I’ve rarely found someone that understood why I chose to study in Brussels. I’ve rarely found anyone that understood what I saw in this city or how I could be enamored with a city that’s so dirty, dumpy and boring, with its top monument being a little peeing boy.
So I’ve heard many myths about this city and seen different attitudes of tourists. And of course your first question that you probably put in your mind is How could a city with beautiful old buildings, cool museums, and famous gastronomy be bad? Stereotypes, where do they come from?
“Brussels is boring”
If only I had a penny for every time I’ve heard this I would be a millionaire. Let me explain you why.
Brussels is weird, full of dichotomies, and so long as you don’t dig the conventional, it’s easy to fall for the city.
Well…yes! Brussels is full of hidden treasures that you probably never get to see as a lonely tourist: wonderful shops, amazing food, frites (don’t say French fries!), art, great museums and galleries, beautiful unique architecture or bizarre modern buildings, UNESCO World Heritage, 8-12% beer, languages, comics, Van Damme, a forest (yes, a whole forest) and so much more….
But I think what makes Brussels unique is that mix of people and cultures from everywhere and the locals without any pretention. There’s no place in earth you can see a Prime Minister attending a gay-pride or the King running a 20km city marathon.
If Brussels is boring, well, the city really couldn’t care less.
“No really, it rains a lot here.”
The rain in Brussels can be like a slow trickle that never turns off. But the rain is okay… really… because one day… some day… it stops. And on those first few warm, sunny spring days, the city completely transforms. All of life is good in a way that Southerners will never understand.
“Tiny statue of peeing boy. What’s the point?”
I’ve often heard: “That tourist spot is not as grand as I imagined. The cute little boy sculpture is against the wall of a small corner. I was super surprised of how small it is.”
Well yes, that’s because in general people remain stubbornly unimpressed by peeing statues. It’s a human being. If you really fantasize about visiting big naked sculptures try Michelangelo’s David in Florence. If not, read what Marsha says:
He brings people together: If you stayed at the corner of Rue du Chène and Rue de l’Étuve for a full day, you’d see tourists from all nationalities, races, and languages filing past the Manneken Pis. And their reactions are almost always the same (is that all?) It’s a beautiful thing to observe people who don’t share the same language or nationality or race taking pictures of each other in front of the Manneken. Although they go their separate ways after the photo op, in that moment differences become inconsequential. And who do we have to thank for that? That’s right–the little bronze statue with his pee-pipe hangin’ out.
“Taxis are expensive”
Taxis in Brussels are limousine style. Unless you can’t get refunded for your trip, you still can share the fee with your friends. If you travel alone on the budget note that Brussels is a quite a small city and unless you have an emergency you won’t need a taxi. You can easily walk through it. Public transport is decent, with good connections everywhere in the city and surroundings. You could also rent a bike for 1,5 euro per day.
“One way trip from the International Airport of Brussels to the center costs around 48 euros!” – Like Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary says: “if you are an idiot, you will pay for.” It’s obvious that you have the bus as an alternative, which is only 4.
“The traffic and rudeness of Belgian drivers…”
Cairo is a traffic madness during the day and still, full of tourists. Try something else because this is no reason for stopping traveling the world.
“It has no malls!”
You cannot see big chains and huge shopping malls in Brussels. It does not fit the architecture. Instead you will see artisans, small shops, small hotels and cafes, which have some local flair. And if you will open your eyes wider you will find that Brussels has malls that look like palaces.
“Rudeness…This is something you will have to deal with a lot of people in Brussels.”
Remember when you’re traveling in Europe that rudeness is largely a cultural perception. Someone who seems blunt and nosey may be expressing friendship and concern for your well-being. A waiter who tells you what to order may be trying to help, since you are unfamiliar with the language. Also, subjects that are considered taboo in your community may be freely discussed elsewhere, and vice versa. For example in my country, Romania, we consider it rude to comment on a person’s weight. This isn’t true everywhere in the world!
So, when traveling to Brussels, keep a firm grip on your temper. A good way to achieve this is to give everyone else the benefit of the doubt. Just make the choice not to get angry. For every rude person, you will find a charming person, like in any other city you go to. If you stay out from stereotypes you’ll enjoy your vacation more – and you’ll be a better traveling companion.
Now let’s analyze two myths that could be true…
– The urban infrastructure, especially in and around train or underground stations is dirty, always under construction and not well kept. For a city with such a charm is unacceptable.
– The bars and terraces are closing after midnight during the week. Except your hotel corner room you will have no place for drinking a beer or going out. On Sundays a lot of shops are closed and also, unfortunately Info center in Stations and Airport. I find this also unacceptable. Concerning the Airport around 9 PM every single shop at the airport will close (even the duty free shops, or Tourist information!) and the whole place look completely empty.
What about you? Give me your feedback. What or how was your experience while visiting Brussels?