“No one told me Brussels had hills” said an exhausted Darren as we hauled our bags on the bikeshare bikes up and down the hills in the most convoluted city we have ever encountered.
We weren’t quite sure what to expect from the city. Some had said they hated it, others said you just need to find the “pockets of awesome. A map made by locals that we had picked up said “it’s ugly and we love it”. Side note: these maps are from Use-it, an organization that works with cities across Europe to create locally made maps that are informative and very interesting. We have used them in a number of cities so far. Unfortunately no map could help us in navigating this place. Darren is usually a master at this, but he was no match for Brussels. It’s a conglomeration of a number of different villages, with very little heirarchy to the streets and numerous roundabouts with seven different trajectories. The streets last for a few blocks before changing names and steering off course. I’m sure it’s charming to wander around and get lost at the right time, but this was not it.
Architecturally the theme is juxtaposition. Every style from the past several centuries, organized in very unusual ways. Brutalist next to Art nouveau, next to a glass cube.
The city has the second largest bikeshare in Europe after Paris, which is surprising because it seemed largely unused. We were among the few who braved biking in the city where fending for yourself seems to be the strategy for bike infrastructure. It’s a sign there’s a problem when bikers are in head to toe fluorescent gear.
All rants aside, we did manage to find enjoyable pockets of space in the city. It doesn’t hurt that the weather was great and the leaves are finally here!
There are comic walls throughout the city, as homage to the numerous famous Belgian comics.
Of course we had to find the famous Manneken pis, and the lesser known Jeanneke pis. There are a number of legends surrounding it, but I’m not sure the real reason why the most notable feature is a peeing boy.
We checked out Delerium Cafe, which has 3162 beers, in a menu the size of a small phone book. We tried some Gueuze, a lambic, double fermented beer, made with yeast from the air around Brussels. We still have several thousand more to try. We also tracked down a bottle of Westvleteren 12, a Trappist beer prepared by monks. It’s not sold based on demand, as the monks just make enough to sell for what they need to keep them afloat and repair the monastery, etc. It was amazing, but too pricey to get into a habit of drinking.
The second day we spent most of the day at the Comic museum. It was very impressive and very inspiring. We had mostly gone to see Tin Tin, but all of the exhibits were great; one showing the history of the comic strip, the making of the comic, Tin Tin, the Smurfs, and a feature on Rosinsky. We found it most interesting how the comics were made from character development, storey boards, and rough and final drafts. It was interesting and refreshing to see all the rework and mistakes in the process. To often you see the final product on display without a sense of the revisions and iterations involved.
Rosinsky, an artist from Poland was incredible. He’s known for Thorgal, but had many different styles, and often large paintings to develop characters. We watched a video of him painting for an hour!
We had fun checking out the funny mirrors in the museum too.
The last night, we had a great time with our host, who interpreted Air BnB to stand for bed and beer – lots of beer.