So, picking up after my nap..apologies there are several of those rests in our trip to Brussels. We did quite a bit of walking and with my crumby knees I need regular breaks. It actually worked quite well for us and Brussels is a perfect city for regular breaks during the day, particularly helped by our hotel location. I’ve heard very good reviews of their metro system, but I’m just not a fan of travelling around a new city underground and popping out for a tourist attraction, then scurrying back underground to get to the next place. I firmly believe that you can get more of an actual feel for a place by walking around it. Also, Brussels really isn’t that big so there didn’t seem to be any need to get the metro – also helped by the chance that we’d walk past a Christmas market with tasty treats! Anyways..back to our evening adventures!
Both Adam and I were happy to eat, but not stupidly hungry given the size of our lunch. So we headed out for a bit of a walk. It was a similar circuit to earlier in the day, but at night with the lights and the markets busier there is just a whole different feel to the place. We turned left up just as we came out of the hotel and walked down Rue du Marché aux Pulets until we got to the market right by Eglise Saint Nocolas. I always expected the Christmas markets to be in squares, from me experience of a lot of them that pop up in the UK over the festive period and from when I went to Berlin in December on a school exchange. In fact, even up until just now (where I had to check Google Maps to make sure I got the street names right) I thought they were squares. In fact, they just appear in quiet streets and I love it! Thinking back, several that we stumbled upon weren’t in secluded squares, rather in quiet (mainly pedestrian) streets. We had a little bit of a wander around this market and settled on a couple of glasses of mulled wine to keep us going on our walk.
We then headed up to, what I think, is the main Christmas market in the area – it sure was the busiest and biggest one – Marché aux Poissons Vismarkt. We had popped in earlier that day and it was pretty empty and really nothing special (I didn’t even take any pictures!!), nothing really that special. The evening though was buzzing though: the lights, the atmosphere, the rides, the food.. it was great! We had a bit of an explore up and down the cabins – I found an artist that I liked (Sibylle Dodinot). It was incredible to watch her work and I liked some of her prints so bought three postcards. We also got Adam a crêpe as he was starting to get hungry. Given the tourist location, the prices in the cabins, for food or otherwise, wasn’t noticeably expensive. I mean, it wasn’t cheap but it wasn’t a rip off either.
We then continued on our stroll to Place Sainte-Catherine, where we stumbled upon the most beautiful choir outside the church. Neither of us are religious people, but there was something that kept us both there, almost mesmerised by the singing. It was a very open and comforting environment. Emphasised by those who spread through the crowd to give candles out to anyone who wanted one (and helping to relight those that had gone out in the wind!) The crowd was also very friendly, together we helped shield/relight each others candles and there was a mutual respect for each other and the choir. It was lovely. When the choir reached the end of their songs, they turned and proceeded into the church. Those who were giving out candles were encouraging people to partake in the service inside – it was very clear that anyone was welcome whilst also not being pushy at all. There was no pressure to go into the church, nor any pressure to donate any money. For me, this was one of the nicest things to see. Unfortunately, too often I have been to places/event (religious or otherwise) where there are undue amounts of pressure to be preached at or to donate. This was unlike that, we even had a nice conversation with the man who had given out the candles who was encouraging people into the church. That evening still sits with me for reasons that I can’t quite explain – I think in part it was nice to be accepted in a place that was struggling with the aftermath of the terrible events in Paris only a couple of weeks before. Being brown, though completely non-religious, was something I was very aware of on this trip and to be treated without suspicion and as a human being means a lot. To this day, I’m not sure what the event was or what it meant or why it happened, but I’m so glad it did. That Saturday 19th December 2015 will stick with me for a long time to come.
After the crowd has dispersed somewhat, the light projected countdown on the front of the church was nearing zero so we waited. We had absolutely no idea what was going to happen, but when it did it was incredible. There was a phenomenal light show projected onto the front of the church. I was so mesmerised by the effects that I didn’t video it or stop to take photos. We realised that it was part of the Winter Wonder Christmas festivities in Brussels – again, it was completely free and a lovely atmosphere to be part of.
We had a gentle stroll, stopped to listen to a busker singing alone with her guitar and up to Bourse Beurs Market, it was full of other food and drink cabins and stalls. We picked up a raclette cheese sandwich with salami for Adam (which I may have had just a little nibble of!) as he was pretty hungry. It was really yummy and warming. We then started to make our way back to the Grand Place – we wanted to see it at night all lit up! It really was worth it – we caught the end of the light show, which happened every half an hour (from what I remember), with music. It was lovely, but with the travelling we’d had a long day and decided that as we had a couple of nights left we could see it another time and went to find somewhere for waffles.
We went back up the arcade just by the hotel, Galeries Royales St. Hubert, and found a café for waffles that was in my trusty guide book: Mokafé. According to the Lonely Planet, THE place for locals to get ‘real’ waffles, traditionally with 20 squares and dusted with icing sugar (rather than cream/ice cream) – which is exactly what I had and was not disappointed!
Such a jam-packed day, by the end of it we felt like we’d been there longer than 10-12 hours It was definitely time to get some sleep, though, I did take a couple more pictures out of our bedroom window before getting into bed!
**If you’re interested in seeing a map of where we went, here’s the Winter Wonder guide to Brussels 2015**