During a recent weekend in Brussels, I took it easy. I followed advice from a local about what to do during my few short days in the capital given the unexpected anxiety that was thick in the air.
Tense Times in Brussels
I was on a short visit to see one of my best friends, Timi. The timing wasn’t so good. My plane landed in town hours following the shocking news of the Paris terrorist attacks on November 13th. Authorities were on a Brussels manhunt for one of the suspects.
Now, as I write this, the absolutely terrible Brussels attacks of March 22nd have come and gone. These attacks continue to make me shake my head in sadness. My heart breaks for the victims and their families, and I wonder what is becoming of this world.
So there we were, in her city. The air was surely tense and uneasiness hung heavy. We decided to stay clear of major meeting places and very touristic areas.
Making the Most of It in Brussels
Generally speaking, Brussels is a great place to visit. I’ve heard people say it’s a dull place. I do not agree at all. It has delicious specialties (home of the Belgian waffle!), Belgian chocolate, beer galore, cultural activities, museums, parks and beautiful villages within a short driving distance.
Photos below are from previous visits to Brussels.
I also love that it is a slice of multi-cultural Europe. During that November weekend in Brussels, as I sat on a bus, I counted seven languages zipping over my head.
Local’s Picks: A Quiet Weekend in Brussels
Rick Steves, a favorite travel writer of mine, wrote a wonderful blog post about the recent Brussels Attacks entitled, Stand with Brussels and Keep on Traveling.
Learning of today’s tragic attacks in Brussels, my first thought was of that city’s unique knack for celebrating life. It’s a city of great humanity, and great joy.
In the spirit of that humanity and joy, the need to travel and discover people and places will live on. Back in November, I ended up making the most of my stay. Due to the circumstances, we opted to stay fairly close to her quiet neighborhood to enjoy the city and our time together. Anyway, I knew I’d be back for sure. Brussels will always have my support. Here was what we did:
Parc du Cinquantenaire
I loved visiting this park again, the quintessential European park. Just as I had remembered it last time, it was big, royal, green and full of beautiful perfect monuments. The Parc du Cinquantenaire or Jubelpark is a national landmark in Brussels. The name translates to park of the fiftieth anniversary, built during the reign of Leopold II to commemorate fifty years of Belgian independence.
During better weather days, many people gather on the lawns for scheduled events from concerts, races and outdoor cinemas.
Visit the Horta Museum
I had been to many of Brussels’ museums on previous trips. According to Timi, the Horta Museum was a more off-the-beaten track kind of place to visit. We headed to the former home of the famous architect, Victor Horta. Horta’s influence led Brussels to become the Art Nouveau capital of the world.
It turned out to be an unusual museum visit, unlike any other I had been to. I describe my experience on the travel blog Wonderful Wanderings. You can check out my post Horta Museum: Art Nouveau in Brussels to find out why the line we stood on was worth the wait.
Belgian Fries and Mussels in Brussels
Upon moving to Europe, my opinion on French fries changed forever. This time around in Brussels, I got my fill of Belgian-style frites from a hut! We headed to what Belgians call friteries or French fry kiosks. We found ourselves at a pretty famous one called Masion Antoine in Place Jourdan.
We immediately headed to a nearby bistro to pair them with another great Belgian dish: Mussels in Brussels. Actually, they are called moules frites, a large steaming pot of savory broth with delicious steamed mussels from the country’s North Sea.
A Calm Weekend in Brussels
I also met with Wendy, an expat friend of mine, for a low-key coffee catch up. She is behind Wondrous Wanders, which is an excellent Brussels walking tour company. Hearing her stories about the city, of course, gave me more ideas of where I should go next time.
I was really tempted to pay a visit to the famous Grand Place. In the end, I decided to stay clear of crowds.
That weekend in Brussels brought up anxiety in other ways. One night, Timi and I had settled on a cozy neighborhood wine bar for drink one night. When a confetti popper let out a sudden burst of noise during a small celebration in the corner — everyone stood still for a moment. A collective silence of fear.
I just hope there is hope.
I will end my first Belgium destination post on my blog with a very positive note. I am looking forward to going back for another weekend in Brussels and discovering more of this fantastic city.
Brussels will stay strong. Europe will stay strong. Life moves on and we must enjoy the beauty of it all.
Have you spent a weekend in Brussels?