A January 2003 trip
to Brussels by zabelle
Quote: As the capital of the European Union, Brussels is a thriving modern city that has also managed to retain its medieval charm. While offering all the modern amenities it integrates them into its beautiful streets and squares.
1. Grand Place -- next to the Atonium
the most recognizable feature of Brussels. This is a must see not only for the outstanding architecture but also for the wonderful lace shops. Be sure to look for some of the more famous building decorations and for the statue of Everard’t Serclaes whose arm you must rub for good luck.
2. Cathedral of St. Michael & Gudula -- fabulous stained glass, a major treasury and the grave of Rogier van der Weyden.
3. Bellevue Palace -- Three museums for one entrance fee, The Dynasty Museum, The Baudoin Museum and the remains of the Coudenburg Palace.
4. Place Royal -- visit the churches, the art museum, the Charles of Lorraine Rooms and more.
5. Galleries St. Hubert -- no visit to Brussels would be complete without a visit to this venerable institution. The stores are exclusive, the prices astronomical, the tourist abundant and the charm is endless. This is the Belgian equivalent of London’s Burlington Arcade.
and in the case of the little boy with a great wardrobe
Belgian lace is stunning. You will want to compare prices, but if you find something you really love, buy it because you may never see it again. I spent 10 days looking for a pillowcase with lace, not the European version, the American version. Place Royal supplied this need.
If you don’t love chocolate, what am I saying, who doesn’t love chocolate, then skip this part. Belgium is unsurpassed in great chocolate. Skip Godiva and Neuhaus -- you can buy that at home. Go for the local shops. You will never be able to duplicate these fabulous morsels at home. Most shops will let you sample (just in case you have forgotten what chocolate tastes like).
Talk to the people -- they love Americans. Our experience everywhere could not have been more positive and this was in January right before the war started. We were universally made to feel welcome.
Hotel | "Metropole"
Our stay began inauspiciously enough; we breezed through check-in. When we arrived at our first room, we unloaded our luggage and had barely entered the room when I noticed that the toilet was running. It never stopped. Our bellman called the desk, back onto the luggage cart went our bags, and down the hall we went. The three large ashtrays in room two made it unacceptable.
Exasperated, I told the bellman we had requested non-smoking, and the desk clerk knew this. Again, he called down, after some arguing we loaded the cart and headed for the elevator and a non-smoking floor. As I walked around the bed in our new room, voila, a piece of luggage that was not ours. The room already had an occupant. Another call to the desk. Another move. This time we actually got to unload and move in. The next morning, we were awakened by a dripping sound. There was water leaking through our ceiling onto the carpet. We called maintenance and soon a man arrived he headed for our bathroom saying, "You have water?" I smiled and pointed to the ceiling; his look of shock was priceless "OH!" he said and left. We received a call from the desk; we had to move immediately.
Each of our rooms was slightly different. All were small; all had horrible orange-and-pink bedspreads and gray carpeting. The furniture was retro, maybe even deco. The bathrooms differed greatly. The one in our leaky room was gorgeous, large, newly decorated and with a bidet. Our last one was small, tan, and had a tub that wouldn’t drain.
Now is there a happy ending? Yes, like the first-class hotel it is, the General Manager of the Metropole has responded to my e-mail and given us a full refund of our stay; not only that, but he has invited us back to stay in a suite with buffet breakfast on the house. Now that is class.
Actually, the buffet breakfast at the Metrople is quite grand; just don’t try to toast anything but regular bread. Bob, the radical that he is, tried to toast raisin bread and almost caused an international incident; Joe also tried to remove a newspaper, but was intercepted by Interpol (really it was the maitre d’). I -- now you have to promise not to tell -- smuggled out a little jar of jelly, and I have been looking over my shoulder ever since.
