Part one here, in which I discuss Brussels’ excellent shopping options.
But it’s not just shops that make Brussels a fantastic place to visit. It’s… well, everything.
I’d decided to book the cheapest place I could find. The one thing that didn’t impress me about Brussels was my hotel, but that was my fault really. It was in a slightly shady area (not a problem), there was no air con (sometimes a problem), and the room was unbelieveably loud, so I couldn’t really sleep (quite a big problem).
By ‘loud’, I don’t mean I’m one of those people who grumble when they book a hotel next to a train station and then hear trains go past outside. I mean there was no air con, and the only window in the room – which didn’t shut – led onto a sort of atrium thing which ran down the entire centre of the hotel. Everything that happened in each room reverberated throughout the atrium, meaning that everyone’s conversations and sex noises and music were repeated incessantly into my ears as I tried to sleep in a suffocating room, in a bed with a broken mattress.
Also, the bed had this weird glowing square around it, which made me crazy with the urge to try to pry myself out. There was no natural light in the room and this made me feel like I was in some kind of horror movie. Eventually I worked out how to turn the strange glowy square off, but still, it was fucking creepy.
The rest of Brussels, however – once I’d escaped my hotel and started wandering around – was pretty damn cool.
The streets have art. Some official, some not so much. Some just houses that look like they’re trying to depict a sunset gradient.
Some giant murals.
Some juxtapositions of old and new buildings, the newer of which had obviously been built to complement the older design whilst maintaining its own character.
And then there are the shops and restaurants, which we discussed briefly last time but which get another shoutout here, because they’re brilliant.
And the schools. So much pretty architecture! So many nice fluffy clouds! So many murals and mixtures of old and new!
In London, I find it difficult sometimes to look at the newer buildings without feeling like they’re ruining things. The fucking shard, the fucking
dildo gherkin, the fucking whatever-stupid-name-they’ve-come-up-with-now, the brutalist tower blocks, the ugly squat buildings that were hastily thrown up post-war and are now established. I look at those, and then I wander through the streets of Georgian and Victorian conversions, of old churches and little almshouses and spaces that have been imbued with the lives and spirits of thousands of people over hundreds of years, and I find it hard to not get annoyed with these modern imposter buildings.
But in Brussels, they seem to fit. They work together – the architecture is complementary. You can imagine their modern buildings being old in 100 years’ time, and people telling their stories.
And the clouds. Ohhhh the clouds. I like the sky.
And this old church, with its pleasingly creepy melty writing.
And murals like this one, completed by local children.
And little boards sticking out from the sides of buildings: boards that say “I’ve probably been here since about 1810. Come and look.”
And signs above the shops and restaurants that only tempt you further.
And the tantalising excitement of finding the restaurant itself, sequestered away behind an iron gate down a little cobblestoned alley.
And the irritation when you realise it’s closed and you can’t actually eat there.
And the resignation of eating next door instead, and the delight when they serve you what might be the best pasta you’ve ever had outside of your aunty Anna’s cannelloni (she’s from Naples), and the satisfaction of eating it alongside a glass of white wine, watching the sun gradually dip beneath the buildings opposite while you scrawl your adventures across nine postcards which you’ll forget to drop off on the way back and end up bringing to England with you to post from the box at the end of your road.
Brussels, you’re very cool. I look forward to us hanging out again.