We departed Ostend at about 9am for the hour and a half drive to Brussels, after our guide had to track down several members of the tour group who decided to fully experience what the night life had to offer.
Once again it poured with rain the entire drive and we were greeted with soggy skies as we arrived in Belgium's capital. Brussels has a population of about 2 million and despite being located in Flanders is largely French speaking. However signs, menus and information are provided in 4 languages: French, Flemish, Dutch and English. Brussels is also home to the headquarters of both NATO and the European Parliament.
We were dropped off near the Cathedral of Saint Michele, yet another example of gothic architecture dating back to the 13th century... We decided to begin our exploring in the Grande Place, or Markt (Main Square). The medieval hub of the city which is surrounded by what were Guild Halls but are now largely shops, cafes and museums. On the way to the Place we stumbled across a covered street lined with shops (The Galerie Saint-Hubert), perhaps one of the world's first shopping malls. Along this stretch there were more chocolate shops as well as the Tintin Shop (Herge, creator of Tintin was Belgian).
Upon reaching the Markt we were greeted by a meeting of local scout troups so quickly visited the tourist centre and continued on our way to Brussels' most famous landmark...the Manneken-Pis. A small fountain, featuring the figure of a small boy urinating, it is located on a street corner and is a little underwhelming and easily missed if not for the crowds of tourists photographing it. The origins of the statue are a mystery and many legends surround it's inspirations.
Thankfully by now the weather had fined up and we headed back to the main square and visited a cafe for waffles and coffee. The waffles were well worth the wait...chocolately and sugary and delicious. We then headed to the City Museum, which was full of the standard exhibits documenting the history of Brussels, however the top floor was dedicated to the Manneken-Pis. This room was worth the price of admission as several times a month the statue is dressed in a costume, and many of the previous 800 or so costumes were on show. Most of the costumes depicted certain nationalities, although sadly Australia was not represented. We proposed an outfit of stubbies, a blue singlet and Blundstone boots would be appropriate and as many Aussie blokes will quite happily wee in public I felt that it would be most apt!!
Tiana and Carolyn decided to visit the chocolate museum while I wandered the nearby streets and enjoyed the Art Noveau architecture dotted about the place and some of the innovative and intriguing street and public art.
A planned visit to the Palais Royale and it's gardens unfortunately had to be shelved when we were unable to find them however we enjoyed strolling the streets and stopped for a beer at a beautiful little pub.
For dinner we headed back to the Square and ate at a small, cosy Brasserie. Traditional Flemish meatballs served with a tomato sauce (and Pomme Frites...of course!!).
Brussels was an interesting mix of old and new, with many of the modern buildings reflecting some element of the Medieval origins of the city. Unfortunately there was not time to explore the many museums as many of the most influential artists of the 20th century were Belgian including Miro, and Surrealism had it's origins here.
Back to Ostend and a very quiet night as it had been a long day.