Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Short Stay in Brussels, Belgium (part one)



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, Brussels

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.




But 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.



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.


Click on collage then click on each picture to enlarge

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)
- (photo courtesy Evrard and Bastin.)


As we drove I could not stop taking pictures of all the remarkable buildings we passed by. The car was stopped briefly so I could take a better picture of the building below. I just love that circular window in the center.




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.




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.


33 comments:

Retired English Teacher said...

Thank you so much for this wonderful tour of Brussels. We were there a year ago for a very fast tour of the town. It all seems to be a blur now. I see from your post how much we missed. I must return sometime so I can see this wonderful architecture.

The group of photos of the narrow streets around the Grand' Place brought many memories back to me. We age in one of those sidewalk restaurants. I distinctly remembered the streets and the place we age. Thanks for bringing back such a lovely memory to me.

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

I have never been to Brussels so I really enjoyed this tour. It is great when you meet up with old friends and it is like you have never been apart. Diane

Margaret said...

This takes my breath away! Art and wonderful style everywhere you look. You did a great job with photos! And your friend looks charming!

Kay L. Davies said...

We were in Brussels at the end of March this year for a very short tour with another blogger. Like "Retired English Teacher" I can see how much we missed, thanks to your beautiful photos.
— K

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

Filip Demuinck said...

Again very nice pictures. With which program are you doing these collages?

Greetings,
Filip

Olga said...

All the pictures are very beautiful and informative, and the last one is so cute! It's great for me to be able to read these "panoramic" posts about your experiences.

Pondside said...

Brussels is one of my all-time favorite cities. How lucky you were to have an invitation to visit and such a wonderful tour. The architecture of Horta reminded me of Riga and the beautiful buildings designed in that same timeframe by Michael Eisenstadt.

Ann said...

gorgeous city! the architecture is breathtaking!! I would love to visit someday! thank you for sharing your wonderful photos and trip! How special to meet with an old friend!!

Frances said...

What a grand reunion you got to have in Brussels. Your photos of all the splendid architecture have made me wish to someday see Brussels for myself. (So far, I only saw it from the windows of a train bound for Paris. That view does not count as a visit!)

Also great to see the photo of you and Serge.

Merci!

Pierre BOYER said...

Merci pour cette très belle promenade dans Bruxelles et au travers du temps...


Pierre

Cloudia said...

loved this wonderful tour!


Aloha from Waikiki :)

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Reader Wil said...

Bruxelles est une belle ville. Merci de cette histoire que vous avez raconté . Je ne sais pas qu'il y a un tapis de fleurs tous les deux ans. C ' est trés intéressant et aussi beau! J' aime aussi l' architecture.

Wanda..... said...

Beautiful post of your reunion with an old friend in Brussels. The photo of the carpet of a million begonias was extraordinary. Loved the details you show of the architecture and the cobblestone pavement.

marciamayo said...

Vagabonde, I'm sure you've been told this before and maybe you've considered it. You definitely should put your beautiful posts together into a book.

rosaria said...

Ah, a beautiful tour of Brussels, some enchanting memories, and an art lecture to boot. This is rich. Merci' Bien.

Jana said...

great collages and shots! thanks for taking us on this trip with you...have a lovely weekend!

lorilaire said...

Le musée Horta, nous l'avons visité, magnifique, lumineux,très original, les adjectifs ne manquent pas !
Bruxelles est une ville plus qu'agréable que je connais depuis peu de temps, c'est fou alors que c'est qu'à 3h30 de chez nous !

claude said...

Merci pour cette visite, Vagabonde.
Les immeubles Art Nouvbeau sont très beaux d'originalité.
L'architecture des maisons et immeubles de Belgique ressemble à ceux du Nord. J'avais été, petite fille à Ypres, près de la frontière avec le départument du Nord, où j'étais en vacances chez des amis de mes Parents.
C'est super de retrouver de vieux amis.
A bientôt.
Bises

DJan said...

What a wonderful tour of Brussels! I saw your post and didn't have time to read it yesterday, because I know how much time and effort you put into your posts and it would be very nice to stroll slowly down the street with you, which is what I just did. It was a great tour, thank you so much!!

