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The Grand Place, Food, etc.


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BRUSSELS | STOP OVER

Published by Oat Sitalasai — 4 years ago

Like most of the young population around the world, I have always wanted to travel in the cities of Europe. When I moved to Paris back in November, I took a very uncommon path. My departure town was Paphos, Cyprus, a place where I used to grow up in and a place that I now call home. To get to Paris, I should have probably taken a flight from Larnaca International Airport - the country's main airport - and fly directly the French capital, but no. Ladies and gentlemen, I made the most out of my trip from Cyprus to France, by flying from Paphos International Airport, to Brussels Charleroi Airport. This brings about my experience that I would like to share with you all today, which is about the capital of Belgium - Brussels!

I have friends in many places of the world and when they talk about traveling in Europe, their plans would roughly be something like visiting London, Paris, Madrid, Rome, Milan, Berlin and Amsterdam. While different people will have a slightly different game plan for their dream travels here in Europe, I must say that not many people would add Brussels to their list. For me, I like to see what people don't pay much attention to and discover something that is completely unknown. It's actually funny because I do have a Belgian friend, who currently resides in a town by the name of Leuven, which is just about 25 kilometres from the capital. This friend of mine was actually surprised that I chose to stop over in Brussels, since as a local, she finds that there isn't as much to do around here, but I thought otherwise.

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I flew into Brussels Charleroi late at night and took a shuttle bus to the hotel nearby. The hotel is nowhere close to the city centre, as Charleroi is approximately 30-45 minutes away from the city by train. With this, I flew in, checked in to the hotel at midnight and checked out first thing in the morning and headed towards Brussels. Just for your information, the rest of my trip involves me taking the train from Bruxelles Gare du Midi. From here, I had booked a train to Paris Gare du Nord, with the train companyThaly's. I must say that the service on the train was fantastic and so was all the process before getting on the train. The train itself was clean and the most important part was that there was no delay. In saying this, Thaly's always have excellent deals that fit the budget of us students and young adults, with trips everyday to and from destinations in the area such as Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Lille, Cologne, Rotterdam, Aachen and Dusseldorf. With these destinations, you get to fully benefit from travels at a fairly low cost, while saving a lot of time as well.

Moving right along, I arrived at Bruxelles Gare du Midi and found lockers for my suitcases without a single problem. This is a great option for those stopping by like me and would prefer to leave luggages behind for a more relaxed day. I can't exactly recall the price for the lockers, but it was a great deal! I honestly expected to pay a little bit more, so for the massive storage space that I got, I was extremely satisfied. The best thing about the lockers is that they are located just minutes from the entrance of the Thaly's train.

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With our bags stored, we are ready to take on the Belgian capital. With the ticket that I had purchased from the train station at Charleroi, I was able to travel within the capital without a problem. Technically, you could walk from Bruxelles Gare du Midi all the way to the city centre where all the attractions are, but this could take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes as I was informed. Since I wanted to make the most out of my short stop over before my train later in the afternoon, I decided to take the train from this station to Gare de Bruxelles-Central. From here, all the famous monuments and attractions are just minutes away!

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We can start off by visiting the most famous spot in the whole city. This place is none other than La Grande Place. Just like what the English translation is, this spot in the middle of the city is a massive place. It is not just any other open spots you have been through, though. I would say that it is a proper square here, with proper, really stunning architecture and that is amazingly well-preserved. I really can't stress how beautiful this place is and the best option is to take a panorama 360 degree view of the whole square, because there isn't a part that is more beautiful than another. Since I had my old phone at the time, I did not have the privilege to take this kind of shot. So rather than just crying on the side walk about it, I took multiple pictures, so hopefully you will be able to mentally stitch all these images together to (roughly) imagine what this absolutely stunner looks like.

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Also known as Grote Markt in the Dutch language, The Grand Place is on the official list of the exclusive World Heritage Site as per UNESCO. Its history stretches as far back as the 10th century when the nearby area was constructed as a fort and a strategic point for the on going wars and conflicts. It later developed into a market where trade blossomed and with the dynamics of supply and demand, comes power. A few hundred years later, the square then became a central point for the political power holders, as well as a symbol for commerce and trade. One of the main reasons, other than its rich history, that appealed to UNESCO, is the interesting combination in styles of the architecture of the whole square. According to UNESCO, there is a strong appreciation for the blend in styles of this square as it illustrates the true identity of the region's cultures and society. Another reason as to why The Grand Place is on the World Heritage list is because the monuments remain very well-maintained, despite all the conflicts it has faced over its history. In addition, the square is also a reflection of the very successful period in trade and commerce here in the Northern part of mainland Europe.

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If UNESCO has such a strong passion and appreciation for this beautiful monument, what excuses do you have to not pay a visit to the square?! If you are ever in Brussels, or Belgium or even in nearby countries, The Grand Place is an absolute must visit. Not to mention the famous Floral Carpet that lays right in the middle of the Grote Markt. Only from August 12 until August 16 will you see this massive carpet of colourful and expertly decorated flowers lie in the square. Just to give you a better idea, the carpet will measure 75 metres in length and 24 metres in width, which would equate to about 300 flowers per square meter! The first event of the Flower Carpet was held officially in 1986 and has been attraction tourists from all over the world. The down side though, is that this spectacular event is held only every two years, so this makes it one of those things that you really need to mark on the calendar way ahead of time. Needless to say, I did not know of this event until I had left Brussels, so I missed it for my whole life and will have to wait until the summer of this year!