Location is the draw here. It’s an easy walk to the Grand Place, Bus 55 goes uptown, the tram and subway are below your feet, and shopping and restaurants are right around the corner. There is even an Internet café next door. Given an overhaul, the Metropole could be perfect; right now, it isn’t.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on December 7, 2003
31 PL DE BROUCKERE
Restaurant | "L’Ecu d'Or Taverne"
We had a great time here. Our waiter was very friendly, and we enjoyed having an English menu. The atmosphere was warm and cozy, with padded booths along the walls and crisp white tablecloths. The lighting was low, and I would have called it romantic if I had been alone with Al.
I started my meal with soup.
It was a creamy green vegetable, whether celery or broccoli, I couldn’t tell for sure. Either way, it was very satisfying. It was served with some warm and crispy bread and plenty of fresh butter. Next came my salad of endive, tomato, red cabbage, and lettuce. It was already dressed with a creamy and delicious dressing. My entrée was brochette (chunks of beef on a stick)
served with a three-pepper sauce and the proverbial frites. The sauce was so good that I soaked up every drop.
Al, Bob, and Joe all had steaks, each one cooked perfectly (as was my brochette). They were simply done, but when a steak is of good quality, little else is needed. Like the brochette, they were served with salad and frites. We added a round of Stella Artois beer and were perfectly satisfied.
As good as the entrées were, it was the dessert that stole the show. We all had crepes.
Mine was with chocolate sauce and ice cream, and it was decadent - a single large crepe cooked beautifully, folded and drizzled with wonderful hot chocolate and a sprinkle of powdered sugar. We finished with fresh coffee and, with a contented sigh, walked back across the street to our hotel.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 7, 2003
L’Ecu Or Taverne
14 Place De Brouchere
Restaurant | "Restaurant Le Savarin"
Up close, we realized that it was gas, not real logs, but hey, it gave off heat, so we weren’t complaining.
To warm us up, we were given a white wine and kir aperitif (on the house), and it was a delicious way to warm our insides while the fire took care of our outsides.
No one should visit Brussels without eating some mussels, so this is where we decided to have ours. Mussels in garlic butter as a starter were priced at 14.25 euros.
They were fabulous, tender, garlicky, and full of flavor--a great choice.
They have a very eclectic menu, and we had some very different choices. I had paella. It was a monstrous bowl of prawns, langostinos, clams, calamari, mussels, peas, and peppers. It was not the best I have ever had, but it was good. The fish was all fresh and tasty, but the rice was too bland for my taste. I use more saffron in my own version.
Joe’s Ghent waterzooi,
on the other hand, was fabulous. This is a real Ghent favorite, and I can see why. It is large chunks of white-meat chicken in a creamy soup base with onions, carrots, potatoes, celery, and green beans. Al had beef stroganoff. It was the usual beef served over rice, but it had a reddish color, as if it had paprika in it. He enjoyed it, and it was a large portion.
This is a tourist restaurant on a tourist street, but the portions are large and the food better than average. The prices, though, are a bit steep.
7-9-11 Rue des Bouchers
Restaurant | "Christian Tavern"
It looked exactly what you would expect an old-fashioned tavern to look like with a big wooden bar and wooden tables.
Unlike pubs in England, you get table service, and we were quickly seated in the nonsmoking section. Our waitress was very friendly, and although it was only 4:45, she called into the kitchen to find out if we could have the winter dinner special. The answer was yes, much to our delight.
For a prix fixe of €14.95, we had a choice of appetizer, entrée, and dessert. There were choices to satisfy every taste. The appetizer choices were pea soup, goat cheese, quiche, or fish. For an entrée you could choose Alsacienne choucroute, lamb a l’estragon, grandmother’s pork, or the blanquette of veal. Dessert choices were crepe suzette, a house pastry, sabayon glace Grand Marnier, and La Passindael et son sirop de Liege. With so many fabulous choices at such a bargain price, it took us a while to make up our minds.
I choose the pea soup, choucroute, and crepe suzette. The pea soup was thick and had a smoky bacon flavor. It came with a small bowl of croutons to pour in. On a cold January day, it was real comfort food. The same can be said for the choucroute.
