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Brussels, Belgium

Guess what today was? Another public holiday! But this was the first one that worked in our favour – we scored free parking right in the middle of Brussels. The first thing we did was check out the Gothic centre square and the surrounding restaurant/bar scene, mainly for the purpose of finding beer for Danny. It didn’t take him long to locate a store stocking hundreds of Belgian beers, each with its own unique matching glass. I lost Danny for some time here, and I was surprised when he eventually emerged with only a few bottles. Nearby was a popular bar where Danny could choose from another couple of hundred beers (he has the menu as proof) and I could pick from a limited cocktail list. Thankfully there is alcohol other than beer in this country. 

The following day Danny surprisingly started with a non-beer activity, directing us towards a flea market. Somehow he got us lost, and we walked around in circles for ages before finally working out where we were. Unfortunately we were closer to the car than the market. But we persevered and made it in the end. It was situated in the African quarter and it really felt like we were back in Morocco. Hordes of men (no women) were sitting outside cafes drinking coffee and people watching, fragrant food smells whet our appetite, and run down but charming buildings lined the streets. The market didn't interest me much, so I wandered around aimlessly while Danny browsed the stalls. Apparently he needed a new razor, even though he is growing his beard again.

Next up was the Palace of Justice, sitting high up on a hill, with a free elevator conveniently transporting us right to the top. Almost the entire building was covered in scaffolding, although I could imagine it was fairly grand underneath. There were supposedly views out over the city, yet all we saw were a few houses and a church or two in the distance. From here we walked up to the Modern Art Museum, but it was closed for renovations. We hadn’t had much luck with museums lately.

 

Danny was now ready to hit the alcohol, so he made a beeline for a beer museum (which he loved) while I went off in the opposite direction. The next hour or so consisted of a boring park where all the fountains were turned off, the impressive Royal Palace, the huge Cathedral, an expensive-looking shopping arcade full of Belgian chocolates, a bit of souvenir shopping, and devouring freshly made churros. I can achieve a lot when Danny isn’t around, leading us astray.

After ticking off the main sights it was then time to start my comic strip walk of Brussels. Apparently this is a highlight of the city, and it is so popular that the locations of the dozens of the murals are on the official map from the tourist office. There is even a museum dedicated to the artworks. The route I followed led me past about 30 comics painted on the sides of buildings, many of them multiple stories tall. Some were of famous comics, some were just random scenes. Occasionally they were slightly hidden from view, depending on which direction I was coming from, and it became a bit of an adventure to locate them. Not being a comic strip fan, I didn’t expect to have so much fun spotting cartoon paintings in the middle of a city.

 

I met Danny at the Mannekin Pis fountain, the most photographed sight in Brussels (and the inspiration for many souvenirs). It was underwhelming - a tiny, tiny boy peeing into a fountain. I I don't know how it became so popular. We quickly photographed it, ticked it off the list and left.

 

Danny found a pub selling a beer he wanted to try, Kwak. It came in a glass that looked a bit like a science experiment, with a round-bottomed glass that required a wooden stand to keep it upright. I think it was more the novelty factor than the beer. 

We headed back to the car and drove towards a campsite, one that the tourist office said was open. It wasn't. There was another campervan there too, also annoyed that it was closed. This couple asked at a local bar if there was anywhere else to go, and were told that there was campervan parking nearby. She took down directions and off we went. For half an hour we followed them, stopping three times so they could clarify the route. In the end we gave up and drove back to the original campsite, parking outside on the street. We never would have gone to that much trouble if the other couple hadn't been so keen.

We checked the weather forecast for the next few days: 6-8ºC during the day, 0ºC at night. Fantastic. 

The next morning we drove back into the city and walked over to the huge Sunday market. The maze-like layout branched off in an endless number of directions and seemed to have no logical order. Our primary aim was the food section, and it wasn’t long before we found a stall serving crepes with a choice of roughly a thousand different fillings. I opted for goat's cheese and honey, which was incredible. Danny ordered the same but added figs, and that was even better. I don’t remember ever having goat's cheese in a crepe, but I highly recommend it. After this gluttony I left Danny to explore the market for a few hours by himself. He told me later that he bought a spit roast quail. A whole one. Just as a snack.

Meanwhile, I visited the Magritte Museum (Magritte being a famous Belgian Surrealist painter - a bit like Salvador Dali but slightly less nightmarish). I didn't know a whole lot about his work, but I found the exhibition fascinating. Most of the information was in French, preventing me from learning much about him or his paintings, but simply staring at the artwork was good enough for me.

Next on my hit list was Museum Horta, situated in a former architect’s house and studio dedicated to the Art Nouveau movement (very popular in Belgium in its time). Unfortunately, the line outside was massive and only a few of people were allowed to enter every few minutes. No way I was waiting that long for something I wasn’t overly interested in. Instead I followed a map that pointed out the Art Nouveau buildings in the area. As I know hardly anything about this style, I wasn't entirely sure which building I was supposed to be looking at half of the time.

Late in the afternoon we crossed our fingers and tried another campsite that was supposed to be open. No such luck. Some people were hanging around but I think they might have lived nearby. With a bit of searching, we found a site near the entrance with a functioning electrical source. As we were desperate to charge a few items, we hoped no one minded if we set ourselves up there for a couple of hours. A couple of hours came and went and no one seemed to care about us, so we ended up staying the night. It was a pity the shower block wasn't open, but we can’t complain about free electricity and accommodation.