Friday, August 23.
We all slept intermittently through the night, the effect of jet lag. By 9:00 Maureen and I were up and dressed, but we hesitated to wake the others if they were sleeping. I knocked very softly on their door and getting no answer, we went out in search of morning coffee. We wandered down the Rue Des Marche aux Herbes, looking through the shop windows and admiring the building. We ordered a coffee and a tea to go at a small coffee shop, then returned to the hotel. After another two knocking sessions, Pam and Marilynn answered the door, dressed and ready to go. Off we went in search of breakfast, finding a tiny vault-shaped cafe to have waffles with chocolate and Nutella (Marilynn and Maureen) and paninis.
Most buildings and streets here are named in both French and Dutch, the two official languages of Belgium. The menus too list the food in both languages and, often, English. Fortified by breakfast, we set out for our first site with two official names, the Palais Royale or Palaizenplein. Constructed in 1793, it is the official residence and administrative centre for the royal family. The public does not often have access to the palace, but King Philippe and Queen Mathilde are away and there is free entrance to the palace for the summer. It is a sprawling building filled with elegant furnishings and beautiful architectural details.
After touring the palace, we crossed the street to the Parc de Bruxelles/Park van Brussels. After a pause to drink lemonade and one beer (discretion will not allow me to name the day drinker) from the Angry Woodpecker food stand, we carried on to the cathedral of St. Michel and St. Gudula. Built over the course of 300 years, it was completed by 1519. Like most Gothic-style cathedrals, it is a vast stone edifice with religious works of art, confessionals, tombs and a huge pipe organ housed within an elaborate architecture of columns and arches. When we had circuited the cathedral in hushed silence, we returned to the sunshine.
We returned to the hotel to refresh ourselves. Then, we walked two streets over from our hotel to admire the Grand Place/Grote Markt. It is a well-preserved town square lined with impressive buildings (City Hall, guild halls and Madison du Roi) from the 17th and 18th centuries. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site considered one of the most beautiful sites in the world. It was the central square of Brussels and obviously a thriving centre of commerce. Some of the surrounding streets are named after the various goods that were once for sale: Rue des Bouchers (butchers), Rue du Marche (market) aux Poulets (chickens), Rue au Beu. rre (butter).... We stood in the centre and took photo after photo.
Next, with Maureen taking the lead, we sallied forth to find the Mannequin Pis. It is a 16th century statue of a little boy peeing into a fountain that has become an important landmark in Brussels. There is a long-standing tradition of dressing the statue in various uniforms to mark special celebrations. Maureen’s parents visited the fountain in the 1960s and brought home a small model of it, so Maureen wanted to see the original as her parents had so many decades ago.
By this time, we were ready to eat, so we wandered the streets to find a sidewalk cafe. Many had no room for more customers outside and some were mostly beer and wine vendors with little food on the menu, but we managed to find one with both food and space for us. The menu was only in French and Dutch. We thought a tartine might be a form of quiche or meat pie, but when our meal arrived, we discovered it was actually defined as bread with a sweet or savoury topping, i.e. a sandwich. Fortunately the sandwiches were tasty and served with a good chopped salad, so we were content and a little wiser about menu terms.
After dinner, we wandered through many streets looking at shop windows and admiring buildings. On almost every street, there are stores devoted to main products of Belgium i.e. beer and chocolate, restaurants serving Belgian waffles and in one section we passed through, stores devoted to another famous Belgian product, lace. We returned to the hotel, then once darkness began to fall, we went to the Grand Place to see the buildings lit up at night. There was a large crowd, some sitting on the brick pavement, some watching a tumbling show, some maneuvering for the best photo vantage points, but all in a good mood. After a while, Marilynn, Maureen and Pa took the long way home, wandering through the streets and stopping at the hotel lounge for a nightcap. In fact, they shut down the bar - the bartender began piling the chairs even before they left at 10:30 I took a more direct route. Eventually, we all returned home, satisfied with our day and ready for bed.