1) There are a lot of hairdressers. Almost enough to rival the launderettes and copy shops.
2) I’ve not quite figured out the pedestrian crossings yet. On the main roads there are green men which must be on a timer and go off automatically as there are no buttons to press. On the smaller roads cars always stop for you. Even if they are going full speed they slam on their breaks to let you cross. Trams, however, don’t seem to stop for anything or anyone.
3) Belgian fries are SO GOOD. (And apparently one of the best places to get them is on Place Flagey, conveniently located 5 minutes from my residence). I was wondering why all the places had piles of cooked chips above the fryers, but I’ve realised it is because they double fry all the chips, so they are crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Yum yum yum. There is a huge list of sauces to have with them. I tried the Andalouse sauce which was nice and spicy, but the chips are so good the sauce isn’t really necessary. The best place in the centre for fries is a place called “Fritland,” near the Grand Place, where they use fresh potatoes instead of frozen ones. I think I could get used to a country where a large portion of fries and sauce counts as a meal.
4) The waffles are also seriously good. The best place for them is apparently near the Manneken Pis statue where they sell them for 1 euro. Toppings are extra but seemingly toppings are just for the tourists, the locals eat them as they are with a dusting of icing sugar.
5) On a similar note, the beer is also surprisingly nice. My first Belgian beer was a cherry flavoured one called Kriek. There is a bar called Delirium which apparently has over 3000 beers… I don’t envy the bar tender working there.
6) Continuing this theme, I must try the chocolate soon.
7) The metro system seems manageable in Brussels, compared to London and Paris, being a lot smaller with only 7 lines. But who knew that metro stops have multiple entrances which makes a huge difference as to where you come out? Oh, city life…
8) I had heard that Manneken Pis was a national symbol of Belgium and something you must see so I imagined a grand statue and an elaborate fountain. In fact, it is tiny. And bizarre. The statue of the little boy doing a wee can only be a foot or two tall at most, and yet there is a swarm of tourists all pushing through the crowd to get a photo and causing a traffic jam, a barbershop choir serenading the statue and policemen to control the crowd. Oh and did I mention the statue is dressed?! Mannekin Pis is the proud owner of over 900 costumes which are changed regularly. And twice a year it pees beer. But somehow this seems like the perfect national symbol for quirky Brussels.
9) The Grand Place is every bit as impressive as the guide books make out. The buildings are beautiful! There were a couple of bandstands with orchestras playing. It is oddly hidden and can only be accessed on foot. You go through all these narrow, windy streets and then suddenly you are in this huge square. A bride and groom were waving to everyone from the first floor of the town hall.
10) In the streets around the Grand Place there are comic-strip murals everywhere. Lots are of Tintin. They don’t look like graffiti or feel like it has been vandalised. They are works of art!
11) Belgian cash machines are a bit alarming. You don’t enter your pin until you’ve selected exactly how much money you need, then the money comes out before you take your card. The machine then makes the loudest “duh-duh-de, duh-duh-de, duh-duh-de” noise repeated over and over at top volume even once you’ve retrieved your card. Although being able to deposit cash in the machines and add it directly to your card is pretty cool.
12) Belgian policemen stand looking very serious with big guns and bullet proof vests, then when changeover time comes at the end of their shifts they all start smiling and kissing each other on the cheeks.
13) They weren’t joking when they said it rains a lot in Brussels, although your opinion of the weather depends entirely on where you are from.
14) Every beer has a different glass, some of them don’t stand up and look more like they should be in a chemistry lab…