I strongly believe that you should know how to accurately pronounce 4 specific words in foreign languages: ‘beer’, ‘food’, ‘thank you’, and ‘hello’. For example, you want to go to Europe in your next vacations and you only speak your own language and not a single word in english – which would be quite interesting, since you’d be reading this. And still on the same example, let’s say for instance that you’re going to a lovely place called Brussels.
B – I – È – R – E, [bi-eeh-re]
That’s french for beer. And in Brussels, world capital for Lambics, home of the awesome Delirium Tremens Café, town that even in small street food shops you can find a huge selection of beer; that 5 letter word is essential. In the morning you can go to la Grand Place, centre of Brussels, and visit the Belgium Beer Museum, watch a video and share a couple of beers with some belgium gentlemen that go there for a pre-lunch beer. After you’ll have lunch somewhere where probably they have at least 2 taps of Belgium beer, to go with your burger and, naturally, your Belgium Fries (you thought they were French? Tsc, tsc, shame on you). In the afternoon you go in the downtown tiny streets where alleys and dead-end (“impasse”) streets are everywhere, for a Geuze or a Faro. And then, because you’re brave and thirsty, before going back on foot to your hotel you go to the Delirium Villa and go for a pub crawl in their 4 bars. To make sure you “don’t go alone” on the way back, stop in any street shop and buy yourself a Gulden Draak or a Floreffe.
F – R – I – T – E – S, [free-teh]
The name is fries, BELGIUM fries. This is your salvation for drunken nights, your cheapest food, your snack, your lunch and/or your dinner. Belgium – and the same goes for dutch – can eat a whole plate of fries with some sauce diced onions. A good idea right? Well, forget all that “oh, but fried stuff make you fat” talk, because we all know that is just not true, right!? Seriously, if you ask also for a “frikandel” [free-kahn-del] you have a very traditional, not expensive, somewhat tasty food. Fast food? Perhaps, but I’d call it ‘local’ before calling it something alse.
M – E – R – C – I, [mer-cy]
B – O – N – J – O – U – R, [bon-jur]
Things are always smoother if you’re polite; in any language and in any civilization. Especially when you are travelling alone, politeness can render more than a smile: a conversation, another “bière” and – who knows – something else to do later on. In general locals, Belgium people, are somewhat nice and will help you if you look foreigner. From what I have seen, different from other countries, they are sympathetic and will make an effort for you to find what you’re looking for. If not, either this person is having a bad day, or it’s the small percentage of rude people that we may find in any country or you’re doing something awfully wrong (and that is usually obvious).
From the airport to the centre of town you have the train on the -1 floor of the National Brussels Airport (around 7e), or the bus on the 0 floor (3e).
Don’t eat on the tourist street downtown – may sound obvious, but you will be tempted. It’s just not worth it.
Get the USE-IT local map. Just with that you’ll have plenty of info to have a good time and go around town. They have other maps, tips and suggestions at their main office.
Brussels is the kind of town to be, preferably, enjoyed with more people. If you’re travelling alone I would certainly recommend the 2GO4 hostel, clean beds, good showers and interesting people to meet.
A must-go, the BD Museum or HQ Museum, and for further reading the library downstairs is free on the same day of your visit.
15 days minimum if you reeeeeally want to explore this town. Believe me.
I wouldn’t advise to buy wine there. Even if they have really nice prices for wine, stick to Belgium beer and some cheese to have something to eat along the day. Maasdam, Gouda among other cheeses are from this region and make perfect pairing with Triples, Saisons and related beer styles.
Chocolate is also a nice buy: for your mother/girlfriend/sister mainly.
Scarf, a hat and gloves are essential in the fall/winter time. Believe me.
Waffle at Mokafe Cafe surrounded by old ladies – the map wasn’t kidding – is one of the nicest experiences to have in cold days.
I have several other things to say about Brussels. But I strongly believe that this is one of those cities to experience fully, with company or by yourself – instead of reading all about it in a blog. Get a map, put on some boots and get your kicks on brussels’s streets.