Brussels - The Grand Place

In the morning, we decided to check out the hotel's heavily promoted breakfast buffet. The dining room itself was uninviting, and except for a small, enthusiastic group of colorfully dressed Africans, everyone looked as forlorn as we had probably looked when we arrived the previous morning.

The buffet itself consisted mostly of bread, and since it cost about $8 per person, we decided to just have a cup of coffee and eat some of the snacks we had purchased in Hawaii to sustain us during our journey. We had seen signs advertising free coffee for hotel guests so Walt went to ask Jacob, who was once again on duty at the desk, where the free coffee could be found.

Confusion ensued, and somehow Walt got the impression that the buffet was also free for guests. Oopps. Stupid Americans. Jacob appeared to berate us for this misconception and also for toasting the raisin bread although there was nothing to indicate that only certain breads should be toasted. Walt apologized and tried to pay, but Jacob refused to accept the money.

The day wasn't beginning well, but things were about to improve. Soon after breakfast our old friends Jack and Aniko arrived to show us around the city they love.

Our first destination was Brussel's premier attraction - the Grand Place or Grote Markt. The site was the location for open air markets as early as the 11th century, but the area was destoyed by French cannon fire in 1695. Subsequently, the trade guilds rebuilt their halls, but they were sacked once again by revolutionaries in the late 18th century. Years of neglect followed until the buildings were restored in the late 19th Century.

This is what we saw when we first entered the square. I was enchanted.

Here's a picture of Jack and Aniko, and one of us standing in front of the town hall.

A close-up of the side of the town hall.

Here are some more shots of the buildings lining the square.

Our next stop was the famous statue known as Manneken Pis. There are many legends regarding the statue. One is that during a battle in the 12th Century, the young son of a duke was seen relieving himself against a tree. Another is that in an attempt to inspire the troops, the young lord was placed in a basket in a tree during the battle and that he urinated on the enemy from his perch. In any case, this apparent nonchalance became a symbol of courage in the face of battle.

The statue has a wardrobe of several hundred costumes, and its outfit is changed several times each week. On the day that we saw him, he was dressed as a janitor.

This is not the original statue, by the way. The statue has been stolen repeatedly, so the original is safely housed in a building on the Grand Place. As one would expect, Manneken Pis souvenirs abound and businesses build on the theme.

The city is also home to a more modern fountain and statue known as Jeanneke Pis. An iron fence protects her from vandalism, and she is located at the dead end of a narrow street.

The old adage that states "If you don't like the weather, wait a minute." is particularly true in Brussels. You may notice that the sky is bright and clear in the pictures taken at the Grand Place, but after a couple of hours, the sky clouded over and there was some rain. No worries, though. The sun soon came out again.

We stopped several times in the lovely cafes which populate the area to sample the many different beers that are available. These pictures were taken at one of those stops. My beer, on this occasion, is in the glass which says Mort Subite, which I believe means sudden death. It's a lambic beer made with cherries. Lambic beers are produced by spontaneous fermentation which gives them a dry, sour sort of taste. Very Refresing. We also tried some of the local delicacies. It was the season for one of Jack's favorites - moules-frites (mussels and fries which the locals prefer to eat with mayonnaise). Then, of course, there was the chocolate.

We also took a break to sample another Belgian delicacy - waffles. Here's a picture of my waffle covered with fresh fruit. Walt opted for one drizzled with chocolate.

These are pictures of a very elegant outdoor shopping arcade called Galeries St-Hubert. It dates to 1847, which makes it the first shopping arcade in Europe. I was very impressed by the extravagant displays in the chocolate shops.

Another thing Brussels is known for is its comic strip art. My guide book says there are currently 18 comic strip images decorating the sides of buildings in Brussels, but web sites I have checked indicate there are many more. The building pictured on the left features a character called Tintin. The Smurfs were created by a Belgian cartoonist, by the way.

You always seem to be coming upon bits of walls left from the Romans in this part of Europe. This is a picture of some old Roman ruins that were being excavated.

The day was winding down, but we still had time for a quick scenic view of the city from a popular vantage point.

Then we wrapped things up with a short walk through a park. The tree in the picture on the bottom left appears to be growing out over the water. It doesn't look like it has fallen over.

As you can see, the brilliant blue skies we enjoyed earlier in the day had returned. The sun was just about to set and the temperature was quickly dropping, so we popped into a cafe for a final drink before heading back to the hotel.