A morning walk, Brussels

The heat in Paris last summer was unbearable. I figured Brussels would be cooler. I grabbed the train to the Gare du Midi. The Southern Station. (Above at the Gare du Midi: Tintin in America, second Tintin album)

I had a drink at a local friendly bar. Try the new shot. Only 5 Euros. “Feck P*tin”.

I hopped to the Grand-Place. Using my newly acquired panoramic techniques. Clearly COVID was over in Europe. Well, on the Continent maybe. We’d caught the ghastly bug in London two weeks before.

Circling the Grand-Place clockwise: to the left, City Hall, the Hôtel de Ville, built in the 1400’s. Most buildings on the Grand-Place are from the 1400’s to the 1600’s, a time of wealth and power for the entire region.

To the west, facing us at the centre, is the “Roy d’Espagne”, the King of Spain. A brasserie we went to on an international meeting years ago. My Spanish colleague refused to stay: “There are Spaniards hanging from the ceiling.” Puppets. A reminder of Spain’s iron rule over Flanders. And massacres at the hand of the Duke of Alba. (Turning clockwise again:)

In the centre, the grey building is the Maison du Roi, the King’s House. Torn down and rebuilt in the 19th century. À l’ancienne.

Facing us, the Kings’ House and the North side of the Grand-Place. To the right, on the east side of the Grand-Place, is the House of the Dukes of Brabant. After 1695, and the bombing of Brussels by the French troops of Louis 14th (oops), that section was torn down and re-built in 1698. Three years? Surely you jest? No machines? Running water? No. Electricity? No. That might explain the short delays. Or were they more efficient? (Less norms too).

No trip to Brussels would be complete without fries. Which, BTW, are not French. The Belgians invented them.

And beer. Don’t forget beer. Some of my ancestors were brewers 50 miles down south around the 16-17th century.

De bankier met zijn vrouw. The banker and his wife. Based on Quentin Metsys. Anvers, 16th century. Beaux-Arts museum, Brussels. (A very fine museum). He counts the money, she is reading a prayer book. Thick warm clothes. Wool made the fortune of the Northern provinces then.

Hop to the 20th century: Broussaille, right, and his girlfriend, Catherine, left, with the short black hair. Belgium is the cradle of “Franco-Belgian” comics. This particular charming series was started by Frank Pé in the 80’s in Spirou. Series seems to be on hold. Broussaille and Catherine were a charming pair. They still grace the walls of Brussels. Watch the details carefully. They’re walking on air. (One might also compare the clothes and attitude with the banker and his wife.)

St-Michael and St-Gudula cathedral. The patron saints of Brussels. The cathedral’s main construction lasted from the 11th to the 16th century. Five centuries.

“Honey! Did you pick Junior at school?”

René Magritte. (1898-1967). He was the main Belgian participant in André Breton’s Surrealist movement. A magnificent artist. I visit his museum just about any time I go to Brussels. In this photograph, Magritte is posing near his own rendition of Fantomas. See another below:

“Le retour de la flamme”. The return of the flame. Magritte museum. 1943. Painted in occupied Brussels. Fantomas was a master of crime – and elegance – developed by Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain in France before WWI. A character Magritte liked very much. (Or so I’m told)

Jimmy Stewart was here. Want a hat? (Aw shucks.)

The census of Bethlehem, by Peter Brueghel the elder. Mary is in the centre foreground riding on a donkey as she and Joseph arrive to be registered. Brueghel paints Bethlehem as a village in Flanders in 1566. The peasants, the snow. The iced canals… Whenever I look at one of his paintings I can see the way my ancestors lived.

Wanna ride?

Olivier Rameau and Colombe Tiredaile. (Names are almost impossible to translate). A series from the journal of Tintin starting in the late sixties. Scenario by Greg, art by Dany. A very poetic series of the “golden age” of comics.

Let’s have a Kriek (Cheery beer) in a glass of “Mort subite” (Sudden Death, a strooong Belgian beer) with the Brugse Zot (The Fool from Bruges) on the Place de Brouckère…

Place de Brouckere. Only the façade remains, held by the scaffolding, and the words of a song:

“Et la Place de Brouckère aux serpents de néon (“And the Square of Brouckere of the neon snakes)

Inscrit dans le ciel le nom de Bruxelles ” (Writes in the sky the name of Brussels.”)

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Mesdames et Messieurs, Dames en Heren, please welcome: Jacques Brel.”

That’s all for Brussels today folks. Remember, wherever you are, drink a “Feck P*tin” shot, and above all:

Free Ukraine 🇺🇦

125 thoughts on “A morning walk, Brussels

  1. Fabulous tour of Brussels, Brian. I visited about 10 years ago (déjà!). I loved the Musée Magritte and the cherry Kriek et les gaufres! There’s a beautiful art deco cathedral, can’t remember the name. But very unique. We don’t hear much about Brussels but it’s got quite a character.

    • 10 ans déjà… Ça passe. Brussels is one of my top five cities… It is a quiet city, though it is the centre of the European Union… But very pleasant. Belgians are incredibly nice people.

  2. What a wonderful trip to strange Brussels, Brian. The great Grand Place, or Grote markt, in all it’s glory, the extraordinairy Flemish art, the history, certainly of the Netherlands, not only present Belgium but also ‘my’ country (Our William the Silent, prince of Orange, the one who fought the Spaniards in the 8o years war, was born and raised there, he spoke French, not Dutch). And just outside the historic centre the poor immigrant neighbourhoods and somewhat further to the east the institutions of the European Union, the United States of Europe in the making. A vibrant city, not easy to grasp nor love, but one of the most interesting places of Europe.

