19 Aug 2013

A Long Weekend in Brussels - It's All About the Beer: Day 2

After our first rather early night in Brussels we had a very long lie-in too, enjoying the fact that we didn't have an 8am wake-up call from the dog. Much as I love the little chap, it's very nice to get away once in a while and not have to worry about taking him out first thing! We hadn't booked breakfast in the hotel (at €27 per person you must be kidding), so had nothing urgent to get up early for - no alarms set; bliss. The weather was a bit mixed - some patches of blue sky, but mainly cloudy and overcast. We didn't get out of the hotel until around 12.30pm and headed to Exki, a lovely Belgian chain of cafés that we'd discovered in Ghent in 2011, which serves delicious salads, quiches, pastries, coffee, etc.

Afer a quick brunch we headed up the hill to the Royal Quarter to visit the Magritte museum, past yet more defaced no-entry signs and some interesting murals/graffiti.

Rene Magritte is one of those artists that you know the name and you recognise some of his work, but you probably haven't put two-and-two together to work out which art is actually his (the man with a bowler hat and an apple in front of his face is a well-known one). He was a Belgian surrealist artist, born in 1898, and the recently-opened museum (within the Musées Royeaux des Beaux Arts) holds a fantastic, chronological collection of his work. Not all of his famous paintings are there, but there's enough to get a decent look at his life and works (and entry to the museum is currently 2-for-1 with a Eurostar ticket, so a bargain at €4 each!).

A quick trip to the gift shop left us a bit poorer, with Magritte coffee mugs and matching watches, with 12, 3, 6 and 9 marked by a man, a bird, an umbrella and a pipe, respectively, with all of the other points marked by bowler hats (cue endless amusement between the two of us for the rest of the weekend telling the time - eg "it's hat past bird" and so on).

After leaving the gallery we popped back to the hotehl to drop off our purchases and then headed up through the Parc de Bruxelles to try to find a famous beer bar - Le Bier Circus, only to find that it was closed for most of August. Some of the nearby architecture was quite impressive (it looked a bit like Paris) but there was a backdrop of seventies newbuilds and some ugly main roads nearby.

Disappointed at the bar being shut we wandered back through the museum area, past the Palais de Justice and headed across Avenue Louise and then down through the suburb of St. Gilles to find the original Moeder Lambic bar (it was already 4.30pm by this time, given our ridiculously late start). It was nice to wander through the quiet neighbourhoods, the odd art nouveau feature in sight on some houses and past some interesting characters.

We'd planned to visit the Musee Horta, but would only have a half hour visit, so decided to save for another visit. Instead, we found the bar, plonked ourselves down for a while and tried a few more Belgian beers (and some more cheese). Like their sister bar in the centre there was a constant stream of visitors, some staying for only one drink, others settled in for a while. I imagine that it would have been in all of the guide books, although being further out of town would receive fewer visitors. Good people-watching, and good beer, of course.

We'd booked a restaurant at 7pm (recommended by one of the chaps we'd met in Le Perroquet the previous day) which wasn't too far away, in the Ixelles area. Gusto was a nice-enough Italian place, although it was a bit dead, as we were so early. After a quick meal we headed back into town, just reaching the viewpoint at the Palais de Justice as the sun was setting behind the city. Couples hung out on benches, tourists lingered taking photos, people came up and down in the elevator.

We wandered back into the centre, past a skateboard park where kids threw water at each other and others just hung out. We spotted a couple of rather interesting murals high up on walls.

Eventually we found a nice-enough bar for our next beer, along the Rue du Lombard, before moving on to Le Greenwich, a grand old place which doesn't seem to have chess any more (unlike the description in my now 5-year-old guidebook). It did have some wonderful art nouveau decorations and features, though, as well as flamboyant staff. We were home by 11.15pm, feeling the effects again from the 6 or 7 delicious Belgian beers we'd tried, ready for our last day and hopefully a slightly earlier start.


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