Having had the experience of arriving late in the evening, I really had no idea what the outside world looked like. That being the case, I did a workout, and had a shower before venturing out on to the streets of Brussels. The first order of business was to find as venue for breakfast. Thankfully, there were suitable places in the area so I opted for the one with the highest “rating” on “Google Maps”.
Now, I should mention at this point that the centre of Brussels is very much “tourist-ville”. There are many, many street cafes and bars along with the inevitable tourist shops selling identical minatures of “Maannekin Pis”. That being said, a lot of the roadside establishments did look jolly good. The one I oped for “Lloyd Coffee Eatery” had their name and menu in English but I did hear a number of people speaking French while frequenting the place so I didn’t have to feel quite so bad about my life choices. The smoked salmon and scrambled egg bun with coffee was just what was required. Mind you, I think by this point the proverbial “scabby horse’s heid” would have sufficed given that I had not eaten since 5.00pm the night before in London. I spent some time enjoying my book, taking in the beautiful vista, and the passing human traffic.
Given that I had no particular plans, it seemed a good idea at this point to allow my feet take me wherever they would take me. So this I allowed. The streets and alleys of Brussels proved to be most beautiful. I drew comparisons between a number of streets and streets such as Cockburn Street and Victoria Street in Edinburgh, realising that the city I still consider to be my own very much has a “European” feel to it. I enjoyed many statues, cathedrals, and a trio of urinating figures.
On the outskirts of the centre, the landscape changed a little and I found myself in areas where people probably actually lived. It seemed that things like university buildings were evident, alongside an area with a number of African food shops and groceries. I surmised that this is perhaps where immigrants and refugees from places like Rwanda, and the Congo had ended up. I noted that like in many cities, they and their businesses were not resident in the centre. This seemed an interesting mataphor for the situation they had essentially been guided (forced?) in to and the extent to which many colonising governments would have wanted this population to contribute their resources but remain out of sight. How times change.
I headed back to my apartment to refill my water bottle and to rest a minute from the heat. On the way, I passed through the monument to the “Rightous of Belgium” who had come to the aid of the persecuted Jews during the Nazi occupation. I feel this period of history may dominate through this particular trip.
After a beer at the “Cherry bar”, the time came to make a decision on where to eat. This was a problem – firstly with so many options available but more so with the area being significantly filled with restaurants defined in reviews as “tourist traps”. What to do?
Some research threw up a place a short walk away which would serve something akin to authentic Belgian food at a reasonable price. “In ‘t Spinnekopke”, did not disappoint. I’d about “Carbonnade Flamande” elsewhere and the concept of being served beef stew, chips, and beer sounded very much my kind of thing. The meal was superb and the service charming with the young gentleman server telling me he’d lived in Scotland for a year, near Tobermory. I felt bad doubting the truth of this given the reputation of the waiter-patron relationship but he seemed delightful so the benefit of the doubt was applied.
My meanderings took me back to Grote Markt where a annual celebration of being Flemish was just getting started. According to the leaflet I found, 11th July is the anniversary of the Battle of the Golden Spurs, this being an appropriate occasion to organise a shindig.
Since I arrived I had been trying to figure out the language situation. It became apparent that as an English speaking tourist I was to have little in the way of an issue but French seemed to be the default spoken language. I’d also heard of a language called “Flemish” and had noted on many road signs a language looking more Germanic than Romantic. In this I turned out to be correct as Flemish is essential a derivative of Dutch. My brief research revealed that there is a significant culture associated with this language and identity so hoping I was not involving myself in a political situation I wouldn’t approve of, I joined the crowd.
The background music playing to ready the crown was unfamiliar but clearly in the language this event was celebrating. After a while the Berlin Philharmonic took the stage along with what I assumed were local musical celebrities. They led the crowed in what I understood was a “singalong” in the Flemish language. I guessed that this may be the equivalent of leading the crowd singing “Loch Lomond”, or “500 Miles”. It all seemed very jolly and positive so I hung around for a bit before moving on to my next mission.
After my heavy meal, ice cream seemed the order of the day so I found a place very close to my apartment. I requested mango flavour but was informed they were out. Instead, I asked for the server’s favourite. She recommended coffee flavour with chocolate sauce. I enjoyed and was thankful for her wisdom.
I ended the day at “Scott’s”, a beer selling establishment slightly away from the hustle and bustle of the “main tourist drag”. I felt very much like I had only scratched the surface of this fine city but knew that I had another day and even after then, a return visit in a couple of weeks.