Poor Belgium. It is a tiny country that is unfairly eclipsed by the glamour and wealth of France to its south. Brussels is an exquisite city, but lives in the shadow of flamboyant Paris 162 miles away. As such, it is also less touristy and allowed us tourist-hating tourists to explore it in peace and quiet.
The only museum I was interested in checking out was the Magritte Museum, having been a long-time fan. It’s kind of lame that they don’t allow photography inside, because the exhibition setup was unique. Magritte’s work was accompanied by his thoughts and quotes on the walls, and they put many of his lesser-known graphic design work on display. You won’t find his more famous paintings here, but like the Van Gogh Museum, the exhibition does a good job at showing how Magritte grew and evolved as an artist. I wish we had more time for the Contemporary Museum in the same building.
Flex had recommended the Musical Instruments Museum, which I was thoroughly skeptical about. But we trusted his taste in things so off we went, and we were glad we did. MIM is housed in a five- or six-story Art Deco building, and showcases a huge collection of old instruments from around the world. To my utmost ignorant eye, most of them look like some kind of mutant spawn of recognizable Western instruments.
The coolest part of the museum is that the headset each person gets automatically senses which instruments you’re standing in front of, and plays a recording of the instruments. I just wish there were some videos of the musicians playing some of these things because it’s hard to get a sense of how an instrument is held and played.
The next day, N and I explored the Grand-Place, which is a must-see. The square is surrounded on all sides by old Belgian architecture, and above them all looms the over-the-top Brussels Town Hall. We had more chocolate (of course), walked through the area and took obligatory photos of the Manneken Pis.
I find it strange that the Belgians idolize this fountain. He even has a billion outfits for different holidays, but he was naked the day we visited. The whole area is swamped with tourists so we didn’t stay long, but we did stay long enough to have Belgian waffles at Maison Dandoy. Oh man… Makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
Flex had one more interesting recommendation: the Atomium, created for the World Fair in 1958. We took a tram to the edge of the city and saw it immediately, in all of its shiny metallic splendor. Who comes up with these ideas for the World Fair and how do they do it? On drugs, that’s how. We were feeling cheap and decided not to go inside, but that’s probably our biggest regret because we heard it’s pretty cool inside. Damn us and our frugality!
To say Brussels was our amuse-bouche before Paris would be grossly unfair to Belgium. Despite its size and lack of popularity compared to the grand cities of its neighbor, Brussels can definitely hold its own. It is a lovely place to relax, eat good food and to get some culture.
For more photos of our time in Brussels, check out our Flickr album.