I don’t know if, like me, you were ever a fan of the blond quiffed one.  If so, you might remember the incompetent detectives Thomson and Thompson (Dupond et Dupont in the original).  Despite their bumbling, their search for clues seemed to hint at to what to do in Brussels when you’ve already seen the well-known sights.  Armed with some mostly sunny weather, an intermittent map connection and some trusty flat boots, I took some time out to search for a different Brussels.    I wanted to try to understand the Brussels where people live.  And this is what I found.

brussels Clue #1: Gastronomic Evolution

We all know that Brussels is famed for a number of gastronomic delights: chocolate, moules, frites, beer.  That’ll be all the main food groups covered then.  But what I found out and about was a seasonal appreciation for the joy that is hot chocolate.  Time and time again, in chocolate shops, cafes and patisseries, I bumped into the telltale urns, and signs offering all kinds of flavourings and toppings.  Being allergic to milk, I couldn’t partake, but the smell was a whole new deliciousness in its own right.  So Belgians, I am deducing, are adept at adapting and changing, and finding ever more delicious ways to enjoy gastronomic pleasures.

Brussels - Chocolate, Chocolate Everywhere

Brussels: never knowingly short of chocolate, whether hot or cold

Brussels Clue #2: Dogged determination in Adversity

This rather spectacular clock – the Carillon du Mont des Arts –  forms part of the building outside Square Brussels, the conference centre where I spent my weekend.  It reminded me of the Peeping Tom Clock in Coventry, and also of that fine whirring and buzzing edifice at Stourbridge Junction rail station in Worcestershire.  Emerging from the conference hall at ten minutes to the hour, I wondered if it was worth loitering to see the clock in motion.

A quick chat with the friendly security team revealed that the answer, alas, was no.  The clock used to do all kinds of things, including, as far as I could tell, wind itself up from the rooftop.  But over the years thieves, lured by the price of scrap metal, had robbed it time and again of its moving parts.  So someone with a pragmatic approach had decided to stick it all firmly together.  While it no longer gives an hourly show, to my mind it makes a lot of sense to have preserved its beauty.  So a high (unautomated) five to the practicality of the Belgians.  You’ll find more on the Jaquemart (the Bellringer), the bells and the figures here.

Brussels - The Sticky Mechanical Clock, Opposite Square Brussels

Carillon du Mont des Arts: there are 24 bells and 12 figures representing the history of Brussels.  It was built for the 1958 World Fair.  The figures include Jacques van Artvevelde, symbol of the foreign national resistance, Pierre Paul Rubens and a soldier from the First World War.

Brussels Clue #3: Specialists are successful

In a world where shops increasingly seem to sell very much the same things, it was a delight over and over again in Brussels to see clear evidence of specialisation.  From bookstores with a niche focus to leather goods, to a magnificent shop front entirely filled with every kind of glove known to humankind, there was clear evidence that in Brussels you travel to find exactly what you want. And there are great things we could learn about that approach to retaining a diverse selection of goods for our everyday lives.

Brussels - Where Even Gloves Are Sold Like Delicacies

Never an excuse for chilly hands in Brussels

Brussels Clue #4: It’s all in the details High Up

Many times in the Low Countries, there are particular delights in looking up.  Here you see the beauty of the gables so common in Flemish architecture.  Step gables, probably the most common of all, existed to both finish the edge of the tiled roof decoratively, and also to enable access for chimney sweeps and roofers when tall ladders were uncommon.

It has to be said that I have a bit of a soft spot for architecture.  When my apartment view for the weekend covered a step gable and a bell gable, my architecture cup overflowed.  And I came to realise the combination of practicality and decoration that the gables show is another clue to the nature of Belgians.

Brussels Roofline - Bell Gable and Step Gable at Rue de Dominicains

Bell to the left, step to the right.  And those window boxes: typically Belgian too.  There’s a lot of cultivated greenery everywhere in Belgium.

