Weekend in the European capital. "Bruxelles, ma belle", as someone once said. And he wasn't mistaken. Because yes, abundantly yes, Brussels is beautiful. Brussels is worth a detour. Brussels is worth lingering over, worth having its perfumes sniffed and its charm savoured. And that's how we can best get to know it. Brussels cannot be visited in a couple of days and a night in a hotel. You have to immerse yourself in it, take your time, open your eyes to it and lend it your ears.
Breathe. Live it. BrusselsLife.be takes you on a visit within the unmissable Brussels, within the authentic Brussels, within the revealed Brussels. Open all your senses. Enjoy the ride!
Admittedly, Brussels has its share of unmissable places, obligatory stops for tourist coaches, which are immortalised in all good photo albums. But even when invaded and inundated with camera flashes, they preserve their beauty and their touch of something very "Brussels". Jean Cocteau described it as "the most beautiful theatre in the world". And it is true that it is in itself a sight for sore eyes. It's not for nothing that UNESCO classified the Grand-Place, in 1998, as a World Heritage Site. Dominating the splendid architectural whole that is constituted by corporate headquarters, the town hall is characterised by its lack of symmetry, which, according to legend, had driven its architect to suicide? Every other year at the end of the summer, a gigantic carpet of flowers covers the square's thousands of paving stones. To be appreciate in the sunshine from the terrace of one of its many bordering cafés. Little Julien, another name of Manneken pis, often surprises people seeing it for the first time by its diminutive size: no more than about fifty centimetres! But isn't that also an authentic feature of Brussels? Modesty in fame. In any event, the people of Brussels owe a lot to the Manneken Pis, since, thanks to his pressing need, he is thought to have saved Brussels from a fire set by some evil enemies. Today, he is often attired in one of the innumerable disguises that he is given, and he is never more appreciated than when he is pissing beer! Off course, one can start with the classic ones: the Belgium royal museum des Beaux-Arts de Belgique holds amazing pieces for those interested, even from afar, by famous paintings. But in the same vein, the Ixelles museum of Beaux-Arts or the Charlier museum in Saint-Josse are famous themselves. Regarding music, the Museum of musical instruments Musée des Instruments de Musiqueis just a not to be missed venue and for the architecture, one would go to the Maison Horta.
Open your eyes
And then, Brussels is also full of places to be discovered, not inevitably known and recommended in the guides that claim to be "good", but which enable the city to be discover other than as a picture postcard? From the musée de la Geuze to the Centre belge de la Bande dessinée or the du Tram notwithstanding the Theater of Toone (http://www.brusselslife.be/E/detail/id/749), royal, the occasions are numerous to uncover the more or less important sections of the cultural heritage from Belgium and from Brussels. In this field we must mention the town museum of Brussels, with an amazing collection of the Manneken Pis' costumes and also the BELvue museum, which grants access to the archeological remains buried under the Coudenberg.
Something very "Brussels", so OK, Brussels has a lot of them in stock! And it's there, really, that you should be able to take time to immerse yourself. There's no point in making a half-hour detour to the Jeu de Balle market, just as you can't compare Belgian chips with an American hamburger. Understanding is not really necessary. Appreciating is enough. You would take a beer In the heart of the Marolles, thats popular old district of Brussels, the Place du Jeu de Balle stages, every morning, for the capital's largest flea market. More than 500 second-hand dealers sell their "odds and ends" and their "gismos", even on the ground, in cheerful cosmopolitan disarray. Walking there is a real delight. It's there that one can still sniff the real atmosphere of the old Brussels. After having strolled, hunted around for antiques, bought not without haggling, there's nothing like nibbling a kip-kap, a slice of bread with soft white cheese, or downing an onion soup in one of the little cafés bordering the square! A real treat! Beer and Brussels, it is a very special story, a history of soil, a story of bacteria that are found only here, and which allows fermentation to take a different turn, which ends up by giving us Lambic, Gueuze, Kriek and Faro. Delights that are appreciated all the more when one know the spirit of tradition that inspires the cantillon. Cheers! A superb thing to do as a family: a visit to the tram museum, followed by a ride on an ancient tram. The route traverses one of the capital's most beautiful entry and exit arteries: Avenue de Tervuren, as green as you could wish, which leads right to the Château de Tervuren, another of King Leopold the Second's whims. Another possibility: a trip of 35 kilometres in the middle of Brussels, in a 1935 tram, with a guided tour. There's more than one of them, but they're increasingly rare. How to describe a chippy? Basically, it's a question a kind of hut that often seems not too solid, in which there's usually only room for the cook, who prepares just about everything, provided that it can be plunged into the fat to be fried. The chippies constitute a kind of intangible heritage, with odours that permeate the surroundings and the bonhomie of their "fryers". One just couldn't imagine Place Flagey or Place Saint-Josse place without their respective chippies. Not forgetting that it's usually there that best chips are to be found?
The veritable lungs of Brussels, the Forêt de Soignes is a haven of peace for townies who want to breathe and unwind. Covering an area of almost 5,000 hectares, it mainly consists of beech and oak. Alongside the many rodents and birds, deer have set up home there, and some wild boar were supposedly seen at the beginning of 2007. Many drives and alleys encourage long walks, but there's also plenty of mountain-biking and horse-riding going on. Unfortunately necessary, some main roads slice through this Eden of Brussels (the E411 and the Ring) and from time to time disturb the tranquillity that can be enjoyed the fries Obviously, the Forêt de Soignes is Brussels's biggest nature reserve by far. But at the four corners of the capital, little gems of preserved nature are still to be found. We will mention three of them: the Avijl Plateau, in Uccle, with its kitchen gardens, its meadows and its two woods (8.5 hectares); the Moeraske Nature Reserve, in Evere, a marsh fed by a little brook, which attracts a fauna of insects and birds usually not overly fond of large cities; and the Poelbos Reserve, in Jette, with its alternating woods, rills and ponds, where you find a host of those famous yellow irises, symbol of the Brussels Region. Frédéric Solvel