The train ride from Brussels Airport into the city depicts a grey, industrial scene. Moisture hangs in the air, and I couldn’t help but think of the mass amounts of steam I saw being released from a nuclear plant from the plane as it was descending. Every once in a while, you’ll glimpse the spire
of an old gothic cathedral or other building as small towns drenched in the grey mist whiz past. They, too, are grey. Graffiti covers everything from the old abandoned buildings lining the tracks to the entire length of some passenger trains. Some of it is big, colourful, artistic and even intriguing. But some of it is vandalism for the sake of vandalism. And it’s grey.
I can’t help but be reminded of my father’s words when I first brought up the idea of going to Brussels. “There’s not much to see in Brussels,” he warned. “It’s just a big grey city, and the main attraction is a small statue of a peeing boy.”
What I’ve discovered is that while, particularly in February, Brussels is grey, that’s not to to say that a world of colour does not exist if you’re looking for it. And no, there’s not much to “see,” per se. But I’ve found that to be one of the benefits of Brussels. The reason to come here isn’t to trudge around the city from landmark to landmark; it’s the laid-back atmosphere, the artistic culture, and the quirkiness of it all.
Brussels takes great pride in it’s quirks, you can tell. Perhaps that is why the Manneken Pis – the
statue I mentioned earlier – has taken it’s place as the city’s mascot. Literally a small bronze statue of a small boy peeing completely in the nude, it has restaurants and chocolate shoppes named after it, and it’s image fills the souvenir shops. But even standing in front of the Manneken Pis, the scene around you encapsulates Brussels. A small, colourful bird is painted in the corner above the statue. It appears to be street art, and even though it’s almost on the city’s most famous monument, it has been left there. A bar and a chocolate shoppe flank the corner of the statue itself in typical Belgian style. Just down the road, you walk by a few abandoned units, with lease signs in the windows, covered in black spray paint, until you
stumble across a funky bar, with leather lounge chairs inside and a wall lined entirely with vintage suitcases, one lined entirely with plants, while strange meditation-like music played in the background.
It’s a city full of hidden gems. From old, brimming bookshops, to vintage markets, to the street art in the form of storey-high comics that can be found every few blocks in the city centre, the bohemian, artistic side of Brussels doesn’t go unnoticed.
Even the stark contrast in architecture – gothic cathedrals to crumbling concrete facades – speak to the atmosphere here. Old and
new blend seamlessly, creating a lively character of a place.
It’s an imperfect city, but boasts it’s imperfections and embraces it’s quirks. If you know where to look, you can easily find colour amidst the grey.