Brussels Clue #5: Credit Where Credit’s Due

We’ve already discussed chocolate.  Because how could you not discuss chocolate in Belgium?  But at several points on my wanderings, I was fascinated to spot a familiar and unexpected sight.  British brand Whittard, famed for tea, coffee and hot chocolate, seems to have taken over Brussels.  Now I’m a great fan of Whittard and even more so as some of their hot chocolate comes without milk, making it my go-to guilty pleasure.  But in Brussels?  Home of chocolate?

From this I concluded that the Belgians are truly magnanimous about credit where credit’s due when it comes to the deliciousness that is British hot chocolate.  And I’ll expect to see queues of happy Belgians forming at Whittard branches in the UK soon…

Brussels - Bringing Chocolate to Belgium

Brussels: Where the Brits brought hot chocolate to Belgium

Brussels Clue #6: History Lessons Come in the most unexpected places

Not far from the hustle and bustle that is Grand Place and its splendours, you’ll find a tiny alleyway with an overhead sign.

Brussels - Au Bon Vieux Temps

You could easily miss that, couldn’t you?  But don’t.

At Au Bon Vieux Temps, you’ll find a bar with a beer selection that will satisfy even the most ardent beer connoisseur. But for people like me who love history and architecture, you’ll find something much more fascinating.

Brussels - Au Bon Vieux Temps - Professions of Brussels

The historic professions of Brussels as set out in the window at Au Bon Vieux Temps

As you can see, even on a sunny day, this is a dark and atmospheric bar, so you’ll need to let your eyes acclimatise to get the full beauty of what is there.  We spent a happy half hour with the lady at the bar (it was a quiet afternoon), trying to work out what all the professions were.  We spotted farmers (wheat for beer), tanners (those gloves), brewers (of course), merchants (selling fripperies on the Rue des Frippiers) and some we struggled to identify.  It seemed clear to us that Brussels loves its heritage, but for every building in full show, as in Grand Place, there are others tucking their secrets away.

The Delights of Belgium

I hope Tintin’s detectives and their search for clues brought you a flavour of what’s beneath the surface of Brussels.  If you’ve been and seen the main sights, there’s still so much to explore about what makes Belgium so wonderfully Belgian.

For more exploration of the delights of Belgium, why not join us for a visit to Antwerp’s Kerstmarkt or a trip to glorious Ghent.  And if train travel’s your thing, then definitely consider arriving in Brussels by Eurostar.

 

Brussels - Tintin's Detectives Cut Loose In The City

 

Author: Bernie

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28 thoughts on “Brussels: Tintin’s Detectives Cut Loose In The City

  1. What an insightful post! One needs a real eye for details for something like that 🙂

    Posted on November 4, 2017 at 9:54 am
    1. The details are always what makes the trip for me. Hence my fascination with supermarkets around the world and the clues they give you about lifestyles and preferences. 🙂

      Posted on November 4, 2017 at 10:10 am
  2. I loved Brussel and your post definitely makes me want to go back! There is so much more to discover there! I also loved the little shops, offering specialised marchandise.

    Posted on November 4, 2017 at 10:16 am
    1. Despite the amazing landmarks, it’s really a city of so many fascinating details. Every time I go back, there seems to be something new and interesting to discover.

      Posted on November 4, 2017 at 10:21 am
  3. I love how you made a guide through Brussels in Tintin stye. 🙂 I’ve been in Brussels few years ago, but very shortly. Would love to come back and explore more.

    Posted on November 4, 2017 at 10:37 am
    1. I had a great time just wandering around and getting lost. For someone who has a pretty good inner compass, I got lost rather a lot there, but I have to say it was worth it. 😉

      Posted on November 4, 2017 at 11:29 am
  4. You certainly had a packed time in Brussels! Europe is definitely a hub for many things, chocolate being one of them. I think you could find some good dairy-free chocolates–not just of the hot variety– wherever you go, especially if you know where to look. Thanks for sharing your Belgian food adventures with the rest of us. 🙂

    Posted on November 4, 2017 at 10:43 am
    1. I have to confess that non-dairy chocolate did make it back on the Eurostar with me. Dark chocolate orangettes in particular. 😉

      Posted on November 4, 2017 at 11:28 am
  5. This is fun! Brussels next summer so will save it!

