Worming my way through the crowds, the night now well and truly ready for the fireworks planned during the Flower Carpet festival. The theme? Mexico. The beautiful colours of yellow and orange light up the cobblestone centre of Grand-Place or Grote Markt in Brussels, where I had spent earlier that morning having breakfast observing the numerous trucks beeping in and out and unloading shipments of flowers.
I squirm my way past men holding their DSLRs and women tightly gripping the hands of their children, some holding beers and others eating. I look up at the City Hall balcony full of people, the building lit up with blue and green and pink and I don’t know how to get up there. They look unordinary; delegates, wealthy businessmen, women wearing gowns, that sort of thing, but the view from up there would be incredible. There is just too many people and I think that if the fireworks don’t start soon, I may want to head back out of the crowds and to the Le Comptoir de Mathilde for some Noix Noisettes, hot chocolate prepared in little square pieces with a spoon stuck inside that you simply dip into warm milk and mix so the chocolate melts into it.
Just as I am about to leave, it begins! The fireworks blast into the air to celebrate this Flower Carpet Festival, colouring the incredible, guild halls until a cloud of smoke barely makes the sky visible. This old part of Brussels is indeed the most beautiful, the cobblestone streets and the classic architecture can have you walking around the winding streets to see some fascinating things, including the multitude of “pis” statues that allows you to see parts of Brussels you probably would not have otherwise. It is almost worth adding to your itinerary visiting each of the statutes of various animals and people peeing, from Het Zinneke or the dog peeing, Manneken Pis or the peeing boy and Jeanneke Pis, Manneken’s squatting sister.
I stayed at 2GO4 Grand Place Hostel, a hostel right near the Grand Palace and in a perfect location, although check-in is only done at the other Hostel further out and it meant that I needed to get the swipe pass from them and the walk all the way over with my heavy luggage. The Kings Gallery tunnels are not far from the hostel and caters for more wealthier customers. Littered with an ensemble of ice-creameries, chocolatiers, cafe’s and boutique stores, it has a little jewellery shop that takes my fancy. On every trip I take, I tend to buy a piece of jewellery and the longer that I stay, the more expensive it becomes.
Les Nereides is a French designer jewellery store that has the type of jewellery that I love, fine, colourful, authentic and expensive. Not too incredible, but enough to make you take good care of it and to enable it to hold some sentimental value. A beautiful golden cuff that sits gently around my wrist, coloured with a bouquet of pastel pink flowers and blue stones. Everything in the store filled me with excitement.
A day trip over the Ghent on a stunning, sunny days seals the Belgian experience, the still warm air in this Flemish Region with the medieval architecture and canals of water is a beautiful place to visit. While the centre is filled with tourists, you can go off the beaten track and wander around the cobblestone streets and Gravensteen, a castle that really takes you back in time. It is worth visiting the churches in the region too, especially St. Bavo Cathedral or Sint–Baafskathedraal where inside you’ll find the remains of the whale Leo hanging from the ceiling.
Belgium is a lovely place to visit and you can even catch a bus or train from Paris and spend a few days sightseeing. I felt comfortable and safe travelling solo. However beautiful the architecture, the picnic landscape and wonderful history, Belgium is all about chocolate. You will be delighted by both the traditional, wonderful flavours you’ll find in obscure parts of the city and still even enjoy commercial stores that cater for numerous tourists looking to take something home. Have fun!