“What is said when drunk has been thought out beforehand.”Flemish Proverb
Getting Around Brussels Like a Local
The next day I woke up early to see as much of Brussels as possible. Once again I packed my equipment, brought my water bottle, and headed out. This time I went back towards the Brussels-Midi Transit Station. There you can take the tram, a bus, or the metro. Getting a ticket is easy. I suggest you get a pass so that you can just tap and go. I purchased a 3-day pass. Pay attention to the platforms and maps. Study them for a few and take a few screenshots. If you forget, you can usually find maps available around the station (or just download this one here). I noticed that the M6 line (Koning Boudewijn/Roi Baudouin – Elisabeth) would not only take me to Atomium but was pretty much the lifeline of the metro system. Lucky me!!
Getting to Atomium
I must have gotten on an old car because the interior was dingy yellow. It didn’t smell or anything, but it did look dated. I put my phone away and watched Brussels change with each station stop. I notice that people were relatively quiet and the only sounds were those of the train operator announcing the station stops in both Dutch and French, and the levers being pulled to open the doors. To get to Atomium, get off at Heysel (Heizel) and follow the signs. Also, be prepared to answer questions from other travelers. I used hand signs and broken Dutch to give directions to one older woman who became increasingly frustrated when I couldn’t answer her. The Heysel station also is the stop for the MiniEurope park, Heysel Expedition Park, and Océade Water Park.
On a nice sunny day expect to be bumping into folks trying to capture Atomium’s greatness. If you’re like me, make some money while at it. I charged €1 to take pictures. I figured people were coming up to me since I had my DSLR out and I’m always in photographer mode. By the way, some took their phones back, but I got 6 people to cough up dough and that is how I paid for a cheap dinner later on that night. In any case, I didn’t make it into the structure and instead opted to head back to Centre to have a look around.
Getting to Sint-Katelijne/Sainte-Catherine
Taking the M6 line back towards Elisabeth, I hopped off at Beekkant switching trains to the M1 towards Stokkel/Stockel. The wi-fi and 4G networks are awesome here! Thank you, Proximus (and T-Mobile)! After a short metro ride, I arrive at Sint-Katelijne/Sainte-Catherine. It doesn’t look like much until I see the Cathedral with its beautiful gothic architecture. Wow, the street is lined with eateries and it feels like summer as the patios are filled with people enjoying their meals al fresco. Place Sainte-Catherine has quais (docks), it’s what’s left of Brussels ancient port. You can grab lunch and hang out. Nobody is going to bother since everyone is doing the same.
You can easily spend half a day here alone. Walking around and snapping pictures along the way, it’s easy to lose track of time. Everything is close in Centre so skip the metro and hoof it instead. Fifteen minutes of taking in the scenery I end up walking on the other side of the cathedral to more good eats. Noordzee – Mer du Nord is a seafood restaurant that all the locals seem to recommend. It looks like a betting table at a casino and I’m lost. I’ll come back tomorrow.
Centre: Brussels Stock Exchange and Mannekin Pis
A few blocks up is the Brussels Stock Exchange (French: Bourse de Bruxelles; Dutch: Beurs van Brussel). I actually had to look it up because all I saw were people hanging out and breakdancing. I waited for 15 minutes expecting a block party. The city is starting to change in mood and scenery as twilight makes an appearance. The pungent smell of urine from an outdoor urinal, makes me gag and I start walking towards the smell of Belgian chocolates instead.
I maintain a stoic face as I’m walking through the crowds searching for Manneken Pis, but that didn’t seem to deter an older Italian man who stopped to kiss my hand, remind me that I’m ‘bella’. Where was I? Oh yes, on the quest for Manneken Pis. It’s down an alley surrounded by chocolatiers. How Belgian! Just follow the tourists with their smartphones pointing toward the sky. I didn’t have any issues taking my photographs, but I suggest you keep the picture taking to a minimum. Also, don’t think for a minute that you can try to jump over the fence to get close. There are cameras and police officers everywhere. Keep it simple, keep it cute, and keep it moving.
Eat More Street Food
There is no shortage of eateries. Follow your nose and grab a bite. I opted for street food, as usual. Can you get a meal for €7? Yes, yes you can. Friterie Fontainas (update: this place has closed) in Sint-Gilles/Saint-Gilles is the first thing you see coming out of the Hallepoort/Halle du Port metro station. Greeted by a woman with the day written on her face and a mop in her hand, I simply ordered a Pilons de Poulet meal with frites, salade, sauce, and a boisson. Another Greek-inspired Belgian meal in the gut. I’m left craving gauffres. That’s on my next adventure!