A smooth ferry crossing to France, we disembarked in Calais and had an easy, one and a half hour drive on straight and not too busy roads to Brussels. Our trusty sat-nav took us right to the centre of the city and our hotel without incident or hassle. Bags were speedily thrust into the hotel room and we set out to explore. Having driven off from our Dover hotel after breakfast it was great to be ready to start our Brussels sightseeing the same afternoon. I love this city – one of my favourites and once the seat of emperors it has a charming old world feel and a compact city centre that is so easy to explore.
We started in the focal point of the city – the Grand Place. This huge square with its 17th century guildhouses bustles with people and is all space and sparkling grandeur. Arriving in the Grand Place always gets to me, this time was no different. Son was devouring his first (of many) oozing chocolate waffles and we were ambling around the narrow cobbled streets that surround the square, admiring shop windows and the architecture. We stepped, almost inadvertently, into the Grand Place and our perspective suddenly zoomed wide. From narrow and quaint, you are hit with a vast space full of gilded facades, gold sculptures on rooftops and breath-taking beauty.
We didn’t know what to look at first – the gabled guildhouses, the Town Hall, the King’s House – everything is simply stunning. Son loved the Town Hall with its Gothic facade and spires. This is apparently the only building to escape bombardment by the French in 1695 – a bit ironic when it was their main target. More than five thousand wooden buildings were destroyed but everything was faithfully rebuilt by the merchants guilds and became the headquarters of these traders who controlled politics and commerce in medieval times. All very ornate, all adorned with statues and all very impressive. Number 9 was the headquarters of the Butchers’ Guild but apparently Karl Marx lived here when he wrote the Communist Manifesto. Number 26 also had a famous inhabitant – it was once home to Victor Hugo.
The Town Hall was built in 1482, Son and I stood well back to look at the spire and the magnificent details. Full of figures, each one is different, we challenged each other to choose our favourite. The tower is slightly off centre, I read that legend has it the architect discovered his mistake and jumped from the tower to his death.
We strolled around the cobbled square in the daytime when the sun sparkled on the golden buildings and it was gorgeous. However my favourite time in the Grand Place was late in the evening when it was dark. The whole place was lovely, all lit up and very atmospheric plus the crowds and crowds of tourists had dispersed.
One regret about this lovely square – we had come just a bit too early – two weeks to be precise. Every two years in the third week of August they decorate the square with a carpet of flowers. Colourful and magnificent but we only got to see pictures and postcards of this spectacle. Maybe next time. It was not just me who left loving Brussels, Husband and Son easily came round to my way of thinking. I’m sure we’ll be back.