There were pieces of smoked shoulder, kielbasa, smoked sausage, sauerkraut, and pureed tomatoes. It was everything I had hoped for and more. All it needed to make it perfect was a nice spicy mustard and a tall beer, both of which were readily available.
Al had the Blanquette of veal ala ancienne, which was veal in a cream and mushroom sauce served over rice. It was very good. Bob and Joe joined me in the choucroute.
I choose the crepe suzette for my dessert, which was the usual, a single large crepe with a very sweet and intensely orange sauce. The perfect ending for my meal. Al chose the house pastry,
It turned out to be a piece of cake with vanilla cream – okay, but not inspiring.
We had a very enjoyable meal here, the service was excellent, and the location is an easy walk from the nearest bus stop.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 7, 2003
37 boulevard Anspachlaan
Attraction | "The David and Alice Van Buuren Museum"
The museum is not located in the center of town. We took the tram to the Edith Cavell stop and then walked up Churchill to the roundabout. Go left in the roundabout to the first street, which is Ave. Leo Errera. The museum is down the street on the right-hand side. It is not well-marked and can be a little tricky to find. Go to the front door and ring the bell to be let in. This heightens the impression that you are a guest at a private home instead of a tourist. Once you have purchased your ticket, you will need to hang up your coat and put protective covers over your shoes. When you see the beautiful floors, you will understand why.
The first room you visit is the dining room. The furniture is built from exotic woods in the deco style. There are definite oriental touches in the decor. The large picture window opens the room to the gardens. The walls have cases built in to display an attractive collection of china. The room has a peaceful aura, enhanced by a startling blue ceiling between sycamore beams. I kept waiting to see Joan Crawford with her big padded shoulders come strolling through the door. .
The Brazilian rosewood staircase is magnificent, with a sculpture sitting on the newel post. I really regret not being able to photograph in the house; this feature in particular is hard to do justice to and words alone are inadequate. Above the stairway hangs an unusual bright glass paste and bronze lamp.
Several of the pieces of art in the house are spectacular. The most famous is Bruegels "Fall of Icarus." It is in the reception room with three paintings by Fantin Latour. Upstairs there are some very rare paintings by Hercule Seghers, who was Rembrandt’s teacher. There are only 14 known paintings in existence, and David van Buuren owned five, impressive to say the least. Add a Joos van Cleve Madonna , some really fine furniture, and a very pretty garden and you can spend a very enjoyable hour or two here. Entrance fee is €10.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 7, 2003
Museum David en Alice van Buuren
41 Avenue Leo Errera
Brussels, Belgium 1180
+32 2 343 48 51
Part of the problem for me was that our hotel was in the lower part of the city and many of the museums are in the upper. I could get from the Grand Place up to the top of the hill but some how the bus trip, even on the local buses didn’t make the relationship of one to the other clear.
There are two options for the Basic Brussels tour, "Hop on, Hop Off" or Brussels Discovery. The cost of both tours is the same: $12.50 for adults, $11.50 for seniors and students, and $8 children. Since the buses look the same, we assumed it wouldn’t matter and took the Brussels Discovery.
The bus picked us up at our hotel and dropped us back at their De Boeck Station. It’s a good idea to know where that is so you don’t get totally lost. Our bus is an open-top bus in the good weather and it had a canvas cover for winter, this cover sounded at times as if the wind was going to blow it right off. We of course had opted to sit in the front seats on the upper level of the bus.
We almost got off at Centenary Park
and it’s a good thing we didn’t, because on the Discovery Tour, if you get off, there is no getting back on. This is just a tidbit to help you understand the differences in the tours. We had a live tour guide, but we had headphone tours that we listened to for most of the trip.
I highly recommend this tour, because the Atomium is one of the stops, and actually, it is quite a distance from the Grand Place and all the museums. You also get to drive by the Royal Palace, where the family actually lives, and you get to see the Chinese Pavilion
and the Japanese Tower as well. You cover quite a bit of ground, and it will give you a good idea of what you might want to come back and visit. The audio also gives you quite a lot of Belgian history, which I’m sure most of us could use a refresher course on.
