budget to match. Screw them. Just print everything on a really large tarp, boys, and let’s hope that nobody notices!” The truth, however, is that these buildings are just under renovation.
Right across the Town Hall is a museum, but I don’t really fancy museums so I didn’t go in. To its left is the one with the giant tarp, while to its right is just an equally impressive structure housing a bar or two. If you miss Starbucks that much, or you just want a cup of hot chocolate to counter the frigid weather, then you’ll find it on the right side, if you are facing the Town Hall, that is.
You can enter the Town Hall and end up in a small courtyard with two statues of Zoolander’s great-great-great-great grandfather. Because being sexy and good looking runs in the family, he strikes a pose in true Zoolander fashion, complete with two cherubs on the side to celebrate his oozing sex appeal. Inside, busy people, who I assume are involved in the city’s politics, are just too preoccupied to care about your existence. And no, I don’t think you can join them inside.
As the weather started to get gloomy and wind chill began to get annoying, I searched for the nearest Metro station and ended up at the Atomium for a 10-minute survey of the scene. Many locals here have recommended this tourist attraction, but I really just don’t get it. They say that there are a lot of expos and marketing stuff happening there, which probably explains why I am not interested. The structure itself is a sight to behold, though. Think giant atoms with a Belgian flag on top.
And so, did I like Brussels? Yeah, in terms of the linguistic aspect, I guess. It would be a really good place to improve my French and getting a good dose of Dutch along the way. For this trip, though, the winner is still Amsterdam when it comes to my favorite city. I just like the appeal of the canals and how they seamlessly form part of the city’s unique identity. But yeah, Brussels is cool too.