Tim said...

A great tour you are giving us!

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

That little girl in the last group of pictures looks like a "Doll"....Truly Amazing! What a fantastic tour you gave us, my dear....Everything is fascinating. I've never been to Brussels and I know I never will, so this was just such a treat!!! I look forward to Part 2....And BTW: I had no idea that Brussels had so many fantastic 'period' buildings....I Love Nouveau!!

Baino said...

Oh I think your pictures do it justice. I've never been but a friend went last year and was equally impressed with Brussels. Lovely and light judging by your photos and the architecture is simply stunning. We're starved of beautiful stuff like that down here in the colonies

Reader Wil said...

Merci de votre visite. Ici aux Pays Bas on ne travaille pas le lundi de Pentecóte comme en France.

Elaine said...

How wonderful to be able to visit your friend after so many years, and in such an incredibly beautiful place!

Marja said...

Oh thanks for taking us around Brussel. I have got fond memories of Brussel. I stayed there when I was in my twenties with a couple of friends and we had a fantastic time. I am soon going to plan my trip to Holland next year and I am thinking about it now to visit Brussel and another favourite Brugge

Ruth said...

I very much enjoyed seeing Serge before and after. Their apartment is filled with beautiful light, of course with all that glass.

I have never made it to Brussels, though I spent a day or so in Brugges. I only heard recently about the Grand' Place (why is there a "'" after Grand?), when Ginnie sent me photos of the square covered in begonias. I was astonished by the 'oriental carpet' of them. But even without the flowers, the square is remarkable, and I must visit one day.

Jojo said...

It looks like a wonderful trip that was made even more special by reconnecting with a friend. Oh the thought of all those begonias!

Shammickite said...

What a marvellius place to visit. The station is magnificent, as is the Grand'Place. One day I shall visit Brussells, I hope, but in the meantime I will look at all your pictures again!

Friko said...

Every one of your posts reads like you wring the very last drop of enjoyment and learning out of everything you do.
I have never met anybody like you whose appetite for travel is so passionate and whose every minute is filled with wonder and excitement at everything she sees.

You are to be envied.

Ginnie said...

Brussels is definitely one of THE cities of the world, Vagabonde. I'm only acquainted with the city center and what can be seen within easy walking distance. The main square, of course, is unforgettable. I love that you have taken us further into other districts, which maybe we will see one day, now that we have a car. The art nouveau is intriguing. You've whetted my appetite. As you know, we were recently in Ghent. Not the same but another very fine city! Belgium has lots of them. :)

Vagabonde said...

Retired English Teacher, Marja – Welcome to my blog. It is a pleasure to meet you and I hope you will come as often as you like. I always enjoy meeting new blogging friends.

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente, Margaret, Kay L. Davies, Filip Demuinck, Olga, Pondside, Ann, Frances, Cloudia, Wanda, marciamayo, Rosaria, Jana, DJan, Tim, Old Lady of the Hills, Baino, Elaine, Ruth, Jojo, Shammickite, Friko and Ginnie - Thanks to all of you for joining me with my visit of Brussels. You can tell I had fun looking at all the beautiful sights of this historical capital. I’ll have more to talk about in other posts. Thanks again for stopping by.

Pierre Boyer, Reader Wil, Lorilaire, Claude – Merci d’être venus me joindre pour ma visite de Bruxelles. C’est une capitale d’une très grande beauté. J’ai encore plus de photos à publier. Merci encore de votre visite.

Marguerite said...

What a fabulous city and wonderful tour you have taken us on! And so nice that you were reunited with friends, too. I may be traveling to Europe next year, and now would like to add Brussels to my itenerary. Merci for sharing! Cheers, cher!

Jeanie said...

what a fabulous reunion! Isn't it just wonderful when it feels like little time has passed and you can simply enjoy one another again? Brussels is indeed beautiful --I confess, with that Art Nouveau I wouldn't have put down my camera for a second -- I fear I'd need another memory card! How fun! Looking forward to more~

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