    Posted on November 4, 2017 at 10:58 am
    1. Ah – have a brilliant time! 🙂 There’s plenty interesting to do there.

      Posted on November 4, 2017 at 11:27 am
  6. I love Brussels especially the food. I never tried hot chocolate though and I am kicking myself for that now! I need to explore more of Belgium….

    Posted on November 4, 2017 at 11:53 am
    1. I sometimes feel as though I’m pushing my love for Belgium a bit too much, but it really is a spectacular country! From the friendly people to the stunning buildings, and the chocolate to the beer, it’s just got so much to offer. Glad to meet a fellow fan of Brussels. 🙂

      Posted on November 4, 2017 at 12:03 pm
  7. Loved this. I had such a brief visit to Brussels but want to go back and take in all these wonderful details. And for more chocolate of course!

    Posted on November 4, 2017 at 1:54 pm
    1. A trip in search of chocolate is never wasted…

      Posted on November 5, 2017 at 8:39 am
  8. What a lovely post, thank you for sharing! I have never been to Brussels but your post really turned on my wandelust and hoping to go to Brussels next summer!

    Posted on November 5, 2017 at 8:18 am
    1. It’s well worth a visit. There’s lots to explore and it’s a friendly city.

      Posted on November 5, 2017 at 8:36 am
  9. I think this is a great way to explore and discover the authenic side of a city rather that it’s ‘tourist hot spots”. I plan on going to Belgium in February and look forward to following your tips and advice here. Especially about the hot chocolate-didn’t know Whittard makes theirs without milk. I’ll have to try some.

    Posted on November 5, 2017 at 10:55 am
    1. There’s a dark chocolate version without milk, and maybe one other flavoured one? And good old Bournville of course. I’d love to know about your Belgian finds.

      Posted on November 5, 2017 at 11:39 am
  10. Ahh this is such a cute way to outline the post – we were in Brussels in August and I really noticed the amount of specialized shops as well 🙂

    Posted on November 5, 2017 at 11:55 am
    1. The specialist places are great. It’s like stepping back in time – in a very good way. Every time I go back I seem to find something new. 🙂

      Posted on November 5, 2017 at 12:30 pm
  11. Love this post! It’s so creative and unique.

    Posted on November 5, 2017 at 1:49 pm
  12. I love Tin Tin! This is such a coll way to explore Brussels, thanks for sharing 🙂

    Posted on November 5, 2017 at 3:45 pm
  13. I haven’t been to Brussels yet but it is on my bucket list! After reading this I definitely want to go sooner!

    Posted on November 6, 2017 at 2:09 pm
    1. I hope you really enjoy it. Everything is quite close together, so you’d definitely be able to get to see a lot of Brussels in your stay. And perhaps side trips to Antwerp, Ghent or Bruges? All are entirely feasible as day trips and well worth your time.

      Posted on November 7, 2017 at 8:05 am
  14. What an interesting way to explore a city! It looks like you found some really awesome stuff – and oh that hot chocolate sounds good!

    Posted on November 6, 2017 at 3:39 pm
    1. Thanks. 🙂 I love looking at places and trying to work out what they say about how people live, so it was great fun for me to write. As for the hot chocolate, well it smelt divine. I came home and made myself a lactose-free version immediately, and my, was it good!

      Posted on November 7, 2017 at 8:02 am
  15. What a unique post! I too loved Tintin growing up. This was really well written and I can’t wait to go to Belgium one day!

    Posted on November 6, 2017 at 10:45 pm
    1. Ah, thanks. 🙂 I was in the bookstore looking at Tintin and it suggested itself to me. Belgium’s well worth your time, and I hope it gets onto your list.

      Posted on November 7, 2017 at 8:00 am