Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Brussels. We Wander.

Taking a bit of a rest in Egmont Park, next to a statue of Peter Pan.

W

e pretty much spent the entire afternoon in old city Brussels. Considering that we had just arrived into the country earlier this morning, after an overnight flight into Paris followed by a train ride to Brussels, I was surprised at how well we had held up. We were pushing through jetlag as I had hoped we would do!  Nonetheless, by late afternoon I was beginning to lose some steam and was ready to head back to our apartment.

Z was put in charge of navigation and I've quickly come to the conclusion that he will take us to whatever is worth seeing along our journey.  I had no idea where we were in the city and left it in his hands to take us back home.  I just enjoyed the sights as we walked.

I  love European window displays.  This one was filled with colorful elephants. 

A pair of crow stepped gable roofed buildings.

We walked through the neighborhood of Sablon, passing by the church.

Notre Dame de Sablon church.  The door was open but we didn't go inside.

As we passed by the church, I noticed a patch of green space ahead of us. Z was walking in that direction. We crossed the street and entered the gates leading to Petit Sablon park, a very lovely and tranquil garden.



Today, Petit Sablon is a roughly rectangular garden, featuring trees, hedges, flowers and most notably, statues but back in the middle ages, it was the source of the Zavelbeek (Sablon Brook).  It was also the site of the Saint John Hospital's cemetery until it was moved.



The present-day garden was created by the architect Henri Beyaert, and was inaugurated in 1890. It is surrounded by an ornate wrought iron fence inspired by one which once decorated the Coudenberg Palace. The fence is punctuated by tall stone pillars; atop each pillar is a statue of one or more historical figures - politicians, intellectuals and artists from the 16th century.

At the far end of the garden is a small fountain graced with the fountain of Counts Edgmont and Horne, who were symbols of resistance against the Spanish tyranny that sparked the Dutch Revolt. The fountain was initially in front of the Maison du Roi/Broodhuis on the Grand Place, the site of their execution.


A view of Petit Sablon park, Notre Dame de Sablon Church in the background.

Across the street from one of the entrances to Petit Sablon stands Egmont Palace.  The palace is a large mansion that was built between 1548 and 1560 by Françoise of Luxembourg and her son, Lamoral, Count of Egmont.  Today it houses the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Our meandering eventually took us to Egmont Park.  We must have entered by a side entrance because we would not have noticed it except for a few people entering and leaving.  It was actually our curiosity that led us in.  The steps led up to a small patio area.  We followed a woman and her small dog up a second flight of steps.  That led to the garden itself.

Egmont Park is a much larger space than Petit Sablon but just as calm and peaceful.  The park adjoins the palace. 


One of the highlights of Egmont Park is this bronze statue of Peter Pan which has stood here since 1924.  The statue is a copy of the original one in Kensington Garden, London and symbolizes the friendship between English and Belgian children during the First World War.


Perhaps it was because it was a Monday but there were barely people around except a few with their dogs and a small group practicing tai chi.  Z and I sat on bench to rest a bit and watch the dogs romping about.  The wee little dachshund was terrorizing the larger Italian greyhound.  It was an amusing sight to watch the larger dog trying desperately to escape from the dachshund who wanted to do nothing more than sniff the you-know-what's of the greyhound.  At one point, both dogs were in, around and under our bench.  It was hilarious!  We both felt sorry for the greyhound.


By now, it was past 6p.  It had indeed been a long day for us and except for some frites and an overloaded waffle, we hadn't had anything to eat.  I was hungry and I was pretty certain that Z's blood sugar level was below the floor.  We had to find a place to eat and if not for Z's reluctance to give in to the high prices of the restaurants in the old city, we would have long eaten.  Poor kid, he's really stunned by sticker shock!  I have to somehow convince him of his new reality - yes, it's more expensive to eat out in Brussels and possibly the other two popular tourist destinations we'll be traveling to.  Otherwise, we'll both starve.

On the way home, meandering along more of the streets of the city, I messaged our Airbnb host to get suggestions on places, near our apartment, we could go for a quick bite of Belgian food at a reasonable price.  No, I wasn't asking for much :-)

Luckily, he quickly responded with a recommendation from a place called Belgo Belge, located in front of the church on St. Boniface Street - about a 400 meter walk from our apartment.

After we got back to the apartment, we rested a bit before heading out for dinner.  I Googled the restaurant and with Google maps on my phone, led the way out.

I was a bit nervous at first - walking out in our neighborhood.  The street lamps were dim and there were a lot of shadowy spots.  But, after seeing a lot of people out and about as well, I felt okay.

St. Boniface Street appeared to be commercial strip.  We stopped at the first restaurant we passed by.  I did a quick check of the menu.  Thankfully, it was in French and not Dutch.  I can read menu French but Dutch would be a lost cause for me.  This wasn't the Belgo Belge but the food sounded good and the prices were reasonable.....still high by US standards but reasonably for Brussels, at least compared to what we had seen in the old city.

We took a table by the window and I was finally able to really relax.  Food was coming.  I settled for some shrimp.


While Z enjoyed some scallops which unfortunately, were a tad overcooked.


Looking down at my plate of food, I realized it was plenty for me but I was worried that Z would leave the table hungry.  The guy eats a LOT!   When I got the bill, I noticed they had charged me several euro for a bottle of water.  I wonder if this is standard practice here or if we can simply ask for tap water and not be charged especially since the tap water is potable.


After dinner, it was back to the apartment.  I was more than ready to call it a day.   I really enjoyed our afternoon wandering about the old city and I hope Z did as well.  I've not planned anything for tomorrow as I want to allow Z to also decide on what we should see and do.  I've noticed him looking down at his phone a lot - I'm hoping he's looking up places of interest.  In any event, I think I will let him call the sightseeing shots tomorrow.  It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.

Goodnight from Brussels!