From this point, you really can go in any direction. Since I started my trip quite early in the morning, I was really hungry by the time I finished checking out the square. There are certain items that you should have here while in Belgium. Some of these dishes include Moules Frites (cooked mussels in home-made, usually white wine-based sauce, served with french fries), Waffles and of course, French Fries. I have always been confused as to why French Fries are called french fries when people say that they actually come from Belgium. I didn't really bother looking up the official history or where it actually comes from, but all I will say is that whoever came up with the method of making french fries from ordinary potatoes is a true genius and a legend in the every sense of the word.

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If you look up french fries in Brussels, there will be a few places to get them, as recommended by other travellers. Since I did not have the luxury of wifi internet with me all the time, I soon got lost and managed to not find any of the places I had planned to go on my little french fries list. This wasn't a problem though, since I got lost and stumbled upon a place with a long queue. This place is called De Pistolei, which is apparently another well-known spot around here. De Pistolei is a place that specializes in sandwiches, breakfast dishes and some fast foods. Words on the streets of Brussels have it that they do justice with their french fries here and that they're exceptionally tasty. I mean, how good can french fries really be? I don't think I have ever had bad french fries in my life, other than when they're so terrible from not being cooked through. As you could see from my picture, the line for lunch was quite long, so I didn't bother lining up despite all the hype and fuss about this place. With this, I quickly snapped a picture then moved on.

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To my luck, I did manage to find another place and this time without a line. I was very lucky because there wasn't a line in front of me, but I was actually the first person to form a line! This joint is creatively named Belgian Frites. I swear that it was like meant to be and as if all the luck was on my side for lunch, since one, I didn't have to line up, and two, Belgian Frites happens to be in the running for one of the best french fries places in Brussels. The Belgians take their french fries very seriously and every place seem to have a strong sense of pride what the frites that are served to their customers.

Belgian Frites actually has three different sections. The first section is like their "restaurant" where you place your order, take a seat at a proper table and the order will then be brought to you by one of the team members. The second option is what I did, which was to order at the window / counter, and grab my order when it's finish. This option will only work if you order simple items like what I did, as in just french fries, or a simple sandwich. This option would also allow you to take a seat on the counter bar, but having a pint of beer instead of eating a sandwich with french fries rather - now that I think of it, some local beer at the time with the meal could have done some good. With this order that I received from the counter, I went to the third section, which is their outdoor, terrace seating. It was an absolutely fantastic day so I had this wonderful local treat under a bit of sun and some nice breeze, which is always a great idea.

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In saying this, I had gone for possible the least healthy item on the menu, which was a classic half baguette bread, sandwiching a sausage then stuffed with frites then topped with sauces of my choice. I had no idea what sausage I got, since I just pointed at what looked good on the grill at the time. The sandwich also had some sauteed onions, which is also a good friend for these sorts of sandwiches. With this, I topped up Andalouse sauce on my freshly cooked frites. To those not familiar with this sauce, Andalouse is a sauce that is like a combination of mayonnaise, a little bit of tomato ketchup or tomato paste, with a touch of chopped peppers. Once again, different places seem to have their own house version of the sauce, but I could personally recommend that this sandwich with frites and andalouse sauce is "the way" to start off your day, both for breakfast (if you dare), lunch and dinner (if you dare again). It was so good and so authentic that I would not mind going back just to get some more - if anything I know that the train deals with Thaly's are the "bomb".

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The staff here are also super friendly and we had a nice chat in French. We also talked about some of the places to visit around here, which is always a good idea since there's nothing better than getting recommendations from the locals, right? But if you would like to be a tourist and enjoy food in what I would describe as "an area for tourists", then head over to Rue des Bouchers. This little street is very similar to that in the Cluny - La Sorbonne area minutes from the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. All along this narrow street, you will have restaurants to both your left and your right, with at least one person representing the restaurant out at the front, speaking at least four different languages and trying to get you to be their customer. While I do like the dynamics of the business dealing of this place, I have my assumption that the food will have local flavours. The cuisines offered here are quite diverse, but essentially many of the places around here serve the classic dish of Moules Frites. It was at this point that I felt that I made the best decision of the day to buy that sandwich with frites at Belgian Frites, since it costed me half of what the tourists would be in one of these restaurants along Rue des Bouchers.

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After just wandering around cluelessly, I ended up in what was like a small "mall" that looks like something you would find in Asia. I did not expect to see a building with the entire floor occupied by "street wears" like hoodies, shirts, jackets and of course, sneakers. These items are also priced quite low, which makes me think about their authenticity. That aside, I had no intention to do anything shopping here in Brussels, but I find the contrasts between the classic and the modern culture and society to be fascinating. I have mentioned in my previous posts about other cities, namely Melbourne, that a balanced contrast between the old and the new is always the difference for me when I visit a place.

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And this brings it full circle to the first part of my afternoon here in Brussels! You know what this means. If not, this means stay tuned for the second part of what I will be sharing with you guys here in Brussels, and trust me, something big is on the way. In addition to this something, I will also be covering another must try food item here in Belgium. Won't be long!

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Cheers!

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