Sunday, 9 March 2014

The first few days in Brussels...

Well hello from Brussels! Yes, I am in Brussels. Because that is where I live now. Woah. Weird. But exciting.

Vibrant at night.
I've been here for a whole four days now, and over those four days I've seen so much, walked so far round the city and taken so many pictures that I'm not even really sure where to start. I know I've been a very bad blogger in having been silent over those four days, but y'all can imagine how it is when you move to a new city - it's all a bit like WOAH and there always lots of fun (and by fun I mean boring) things to sort out.

Here's the overall impression I've got of Brussels so far: it's buzzy, it's cosmopolitan, it's young, it's interesting. And I really like it! Brussels isn't like Paris, and of course, I love Paris, but I think I'm going to really love Brussels too... I tell you what, I've seen so many trendy/cool/delicious-looking eateries and stylish/interesting/quirky shops that I just can't wait to try out.

I've also been very lucky in that the weather for my first few days has been SENSATIONAL! I mean, actually summer-like. People, I've had my arms and shoulders exposed to the world for the first time since I-can't-remember-when, yesterday my legs were sweltering in my thick tights and I've been legit sunbathing. It hit 21C today and the weather forecast for the week ahead is looking TOP NOTCH. Yay! And of course, exploring a city is always best when set to a backdrop of blue sky and sunshine.

And oh, what a lot of exploring I've done!

Can I live here please?
Finding a flat can be a somewhat stressful business, but one good thing is that it gives you a reason to visit and explore different areas of your new hometown. As I've gone from flat-viewing to flat-viewing, I've gradually started to get my bearings round Brussels, and doing it all by foot means I'm starting to see how all the different areas link up.

I've always said that the best way to get to know a city is simply to walk around it, and I stand by that. There's so much to see and to explore! I love it.

Love it
Brussels may be the capital of Europe, but I know it's not actually a big city compared to the likes of London and Paris. To me, however, coming from little Bayreuth, Brussels seems HUGE! It's big and exciting and trendy and pretty. Did I mention I like it already?

My first couple of days here were spent viewing flats, exploring the city and doing adminny things like opening a bank account. Woo.

On Saturday, though, I decided it was high time I did some touristing. So, to start the day off I wandered right into the city centre and treated myself to that most classic of Brussels delicacies: THE WAFFLE. And oh, what a waffle it was!

I usually find waffles a little bit meh. But this, my friends, was so far from meh. It. Was. AMAZING!

Ooh that first bite!
I went for a traditional Brussels waffle - they're the rectangular ones made of dough without sugar - smothered in nutella, strawberries, more nutella (because I asked for it... Wouldn't you?) and a dusting of icing sugar.

Me: "J'aime beaucoup de nutella, s'il vous plait."
I've learnt that the other type of waffle, a Li├Ęge waffle, are those ones that are less strictly rectangular, chewier and made with sweetened dough - the idea is that you don't go so heavy on the toppings but I'm not judging if you do. Y'all know what my next waffle is going to have to be, don't you?

Not sure I took enough waffle pictures...
So, with nutella all over my face along with a massive contented grin, I wandered over to the very heart of Brussels, the Grand Place, to finish my waffle in the sunshine.

Yup, another waffle pic. (Different background, you see.)
Grand Place is an absolutely gorgeous, ornate, impressive, interesting, old square. Have a look for yourself...

Grand Place
Grand Place again
Oh, and look at that, some more Grand Place
Finishing my waffle as quickly as I could (whilst savouring every mouthful, of course), I joined the Sandemans Free Walking Tour of Brussels. Regular blog-readers may have heard me sing the praises of Sandemans free European walking tours before (I've been on theirs in Prague and Berlin) as I think they're absolutely fantastic.

For as little or as much money as you feel you want to give, an entertaining, enthusiastic, interesting guide (we had Fraser) led our large English-speaking group round all the main sights in Brussels, teaching us about the history of the city as we went.

Mannequin Pis
We saw the oh-so-random yet iconic image of Brussels, Mannequin Pis, and I mean what the bajeezus is this about? It's hilarious, and he's surprisingly tiny. Apparently, he has lots of different outfits and is dressed up for special occasions. I'll have to look out for that.

We also learned about the street art in the city, which was very interesting. As well as showing us the key sights, Fraser pointed out his favourite haunts and gave us lots of useful hints and tips for how to get the best of Brussels.

By the Opera house
The Palace
The Cathedral (although this pic is from sunset the night before)
We saw lots of other landmarks and sights too, but I shan't bombard you. To sum up, it was a great tour, whether you're a tourist visiting for a weekend or someone who actually lives in the city and wants to know a little more about it. Three hours very well spent!

D'you know what's another good way to kill time in Brussels on a budget? Go from chocolate shop to chocolate shop eating free samples. Seriously. I did this the other day and it was awesome. There are a LOT (both of chocolate shops and free samples.) 

