(5.0) (1 vote)
May 06, 2005
The scent (once you got away from all the cars) was intoxicating.
Daina and I spent the last weekend of April in Brussels. Daina celebrates
her 18th birthday in May so as a special birthday present, I took
her to the capital of Europe. Her birthday falls right at the beginning
of exam time, and Daina decided that probably isn’t the best
time to relax and go touring. So we booked one of the cheaper flights
available in Europe and flew off to Belgium.
As some of you may know, I spent my last year of high school in
Germany at the Lettisches Gymnasium Muenster. It was the only full-time
Latvian school outside Latvia and many students spent some time
there learning math, science, and other stuff in Latvian. I still
maintain contact with some of my classmates from that time so long
ago (yes – it was a long time ago) and one of my classmates,
Birgita lives in Brussels. She welcomed Daina and me with open arms
and lovely accommodations.
We had an early morning flight out of Riga and landed in Brussels
just in time for breakfast. Birgita picked us up at the airport
and we took the scenic route around the city to avoid rush hour.
I was instantly struck by the amount of cars in this city of about
one million people. The ring road around Brussels is beautiful –
quite green and picturesque. Belgium has had much more rain than
Latvia, so consequently, the country is in full spring bloom. All
the trees are in bloom as are the lilacs and other assorted bushes
and flowers. The scent (once you got away from all the cars) was
We headed to the southern part of Brussels where Birgita has a very
nice apartment just a few blocks from embassy row for nations not
in the G7 – Rue Molliere. Having stopped at a boulangerie
for an assortment of croissants and baguettes, we headed back home
for a marvelous breakfast that included the aforementioned bread
plus marvelous pates and cheeses. You’d think a milk and meat
loving country such as Latvia would have an abundance of such goodies,
but, alas, no.
After breakfast we headed off to the old town to do the obligatory
in town touristy stuff. Fortunately for us, Birgita drove so she
could show us all kinds of stuff in a quick drive by. The most notably
ugly architecture in Brussels has to be the EU stuff going up on
every corner in the downtown area. What were they thinking? However,
next to all this ugly architecure is the beautiful Cathedrale des
Sts Michel et Gudule where we listened to the organist practice
on the new organ. The old town, Grand Place and surrounding areas
are so charming, as are the residential neighborhoods that abound.
I don’t get how they can manage to build charming new apartment
buildings in already established neighborhoods and they can’t
build something esthetically pleasing in the city center.
We visited the obligatory sites in the old town (read about them
in the Lonely Planet guide), had some Belgian waffles and excellent
Belgian beer. Fortunately, Birgita also enjoys beer so she could
not only suggest the best local brews, but she also had some at
home which is where we headed after an afternoon of sightseeing.
We had dinner at home and then headed out for a walk through her
neighborhood. We like doing this in Toronto too – go for a
walk in the evening when the lights are on so you can see into people’s
homes to check out some new decorating ideas. She lives in a charming
neighborhood and we picked out the house we’d ideally love
to live in if we had to live in Brussels.
The next morning we repeated our wonderful Belgian morning breakfast
routine after which Birgita suggested we drive to Waterloo! I had
not realized this was so close to Brussels, so I jumped at the chance
to see this historical site. The day was sunny and warm enough for
sandals! While Brussels suburbs are incredibly charming, driving
through Waterloo was a bit disappointing. Apparently, the area is
inundated with Swedes whose children attend various local private
schools. The town looks like an upscale New England town with many
street signs in English and mini-strip malls on the sides of the
The historical sight itself is marvelously kitchy. There are a few
taverns to serve tourists as well as a cute museum, movies of the
battle of Waterloo and obligatorily over-priced tourist shop. Daina
and I climbed the 229 stairs to the top of Butte de Lion to view
the surrounding area where over 100,000 men fought. I could hardly
imagine the blood bath that occurred there. Men should be forced
to fight like that again. Maybe they would rethink the whole process.
I think I pulled a muscle climbing down those many stairs. I’ve
been having a weird spasm in my right leg since.
After Waterloo, we headed back into Brussels for mussels. Before
heading back to downtown, however, we visited the area of Brussels
known as Tervuren where Birgita once lived. We happened upon the
local flower market and walked around enjoying the sights, smells,
and warmth (25 degrees) of the wonderful weather. We then strolled
the grounds surrounding the African Museum (too large to do in an
hour or two) and started off toward the old town for mussels.
Birgita just rolled her eyes at the thought of mussels (she is a
local, you see!) but indulged the tourists and brought us to the
most reputable restaurant, Leon, on the tourist rip-off strip. The
food was great and ridiculously expensive by Latvian standards,
but how often do we eat mussels in Brussels!? We shopped for some
cheese and chocolate in the old town and headed back home for another
fabulous home-cooked meal a la Birgita, but not before we stopped
at another aoutdoor care for some refreshments. In the evening we
talked as long as our eyes would stay open and went to bed not relishing
the thought of returning to cold Riga.
Birgita took us to the airport (after another marvelous breakfast)
via the NATO centre where the ugliness of the architecture rivals
that of the EU buildings. We will be returning to Brussels sometime
because both Daina and I left some non-essentials at Birgita’s
apartment. C’est une belle vie!