From the 11th to the 18th Century, a castle overlooked Brussels from Coutenberg Hill to the East of the town. It was destroyed by fire during the night of 3rd February 1731 and the remains were subsequently pulled down and the ground flattened to make room for a new Royal District.
Recently opened after extensive archaeological work, the remains have been showcased into a major tourist attraction. During the visit, you walk underneath the Royale road and the Royale Square, cars and busses rumble overhead and you come out of the ‘dig’ close to the Music Museum, nearly 1km away.
Many of the buildings were commissioned and built during the reign of Charles v (1500-1558), the formidable Charlemagne. These include a huge banqueting hall, the Aula Magna. Visitors are also able to walk along the main street of the complex.
We’ve always held great store with the Dorling and Kindersley Guide Books – well-illustrated, knowledgeable and handy pocket sized. A friend lent us one for our Belgium trip and, naturally, we turned the pages to ‘places to eat’.
“Right in the heart of the fashion district, Bonsoir Clara is arguably one of Brussels’ finest. Very elegant, you will be surrounded by fashionistas dining on tasty food. Try the lunch menu at only €14 as it is great value and the prices rise steeply for dinner. Booking essential.”
Who could resist that? Off we trekked to Antoine Dasaert Street, near le Place de Bourse. The street is lined with trees and exclusive boutiques showcasing Belgium’s finest designers – and there are many of them. Slap bang in the middle of this nirvana, is a Le Pain Quotidien and next door, Bonsoir Clara. A booking was made for 12h45. We perused the lunch menu and decided that it was the appropriate choice. The ladies were in heaven. Shopping kicked into overdrive and we arrived promptly, at 12h44.
As we were escorted to our table, the Maitre d’ asked “are you having the lunch”. “Yes” we replied. The ladies peeled off their winter woolies and decamped to the toilet. As they left the table to go off, the Maitre d’ arrived with three plates of soup! He also asked me, “Beer?” I said “Yes, what draught (pression) do you have?”. Spun on his heels and within the wink of an eye, three draught beers arrived.
“Please take the soup away and at least wait until my lunch companions have arrived”, I pleaded. He did as asked. The ladies arrived, Wham! The Soup was back! We asked for it to be removed, we asked for a wine list. To which our now angry Maitre d’ decided to argue that we had asked for the lunch, we had asked for beer, why do we refuse everything?
We then got the coup de grace – “tell me when you want to be served, then I will come and see you!”
In the interim, we had been allocated another waiter and after establishing that he could not understand, let alone speak English, by switching to French we were able to have our meal (the soup again), a chicken dish and some coffee. A bottle of wine accompanied the draught beer and then we paid and got the h-ll out of there.
Food quality? Way below average.
As we left, we apologised to the Maitre d’ for coming – sense of humour failure.
Visitors to, and residents of Brussels, there are so many restaurants wanting your custom, avoid Bonsoir Clara!
We were told that Belgians have a quirky side to their nature. Living in France, where Belgian jokes are de rigeur, we were keen to discover this for ourselves. We stumbled on to this shop in one of the main streets of Brussels, near the Grand Place.
Need we say more?
Belgian restaurants are world famous. Covering all tastes, flavours and price brackets, it’s safe to say that we were not bowled over by them. However, service was, in most cases, very friendly and helpful; English is widely spoken; food is adequate, tasty and frites, frites, frites.
To-morrow, we will reveal probably the WORST restaurant we have even been into!
Our bus dropped us off at a picturesque square situated on the slope that divides Brussels between the Upper City and the Lower City – Place de Sablon. The square is surrounded by chic boutiques, designer homeware outlets, chocolate shops (NB: Wittamers and it’s coffee shop!), fashionable restaurants and lively bars. Not to mention a large statute of Tinton and the Comic Cafe – a temple to comics and the art of animation.
The Grand Sablon is most famous for its open air antiques market held on a Saturday and Sunday. As it was a Sunday, we strolled through the market but being January the size did not live up to the hype.
Just above the Grand Sablon is a further jewel – Place du Petit Sablon. Ringed by statues depicting a medieval trade or craft that has brought prosperity to Brussels, the Place has grandiose fountains, little garden walkways and more statues dotted about. A perfect place to pause a while, nibble on a chocolate and enjoy the view over the city.
The geographical and spiritual heart of Brussels is Grand Place. With its ornate baroque and gothis guild houses, the area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one ofthe most beautiful squares in Europe. Built as a marchant’s market in the 13th Century, it serves as the City Centre and a great place to enjoy Belgian hospitality at one ofthe many cafes and restaurants.
Warning! Prices are high, and nothing higher than bottled water! A new trick from a waiter – “Belgian law prevents us serving a carafe of tap water – you must buy the bottled water.” A few beers, carafes of wine and bottled water will set you back €50, no problem.
In the warmer months, there is a flower market in the Grand Place. Off the square is something that everyone should see once in lifetime, but probably try and not to sample the wares – Rue de Bouchers. This is narrow street crammed with restaurants, massive ice displays of fish, a huge variety of restaurants at various price points but each one has one or two touts outside trying to drag you in. During the dy, in particular, it is gloriously seedy and trashy. Tiny lanes bleed off from the main street revealing bars and night clubs.
As they say, once bitten, twice shy.
Today is a double celebration – it’s our friend Wally’s birthday (Ssssh! 60), and Madame’s Australia Day!
Bon Anniversaire…Happy Birthday.
Clean, efficient, on time. Belgian local railways (well, our experience anyway!). We left Bruges, vowing to return (Spring seemed like a good idea) and off to Brussels. The Brussels Railway Stations require you to keep your head. There are three – Midi (South); Central or North. The TGV and Thalys Europe trains come in at Midi which is actually Brussels South (Zuid); if you want the City Centre/Grand Place then its Central you need. The issue is that Midi is NOT Central Brussels. We wondered how many visitors got that one wrong?
On a strong recommendation, we had booked at the Royal Windsor Hotel (Grand Place – Brussels)in central Brussels . Only 200 metres from Brussels Centre railway station, it is well appointed, comfortable, great service , clean and – as long as you book over a weekend, affordable. Our sage had advised us that if you want to visit in Brussels (and not do work), then the prices in the hotels go down dramatically over the weekends, during the week you are up there with the EU people on fat expense accounts.
Another advantage of the Royal Windsor was that it was a short stroll from the Hop on Hop off Red Bus, which takes you on two differing routes through Brussels. We found this a great way to get around, see the sights and become well-orientated with the city. Brussels has two areas – the Upper City and the Lower City (accessed via a smart glass lift or some serious plodding of the pavements). The Bus links the two effortlessly.
There is so much to see in Brussels, and so much to eat that we had to cherry pick. And, leave some for the ‘next time’.
Taken from the Instagram camera….