But what else is Belgium famous for food-wise? FRITES! Yes, I need to get on the chips asap, I know. You know how everyone calls them French fries? Well, I learned on the walking tour that that's only because American soldiers didn't realise they'd crossed the border into Belgium when they 'discovered' and named the fries. Apparently Belgians do NOT like it if you ask for French fries.

Speaking of French food though, for my first day here I had a pain au chocolat for breakfast and baguette for lunch, both eaten outside in parks, so I was feeling pretty French to be fair. (Yes, I'm totally ignoring the fact that these foods are available all round the world.)

OK yum
And speaking of parks, Brussels has got a lot of lovely ones!

Leopold Park
Today I met up with a load of young assistants and the like who work at the European Parliament (there are a lot of them, which is cool) and we spent the afternoon picnicking and sunbathing by the fountain in the beautiful Parc du Cinquantenaire...

From one side...
And then the other.
Brussels seems to be a place where everyone is very open and friendly because there are always people coming and going and new'uns arriving.

Of course, we were speaking English all day though. Whilst on the walking tour, our guide said he reckons he'd speak more French during two weeks in Paris than two months in Brussels. And now I can totally see that. It is going to be seriously hard to speak French here. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, speaks English. It's kinda frustrating and worrying. 

Obviously I'm going to try as hard as I can to speak as much French as possible, but it's not going to be easy. At the moment it's proving extra difficult because my mind is still totally in German mode. This, dear friends, is driving my slightly mad.

It's not that I'm thinking in German, as such - I'm thinking in English, obvs - but whenever I try to speak French, the German equivalents come to me. I find myself dropping in German words without realising, and also being unable to conjure up even the simplest of French vocab because all I can think of is the German. 

Oh, French
And it's not just vocab either - I keep trying to use German grammar rules and sentence structure in French! So I'll automatically want to send the verb to the end of the sentence after using parce que or I'll be thinking I need the dative case after avec. I realise that might not mean much to those of you who don't know French and German, but to sum up, it's all muddled and I can't speak French any more wahhh.

Another language issue? The Flemish. Brussels is supposedly a French-speaking bubble in the Flemish-speaking area of Belgium, yet absolutely everything is written twice: once in French, once in Flemish (and actually, more often than not, a third time in English.)

I know there's the complicated history behind it all, but to me, it just seems silly. And I'll be honest, I don't love not being able to understand it all. #languagestudentproblems

I want them!
But language grievances aside, as I've said, I like Brussels! And it's interesting to learn more about Belgium. Did you know that here they kiss just on one cheek, unlike their smoochy smoochy French counterparts? I didn't, but now I do and so do you.

Oh, and everything suddenly seems so EXPENSIVE to me after having lived in Bayreuth for six months. It's crazy. Good thing I didn't go to Paris or else I'd probably have a heart attack at the prices. Pleasingly though, and unlike in Bayreuth, there are some shops actually open on Sundays. This is amazing as far as I'm concerned.

And now it's the night before I start my internship! I went to check out where my office is today: International Press Centre, people. Eeeeeeeeep! I'm really excited but also rather nervous. Obviously I want to make a good first impression, and Oh Lordy what do I wear?!

Wish me luck and I hope you'll enjoy discovering Brussels with me. Do let me know your thoughts!


  1. Replies
    1. I'm glad you think so (and I agree!) X

  2. I'm so jealous, it looks amazing! Also want to say that the photo of the cathedral at sunset is spectacular, one of the best photos I have seen. The waffles look damn good too! x

    1. Thanks Chloe. I tell you what, I'm craving another one of those waffles already! May have to treat myself again tomorrow... :) X

  3. Brussels looks absolutely incredible- you've made me want to go there now! That waffle looks perfect too- you can never have too much nutella! Good luck with your internship! Alice xx

    1. Yay, glad to hear it, Alice! Thanks so much :) x

  4. I hope the first day went well :) I took a little notebook into mine when I was starting out and it quickly became a lifesaver! All of the vocab and things to remember went straight in there.
    These pictures take me back to my trip to Brussels in December 2010 when I wandered drunkenly around with a friend for a few days, eating nothing but chips and waffles! Go for the frites and smother them in mayonnaise! Then post loads of photos so I can drool. Fancy a year abroad exchange? :)
    Lucy xxx
    La Lingua : Food, Life, Love, Friends, Travel, Italy

    1. Thanks Lucy! All is going wonderfully thanks. Ha ha that sounds like a lot of fun, and would you believe just a couple of hours ago I was devouring a massive cone of beautiful Belgian frites smothered in mayo! (You know I've instagrammed photos...) Ha ha year abroad exchange, GREAT idea. Hope you're having fun! xxx


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