Brussels is a city of contrasts, it's shy but with a boisterous beer culture, French but just a little bit English, sophisticated but a little bit nerdy. And yet, they all seem to blend seamlessly into a distinctly Belgian culture. I can't help but feel like Agatha Christie's famous Belgian Detective Hercule Poirot sums up the Belgian persona into one neat little package.
The thing that baffled me most about Brussels is how different every street is. One moment you could be walking down a distinctly Parisian street complete with French shutters and hanging flowers, but when you turn onto the next street you are in a trendy Dutch art district. This makes Brussels the perfect destination for idle street wandering. They are also firm believers in Al fresco dining and street food, adding to the relaxed atmosphere of their city centre.
As our trip was a long weekend, we knew we had to cram as much sightseeing in as we could. Thankfully, Brussels is extremely easy to navigate. Their metro and tramway are efficient (I'd expect nothing less from the Belgians) and relatively cheap. The city centre is easy enough to walk around without the need for public transport.
Our first day was spent slightly out of the city centre at their famous Atomnium, a large silver structure that looks like (yep you guessed it) atoms. It's nice to look at from the outside but not worth the entry price, or the wait to go up in the lift. Next door is Mini Europe which is a small park with miniature replicas of famous European landmarks. Expect to see the Eiffel Tower, the Houses of Parliament, the Berlin Wall, Leaning Tower of Pisa and many more. The park comes with an English guide that tells you some fascinating facts about each landmark and the country they come from.
The food in Belgium was one of my favourite things. I love chocolate, waffles and fries- three things the Belgians are well known for. It would be easy for any tourist to overindulge on a weekend in Brussels. The selection of waffles baffled me the most, as they had just about every combination of toppings you could possibly imagine, all on display in windows to tempt people like me who have no self-control when it comes to waffles.
The highlight of my trip to Brussels was The Royal Palace. I have a bit of an obsession with all things royal, so this was top of my list to see. The Belgian Royal family has had a bit of an exciting history, and for a few weeks in the summer each year the Palace is open to the public. I've visited a lot of palaces on my trips around Europe, and this palace is pretty impressive. From the manicured front garden, to the marble staircases and gold chandeliers, the palace is stunning. Exhibits within the palace show the history of the Royal family and Belgium. The most stunning room is the ballroom which has more chandeliers then I could count.
Even after my trip to Brussels, I'm still confused about how I feel about the city. It has so many contrasts and quirks that make it endearing but still a little unassuming. I soaked up the Belgian atmosphere, ate a ridiculous amount of chocolate and waffles, drank some beer and met some Storm Troopers (random I know, but this is Belgium!). All in all, it was the perfect birthday weekend.