    • It is very close. Which is why there has always been a lot of exchange between England and Flanders. Trade, culture, even architecture. Painters crossed the Chanel to paint at the English court…
      very nice places indeed.

      • It’s a longer crossing from Yorkshire, it takes all night, so you have a nice meal then sleep & wake up in Europe, very pleasant! I think the Dover crossing is only 90mins

      • Nice – its a longways from Yorkshire, if you get the ferry to Hull, you can visit places like York, Leeds, Hull itself etc, the pace of life here is much slower!

      • I must confess a relative ignorance ignorance of English geography in detail. I’ve been to England countless times but always stayed in London. I know where Scotland is, Wales, Cornwall, Liverpool, but if you ask me where Sussex or Shropshire is, I’ll go “Er…”.
        You guys are up North near the “border” right? (With Scotland)

      • Thats right! YEs, there’s a lot to see outside of London, the geology is interesting, I believe Scotland began its life (as a land mass) on the other side of the earth from the rest of us! Certainly there is a different landscape up there, it gets more rugged as you travel north, there’s less over development, so you do see more dilapidated history, as opposed to the more tourist developed stuff down south, I think its better up north in many ways – a visit to Edinburgh you would enjoy I’m sure – have a we dram on a cold day! 🙂

      • Definitely. I’ve been meaning to take more time to spend in the UK. The paradox is I know Germany a lot more than the UK. I did a lot of work in Continental Europe in many cities. Yet I worked for a Brit company. But all meanings in the UK were in London. LOL.
        I also have a mind to go to Cornwalls. Walk the cliffs. And Edinburg is on the list. A “we dram”? Must be some kind of draught beer? 😉

  3. I’ve been to Brussels a few times and loved the city and its architecture as much as I loved its amazing street art! Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 I hope all is well 🙂 Aiva xx

  4. It is a capital I have not visited, but going by your post, I should have included it on one of my itineraries. I probably would have if Covid had not come along. Love the Dutch gables and the age of those buildings. I don’t drink shots but agree with the sentiment around it.

  5. Brussels is one of the many cities I haven’t been yet in Europe. I was in Liège, because a friend of mine lived there (loved it), but now you have made we wish to see Brussels. 🙂 I am a big Jacques Brel fan too. I have an ancient LP of him.

  6. I went to Brussels for one day last summer. My first visit. Unfortunately, most of the Grand Place was blocked off for restoration work. I need to go back, in part to see that spectacular central square in all its glory and also to visit the Magritte Museum. It was on our list but we didn’t make it in.

    I love the Bruegel winter scene that you’ve included. So few artists depicted scenes of everyday life back in his day. He left future generations with such a wonderful gift.

    I was waiting for one of your pictures to show a display of phallus-shaped donuts that seem to be quite the rage in Brussels. They were in many bakery display cases the day that I visited.

    Always up for a bit of bande dessinée lore. Thanks for sharing your trip.

  7. Such an amazing post , I love the tour and art. Brussels is one of my favorite cities, I have very fond memories of it, I also think they have the best coffee and chocolate. Thank you dear Brian!

  8. My only trip to Brussels was in 2012. Love this city! I wish I had spent more time here–this was a stop-over on my way to Brugges. Thank you for sharing the pictures. I will put Brussels back on my “to visit”list! Robyn

  9. Merci Brian pour le tour de Bruxelles . Tu as bien choisi tes prises de vue traitant de divers thèmes. A Arras ville où j’habitais avant Amiens il y a deux belles places ceinturées de maisons à pignons et un beffroi qui rappellent en plus modeste la place de Bruxelles .
    Comme toujours tu nous fait connaitre le plaisir des voyages

      • Il faudra que j’y aille. Il y a tellement de belles choses en France. Et honnêtement, je me fais un peu vieux. J’ai des problèmes de dos qui me rendent la voiture insupportable au bout d’une heure. or l’idéal pour visiter la France ce serait en voiture… 🚙

  10. A lovely trip, Brian. Thanks for sharing!
    Covid is not over. Western countries are managing it. China is mismanaging it. The rest… good luck.
    I am vaccinated & careful & wash my hand lots. People need to be active, or our economies suffer.

  11. I swear somewhere on my blog is that frie guy, just in a different setting. How’s that for a career? Making odd looking hospitality features!?! Belgium is such a wonderful country to visit. I’m sure you were beeing caraful with those Belgian Beers 😉

  12. Free Ukraine indeed!!!

    The first time I passed through Brussels was as a teenager. We were on an exchange trip to Trier actually, but our teacher plan a stop break in Brussels. We were separated into groups and my two friends and I had firsts dibs on protecting everyones luggage. When we were finally relieved of our duties, we wandered out of thd ‘wrong exit’ and off to the red light district. Rather intimidating for three hapless young girls! 😂

    By the way my first trip to Paris was for a long weekend with my to be husband. Coming from Edinburgh (though I live in Germany now) I was shocked by the heat. Wandering through the various tourist attractions, I was melting. Then a cheerful young man offered me a bottle of water. And I thought how kind, what a friendly thing to do! I tried to take it without payment, and he wasn’t best pleased! I felt like such an idiot when I realised!

  13. Don’t know how I missed this Brian, I guess I’ve not been paying attention these last weeks, but it’s great to see Brussels through your eyes. Have you also visited Magritte’s house in Jette? A very normal house on a very normal street for an artist for whom normal wasn’t a thing. The Tin Tin picture always makes me smile when I arrive at Midi. Hope all’s well.

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