I have a yearly tradition of travelling in August, before or after my birthday. Last year though, my mother visited me in the Netherlands and we made a small European tour so money was a bit tight when my birthday came. Not wanting me to miss my tradition, my husband took me to Brussels for a day trip.
Approximately 1.5 hours drive from Zeeland and about 2.5 hours from Rotterdam, I am a little ashamed to admit that it was the first time I am visiting the European capital despite it’s proximity to where I live. There was just not enough reason to visit Brussels, except maybe during a lay-over in the airport on the way to other cities.
The hunt for an antique locket in the Sablon market
We left early so we can still catch the famous weekend antique market at Palace du Grand Sablon which is open from 9:00 – 14:00 on Sundays. I love antique markets, especially old jewelry and tea sets. For a while now I’ve been scouting for a unique, antique locket for myself and was hoping to find one in the Sablon but the prices were still too steep for me. I guess jewelry does not really lose their value in time. I did spy on some beautiful jade rings and pearl earrings but nothing really fascinated me well enough to buy.
A visit at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts
The Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België is housed in a neoclassical Beaux-Arts architectural style designed by one of Belgium’s finest architect, Aphonse Balat. The facade is already impressive, the inside even more. But we came here for the paintings.
And the paintings I saw and felt.
One of the many that made a lasting impression was this interpretation of the story of Apollo and Marsyas by Italian painter Jusepe de Ribera. The story goes that after Marsyas lost a music contest to Apollo, as a price, Apollo skinned him alive. You can feel the excruciating pain in the face of the poor musician. I could not erase this image from my mind for days on end.
I also found two works of Dutch painter Dieric Bouts very intense, graphic and disturbing – The Ordeal by Fire and The Justice of the Emperor Otto: The Execution of the Innocent Man. Both shows two decapitation apparently executed in front of spectators.
Whether true or not (as I have done that much research while writing this) it shows the cruelty that human beings are capable of. Barbaric was the only description I can think of while looking at the paintings and I shared this strong dislike with my husband.
I guess this is how you measure a painter’s success – when he can channel these sort of emotions to the viewers of his works.
After these intense viewing, I needed something to take my mind off the gruesomeness so we moved to the landscape and portrait area of the museum. Landscape paintings are not really my favorite so I thought of a little game with Robin to make the experience a bit more fun – spot the details. We did not expect it but this game turned out to be a hilarious activity.
Look at the details that we found from the works of popular painters.
First painting is by Jacques Callot called The Fair at Impruneta. Those dogs sent us laughing hysterically.
Second photo is by Pieter Bruegel I entitled The Fall of the Rebel Angels. Do you agree with me that that creature in the far bottom left is farting? Sorry for the blurry photos but here is a sharper one. Link
Lunch by Le Grain de Sable
After a while we had enough of scrutinizing the little details in the landscape paintings and left the museum to pacify our growling stomachs. We ended back in Palace du Grand Sable at a place restaurant called Le Grain de Sable which were filled with gay couples at the time of our visit. The place was decked in white and bathed in sunshine so for some time we had to endure the blinding lights shining on our eyes.
The food was excellent so we stick to the place even though we have several other choices for lunch around the same area. I had entrecôte with salad and a glass of Bordeaux while Robin ordered calf slow-cooked in Belgian beer served with Belgian french fries (which is better than the Dutch by the way) and a bottle of Westmalle Trappist. I finished only half of my entrecote and half of my husband’s calf stew and later that month cooked my own version of that Flemish beer stew. Needles to say, the lunch was unforgettable.
We were almost slipping to food coma after our huge lunch but instead of walking it off, we stayed in Le Grain de Sable, this time with some cocktails in hand – mojito for the both of us. Coupled with the sweltering summer weather and the effect of the alcohol, we magically sweat the sleepiness away.
We did not forget the Atomium.
So we drove there after lunch hoping that after some sight seeing we can have a high tea at the Atomium restaurant. The view would have been wonderful, just like in Euromast tower.
It took us at least half an hour to find a parking space and when we get to the reception, they told us that the restaurant is closed so we ended up drinking tea in one of those touristy cafe around the Atomium.
After taking photos with Brussels’ iconic structure – which is all there to do there – we found a cozy spot in the park nearby. The bench that we chose overlooked the park’s amphitheater, shaded with a lot of trees and you can feel the soft breeze in your skin, just enough to cool us off. At three in the afternoon, it was a perfect place to take a nap. So we did.
Nothing could have been better.