The train stopped at the main Brussels station, Gare du Midi. Everyone had to step out of the train as it was the terminus. I had been several times at the Gare du Midi, but that was a while back.
Vintage postcard of Gare du Midi, BrusselsBut the friend who came to greet us at the Gare du Midi was a childhood friend. As I mentioned in my first year anniversary post I spent my childhood in Cité Condorcet in Paris (pictures can be seen on the posts here .) There I played with my best friend Nadia whose family was Armenian. She had a younger brother, Serge, who was a terror. He would run after us or take our toys. With age he became much nicer and we had great times together. Below is a picture taken of him and me on some Paris boulevard. I am not sure of the date but I must have been 19 or so.
I did not see the station as pictured above – I am not quite that old yet, and it does not look like this anymore. The first time was in 1958. My Italian friend, who had come to France to spend a month in my home, and I took the train to Brussels to see Expo 58. This was the first major world’s fair since WW2. Below is a picture I took of my friend Marisa at the fair.
He married a young lady from Brussels who he had met in Paris. My husband and I visited them once, I believe in the early 80s and then because of our respective busy lives, we lost contact. But then, several months ago, Serge contacted me. He had found me through the Internet. He invited us to come and visit him during our next trip to Paris. We had already decided to go in May, so I quickly booked our seats on the TGV train. I wondered how the meeting would go after an absence of almost 30 years. Frankly, it was as if we had left him just a few months ago. He drove us to his house which is in Brussels proper. Flowers under the windows welcomed us.
My friend’s wife had prepared a tasty lunch, which we ate on the veranda. The house is tall, 4 stories, with a nice little garden in the back. Stairs are narrow and as shown in the picture below, when people move out of a house the moving of furniture is done through the window down a moving ladder.
After lunch our friends took us on a little tour to reacquaint us with Brussels. We went through several of Brussels’ districts. Each of the districts, or communes, has a distinctive flavor. The architecture is quite diverse - classic but also Art Nouveau and Art Deco buildings.
Actually Brussels is the capital city of the Art Nouveau world. Victor Horta (1861-1947) was the Belgian architect who was one of the earliest initiators of Art Nouveau. He built some of the most remarkable pioneering buildings in that style in Brussels. Below is a postcard showing the staircase in the Horta museum – which we did not have time to visit.
Postcard of Horta’s House staircase (now the Horta Museum)There are more than 1200 Art Nouveau buildings in Brussels on which to feast one’s eyes. They are all quite varied – large and small, from little town houses to large department stores. I can understand why many French architects came to Brussels to get inspiration.
- (photo courtesy Evrard and Bastin.)
- (photo courtesy Evrard and Bastin.)
We found a spot to park near the Grand’ Place and walked to the Place. I could write a whole post just on the Grand’ Place of Brussels. It is on the prestigious list of World Heritage of Humanity and it merits it. It is the most beautiful city square in Europe. It is an assortment of public and private buildings from the seventeenth century. The history of this place dates back to the middle ages. The original Town Hall in the place was completed in 1455. Many of the buildings were burnt in 1695 by order of Louis XIV, king of France, then rebuilt later.
My pictures don’t give a good idea of the majesty and beauty of this unique place. The two postcards below show the Grand’Place at night and when it is covered with a flower carpet. Every two years, on August 15, the place is covered with a carpet made up of a million begonias.
As we walked up the Grand’ Place I took pictures looking inside courtyards, looking up façades or looking down at the cobblestone pavement.
Too much to photograph! including the mounted police and horses.
Around the Grand’ Place are narrow streets with many restaurants for tourists. It was middle of the afternoon so the restaurants were almost empty, apart from a couple who seemed to enjoy their tall glass of beer and mussels.
But there was more walking to be done – not too fast as the cobblestones are not very soft on the feet.