To check out their website, go to Brussels City Tours.
Gray Line Tour
Rue de la Colline
Attraction | "Place Royale"
Now we see Godfrey of Bouillon raising the standard of the First Crusade.
St James Sur Coudenburgis done in the Greco-Roman style, with a triangular pediment and Corinthian columns. You face this building as you walk up the hill from the lower city.
At first glance, I had no idea that it was even a church. Upon closer examination, you will see the statues of the saints where you would expect to see Greco-Roman gods and goddesses. The interior is bright and simple, and there is a painting attributed to Ribeira in the chancel. There has been a religious institution on this site since the 12th century. In the twentieth century, it witnessed the funeral of King Leopold, and it is now the principal church of the Belgian Armed Forces.
Museum of Fine Arts -- This is a fabulous museum with an outstanding collection of paintings. Tours are color-coded. We did the blue and brown tours. Blue included the 15th and 16th century, and brown 17th and 18th. Their collection of Bruegel is unparalleled.
Charles of Lorraine Museum -- These are the rooms that remain of the palace of Charles of Lorraine.
You enter the same entrance where guests would have arrived in the 18th century. You walk up a magnificent staircase to reach the rooms from the ground floor. The plaques on the banister represent the trials of Hercules. These are replacements for those that were carried off by the occupying French army in 1794. The Rotunda is stunning, with a black-and-white marble tile floor and a gorgeous ceiling. There is a rosette in the center of the room, made up of 28 samples of marble from all the quarries in Belgium. This is a small but pretty museum, with rooms filled with porcelain, musical instruments, and hunting guns. You can pick up a sheet in English that will give you some information about Charles of Lorraine, in general, and about some of the items in the rooms.
Notre Dame de Sablon -- though technically off the Place Royale, this wonderful church is close enough to be included with this location. This wonderfully Gothic Church dates mostly from the 15th and 16th centuries. A miraculous statue of the Virgin from Antwerp turned this church into a pilgrimage location. The original statue disappeared, but another was brought in to replace it.
Both sides of the church are lined with chapels and to the left and right of the main altar; they are family funerary chapels. Just walking through this church is interesting, but beware of the man at the door who acts as door opener. He expects to be tipped for offering this service.
Royal Palace of Brussels/Palais Royal
Rue Brederode 16
For a combined ticket price of €5, you can visit the dynasty collection and the archaeological dig. I will always remember this museum fondly because of their dedicated staff. Not only were we warmly welcomed when we bought our tickets, but one of the docents spent a great deal of time with us recounting his personal encounters with the Belgian royals.
As you walk the beautiful halls of the palace,
you travel on a chronological trip through the brief history of the Belgian Royal House, beginning with Leopold I, who was the Duke of Saxe and Prince of Coburg Saalfed. He was the uncle of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria and husband of Princess Charlotte of England until her untimely death. He married the daughter of the French king 2 years after he ascended to the throne of Belgium, and so we see that the royal family is not really Belgian at all. You would never guess this by the love that is shown in the Baudouin Memorial.
There are really three parts to the museum. The dynasty section has rooms dedicated to each monarch and their spouse. There are pictures, mementos, and furniture in each of the rooms. In the hall there is a large genealogical chart
where you can place each monarch in his or her correct sequence. On the first floor, there is a very moving video about the funeral of former King Baudouin, as well as a large exhibit covering his reign -- this is the second section. Fascinating as all this is, it pales in comparison to the archeological dig.
Have you ever wanted to walk through the streets of a medieval city?
Well, here you can; there are streets and the foundations of buildings located under the museum and under Place Royale. This former palace of the Dukes of Brabant had its beginnings in the 11th century and was destroyed by a fire in 1731. Subsequent building in the area caused it to all but disappear. This is probably the luckiest thing that could have happened because it has been spared total destruction and now can be enjoyed for generations to come. It really is like a city beneath a city and is amazingly large. The streets are cobbled, and some of the streets even have names. It is a fascinating walk though history.
Hotel de Bellevue
Place de Palais