Brussels is located smack in the middle of all those setting out on a trip across Europe. Known as the battleground of Europe, the history buff in me was truly interested. I wanted to see the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and go see the palace and museums, and go to Bruges and take pictures of the quaint medieval homes, but when you reach Brussels, you know the city has plans to ruin all your other plans and captivate you in crazy, crazy ways.
Brussels is known for some amazing designs, in buildings, in churches and everywhere you look.
But it’s Belgium, and if you’re there, you must visit Bruges and Antwerp and is that... oh my sweet Lord! They sell waffles in Brussels like you get
bhel in Bombay! Must have!
Waffles are hot off the grill, and they pour chocolate, or syrup or fruit or everything that you want! It’s served in takeaway trays or cones like
bhel back home and you strut (that’s the waffle effect) down the street, towards the famous ‘Manneken Pis’ - the famous statue of the little boy peeing.
But you know it’s a tourist trap, what with anatomically correct chocolate versions of the kid as well bottle openers and fridge magnets being sold in all the nearby shops.
You’re on your second waffle tray and the blueberries and white chocolate are giving you a sugar rush. You smile at strangers now and go towards Brussels' well kept secret: Jeanneke Pis. It’s a little pig tailed girl, peeing happily!
And then someone sees you rolling your eyes at tourists and points you to the Zinneke Pis (or Het Zinneke) which is a statue of a dog peeing. You shake your head and wonder what other weird art installations does the city hold?
But of course, it was the home to one of the world’s finest surreal painters: Rene Magritte (The Treachery Of Images, The Happy Donor, Hegel’s Holiday) and so this odd discovery is nothing short of amazing. The Magritte Museum is mind blowing. Such intense imagination!
I stepped out and needed tea. Idly flipping through the menu at the Cheesecake Cafe, you discover that they have something called the Cheesecake Omelet on the menu. But the server introduces me to something that’s so different, you have to go to the Cantillon brewery to find out more about this new thing called Lambic Beers.
If you don’t like spiders, then just drink the beer that has a peculiar aftertaste that’s sour. Like berries gone yeast
. But then you discover that the beers ferment in open vats, and that brings in the fruit flies, and the spider webs are for… don’t imagine. Just drink some more of the beer. These Lambic beers are unique to the area, and you begin to like the taste. Too much.
Will another waffle in a cone help? Perhaps not, because it made me want to seek out the house where Jean-Claude Van Damme lived. I got really strange looks from locals, but another tourist (with a waffle cone in hand) helpfully pointed me towards the Westland shopping center and there in the park was my opportunity to take selfie with Van Damme’s statue!
The main square of Brussels, called the pentagon, is a great place to set out to stare at the most amazing building art, and to bring alive those childhood hours spent on reading Tintin comics.
On the sides of buildings and in corners and edges and turns you will see more than fifty pieces of wall art straight out of Tintin comics. It’s so cleverly done, you actually stop walking and stare at the buildings and then remember to click pictures. Locals are used to people do that, and one helpfully held my waffle tray while I tried to get the entire mural in the frame!
The Tintin Museum (Herge Museum, really) made me coo and ooh and aah like I was discovering old friends!
There are original drawings from the comics and life size statues of everything from Tintin and Snowy, Cuthbert Calculus with his pendulum, Captain Haddock, Thomson and Thompson and oh mah gawwwd!
I scream as I see the rocket from Explorers On the Moon. The ushers have seen people like me before and he whispers to me, ‘you can buy a replica in the shop!’
I now clutch plush Snowy in my arms and beam at everyone on the street. I have relived my childhood the entire afternoon! Am I ready to take more art? I had better, because the Temple Of Human Passion is open only one day a week. Looks like a Greek Temple from the outside, but the iconoclastic sculptures inside are a tad shocking to the senses. I step out feeling strange.
The Metro station called ‘Parc’ takes you to the very English style park and my happy mood is back.
Boosted by another Vanilla and strawberry waffle, I look at the wondrous Royal Palace (right across from this Parc de Bruxelles) and choose the park.
After walking down the shady avenue I sit down at the edge of one of the two pools there. I wonder what Peter the Great’s statue is doing there, and learn something weirder than anything I have ever before.
The great Tsar sat where I was sitting right now, and had upchucked the contents of his lunch there. I’m not making it up! It says so on a basin (that has been since removed): “INSIDENS MARCINI FONTIS AQUAM ILLUS NOBILTAVIT LIBATO VINO,” (“As he sat on the edge of this fountain, he enobled its waters with the wine of his libations.”
My stomach agreed. Too many waffles must have done him in too.
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.