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BRUSSELS CULTURE - BELGIUM CULTURE BRUSSELS

Brussels CultureBrussels Culture - Brussels could be described as a cosmopolitan city. And and a city of “human proportions” the versus large metropolises like New York City, or the sprawling giant of London. Some Belgian’s may critique Brussels as an ‘artificial capital’ and a boring city where EU business men and women jet off to other countries for the weekend leaving the city barren on the weekends, but others know better. They know that Brussels has some of the highest quality cuisine in the world, the best beers and most variety of beers, world- renowned chocolates, the most beautiful Gothic, Baroque, and Neo-Classic architecture, and museums full of amazing – beautiful masterpieces.

Palais Des Nations is a classic example of the ‘classical facades” as well as the “Royal Palace.” And you should be sure to check out the variety of Art Nouveau and Art Deco houses in and around the neighborhoods in Brussels. Just take as stroll around the different sections of Brussels – especially the Ixelles and EU region and you will find some beautiful houses with lots of character.

The Grand’ Place (Grote Markt) is just oozing history and cultural associations. Just stand in the middle of the Square and take in the fantastic architecture all around you – which is the most stunning, it’s for you to decide. The Gothic Style Town Hall is so impressive, and then swing around behind you and you have “the House of the King” – La Maison de Roi – does that get your vote but before you decide look left and right at all the individual guild houses that surround the rest of the Square. Maybe it’s the Grand Place Brussels in totality that you’ll remember – this is the Square that is so often described as the most beautiful in Europe. On a Sunday morning there’s a traditional bird market at the Grand’ Place on Sunday mornings. The square is also lined with Beer pubs/cafes and some tourist restaurants.

What’s really neat is that, by tradition, every neighborhood in Brussels has it’s own special market – the bird market, the flower market, the antique market, the flea market, and the horse market .

Brussels abounds with festivals as well. The Ommegang Festival the first Thursday in July is when over 2000 people walk past the King of Belgium. This event dates back to the 16th century and the costumes represent this time. Then there’s the traditional Flower Carpet (tapis de fleurs) laid every second year - spectacular in mid August - the even years 2002, 2004, when the whole square is covered with begonias to a design. And at Christmas time the Square becomes a skating rink. So you can see that Grand Place is the cultural heart of Brussels.

Brussels’ Culture life is split among the French and Flemish and you’ll find some areas where French language dominates and others with Flemish as the default language of choice. At all places I visited, French seemed to be the preferred language.

The range of excellent museums in Brussels also testify to their cultural heritage.

There’s traditional cuisine - you simply must try the Moule et Pomme Frittes (mussels & French Fries) – a Brussels signature dish. If you love seafood you will definitely be in love with Brussels as almost every restaurant has Moules et Pomme Frites on the menu as well as the Belgian classic Waterzooi soup (a chicken or fish dish with a cream-based sauce and finely sliced vegetables), which you can order with fish or other types of meat as well. Mussels are prepared in many ways – steamed and served with white wine, beers, Thai, etc – choose your preference. If you want to make sure the mussels are truly delectable – it is best to order them in any month that does not have an “r” in the name – these are the high seasons for mussel gathering and they are much more abundant and fresher then, though they are good all year round as well. Look for light-colored mussel meat in the shells – if the meat is dark it could be because it is not as fresh.

Brussels claims the honor of inventing French Fries (frites) and they have the best frites I have ever tasted and I normally don’t eat French Fries, but these were so exceptionally delicious I couldn’t resist. They are famous for serving frites with mayonnaise and some have a variety of mayonnaise flavors. I went to the small restaurant sort of ‘shack,’ “Maison Antoine” (Place Jordan) and they served up the classic pom frites in a cone style wrap with 5 different mayonnaise flavors to choose from for dip. Absolutely the best fries I have ever tasted – Belgians absolutely have the edge on French Fries and they should, they originally invented French Fries, not France as many think.

Believe it or not another cultural treat in Brussels is their world-renowned chocolates and the famous waffles, served up plain (made with a rich egg batter) to be eaten by hand to the waffle with whip cream/chocolate sauce. The restaurants also offer great deserts – some of my favorite is the French style puff pastries with custard in the middle, drizzled with chocolate and topped with whip cream. Find a seat on a bench nearby and enjoy.

And lastly when it comes to Belgian Beer – you simply cannot get any better – especially if you opt for one of the rich aged trapist beers. Belgium has over 400 beers – a lot for such a small country. The history goes that St. Arnold, the patron saint of brewers is the reason for this. During the plague that broke out across Europe in the Middle Ages, St. Arnold convinced the Belgian population to drink Beer instead of water as beer is boiled and water isn’t.

They have several styles of beers including the Trapist beers, White Beers, Lambic beers, Abbey Beers, Vlaams Rood, Oud Bruin, and Saisons style beers. Please see links under “Links” heading for some great informative Belgian Beer websites. In my opinion and many other’s opinion, Belgian has the riches, highest quality and quantity of beers than any other country and I am not even a beer fan normally. So that tells you something – Belgian Beer is aged and fussed over in the brewing, storing, and tasting process as much as fine wine is elsewhere. I recommend the Triple Karmeliet (fruit beer) Beer (about 9 - 11% alcohol, a strong fruity rich beer) and the Triple Westmalle (about 9 – 11% alcohol, a rich creamy smooth nutty beer). Be careful and resist the temptation to sample them all at once – they are too strong for that. One is enough for me – filling and satisfying.