Belgium, April 2015

IMG_3911Yesterday I finally had the time to go through my photos of Brussels and Bruges/Brugge. Here is a random collection of some of my favorites.

And while I’m at it, I have a few recommendations for anyone visiting Brussels:

1. Thematic maps. Go to the Visit Brussels tourist office, which is not far from the central train station, and ask for their “theme” maps (cost: 1 euro each). IMG_3736We bought the Art Nouveau/Art Deco map and the Comic Art map (oh, and the food lovers’ map). These small, illustrated maps take you on a walking tour of Brussels, so you don’t waste any time, e.g., trying to find a specific Art Deco building or comic strip mural on your own. Very helpful.

We really enjoyed exploring Brussels using these thematic maps. IMG_3884 Without them, we might not have noticed the Tintin comic mural on our way to see the Manneken Pis (the small bronze statue of a little boy peeing into a fountain’s basin). I took a few photos of the Manneken Pis, but it’s so famous that I decided to post a photo of the Tintin mural instead (photo no. 3, to the left).

So yes, highly recommended. The maps, I mean.

2. Chocolate. In Brussels, everywhere you turn, everywhere you look, there is a chocolate shop. And I mean: everywhere! I have never seen–or smelled!–anything like it. A chocoholic’s idea of heaven. ;-)

There are so many different chocolatiers that you wonder what to do, which chocolate to try.IMG_3748 My advice is NOT to waste your palate on any of the chocolate created for the tourist market. Go directly to one of Pierre Marcolini’s shops (and no, unfortunately I am not getting paid in chocolate to write this recommendation, or in any other way for that matter!). Yes, true, Marcolini’s high quality chocolate is probably more expensive, but it’s so exquisite that you can eat less of it and feel completely satisfied…in chocolate heaven, in fact. Mmmmh. And even if you don’t like chocolate, walking into a Marcolini shop is like walking into a fancy jewelry shop…the chocolates are displayed like jewels…Many thanks to my gourmet friend Simonetta for recommending this chocolatier!IMG_3934

The day after we arrived in Brussels, it just so happened that Pierre Marcolini opened a shop devoted mainly to éclairs (photo no. 4, above). We went to the inauguration, of course!, and Stefano and I split an éclair–one of the most divine sweets I’ve ever tasted, and hey, let’s not forget that I live in Florence, which is full of amazing pastry shops! :-)IMG_3966

3. Accommodation (etc.). Try to stay in a hotel or B&B in the center of Brussels. We did that and were able to walk everywhere…except for one rainy/overcast day when we decided to take the tourist sightseeing bus, which took us out to the Atomium where, in spite of the rain, the queues were impossible, so we just stayed outside and took photos. See photo no. 5. Another place I highly recommend is the Horta Museum. Note: the hop-on-hop-off tourist bus takes you close to it. IMG_4047

4. Food. We didn’t eat tremendously well, I have to admit, in part because some of the recommended, family-operated restaurants were closed during part of our stay, but we did have delicious, organic breakfasts (in a café near our hotel…we went there every morning!) and one truly fantastic lunch…so if you are headed to Brussels, let me know, and I’ll tell you where they are. IMG_4484

Bruges (starting from photo no. 9, i.e., the waffle photo).

Well, I don’t know if I would call Bruges a “Venice of the North” (!), but it is certainly a very very very pretty and lively town with many canals and photo opportunities…well worth a visit. Make sure you go on a canal boat ride!

IMG_4339I could describe Bruges in four words: canals, tourists, cobblestones and…swans. Yes, swans. Lots of them. The swans of Bruges are actually quite tame (I watched children petting one of them, something I would never do…). And I came across a Medieval legend connected to the presence of swans in Bruges.

IMG_4331As follows (my summary of the legend I found online):

Pieter Lanchals, whose surname means ‘long neck,’ was one of the town administrators at the court of Maximilian of Austria (15th century). He tried to seize power in Bruges but was imprisoned and forced to watch the torture of his supporters. IMG_4271Lanchals was then executed in the Bruges market square. According to the legend, Maximilian of Austria punished Bruges by obliging the population to keep ‘long necks,’ that is, swans, on their lakes and canals until eternity.

IMG_4411Well, whatever the reason for the presence of all these swans, I must say that they added beauty and elegance to our visit and photos. So do make sure to walk to the square where most of them gather…It’s quite a sight!

P.S. Hover over my photos if you would like to have a brief description of the places we visited. You can also make some of the photos bigger by clicking on them.