Saturday, November 25th 2017.

Destinations

Jonathan Ramael
AUTHENTIC ACTIVITIES IN BRUSSELS
Rediscovering the capital

 

By Jonathan Ramael

 

brussels brussels brussels

 

Most of you, I’m sure of it, know Brussels fairly well. It’s our biggest city and it’s the European as well as the national capital, making it the country’s most popular meeting and congress destination by a landslide. I on the other hand, live in Antwerp and did not know Brussels at all. Of course I’ve occasionally visited it for work, saw the Grand Place and Manneken Pis, and as a kid forced my parents violently to take me to the dinosaur museum, but that’s as far as my knowledge went. A pitiful shame, I know. That’s why I decided to get rid of my ignorance once and for all, hopped on a train in Antwerp Central and tried to enlighten myself by trying out a couple of interesting incentive activities that are quintessentially Brussels.

 

1. Get yourself a Greeter

Greeter Greeter

 

Brussels is an old, versatile and – yes – somewhat chaotic city steeped in history. There’s a ton of different neighbourhoods and each of them has its own stories, legends and little spots unknown to non-locals. That’s exactly why you should call upon these folks and ask them nicely to show you around their quarter. You could of course just ask people on the street randomly, but since this is certainly no guarantee for success, it might be easier to contact a greeter (www.greeters.be). These are regular people living in Brussels, who volunteer (yes, that means they do it for free) to be ambassadors of their little part of the city. You can book them in advance on the mentioned site, and they will take you or your small group of colleagues/clients on a tour of their neighbourhood. Since they’re not official guides, they’re not following fixed routes. They will take you anywhere you like and they will tell their own, coloured version of what they know. This makes for alternative (and in my eyes much more fun) walks through Brussels. I took two tours with greeters myself, one through the old centre, one through the Marollen, and I had lots of fun. It’s very refreshing to hear someone who’s not getting paid for it tell their unpolished version of the facts. Highly recommended, even for people working in Brussels.

 

Brussels Brussels

 

 

2. Explore Brussels’ green belt on foot or by bike

As little I knew about Brussels as a city, my knowledge about the region surrounding it was even more non-existent. Apparently it is surprisingly green. More than half of the Brussels-Capital Region is occupied by green space. Everyone knows the Soignes forest, but there’s more: beautifully kept parks, little forests and rivers, stretches of countryside, open industrial zones and swampy areas. A lot of areas around Brussels combine living space with nature. In the past few years, a whole route was mapped out to promote these zones. The Green Walk forms a belt of about 63 km around Brussels, almost entirely through natural areas. It runs through 7 different sections that can be combined or tackled separately. I took part in a biking tour starting in the Jubelpark, going through Etterbeek and Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe, led by a retired army colonel whose superior physical fitness was annoyingly admirable. The trip was genuinely enjoyable: we rode past beautiful old facades, farmhouses and abandoned railroad tracks. I saw a completely different side of Brussels. One moment we were in the centre of Europe, half an hour later we were riding through pristine countryside. More info on www.provelo.org or www.groene-wandeling.be.

 

bike bike brussels

 

3. Learn all about the European Union

Ah, the European Union: we’re all part of it, but its precise workings aren’t the most transparent of subjects. That’s exactly why they built the Parlementarium, the European Parliament’s new visitors’ centre. Only second in size to the one on Capitol Hill (Washington DC), it holds an avalanche of information and spectacular visuals. The showpiece is a 360° projection of the plenary chamber, where you can take a seat while actual footage of the parliament is shown (notice a theatrical Guy Verhofstadt doing his thing in the foreground). By means of an energetic little movie, it’s explained how European legislation comes about. A lot of the displays are of the emotional kind: a long wall with iconic and sometimes touching pictures of European history, interactive TV-screens telling personal stories of European citizens, an individual greeting of each parliament member et cetera. On one of the floors, you’ll find a huge map of Europe, on which you can roll a PC on wheels to find out more about each member state. Visually as well as content wise, the Parlementarium is a fine piece of work, and an ideal way of letting clients from abroad discover the Union in an almost playful and entertaining way. No dinosaurs though. Oh, I almost forgot: the entrance fee is an impressive zero euros. It’s free.

 

Parlementarium Parlementarium

 

4. Learn all about Brussels and its municipalities

The constitution and workings of the enigma that is the Belgian Federal state might be even harder to grasp for foreigners than those of the EU. Brussels tops it all: as a separate bilingual region with 19 municipalities it’s a complicated concept for most people from abroad – and for a lot of Belgians as well. A visit to BIP (Brussels Info Place) on the Place Royale close to the palace and the central station is a good way to clear things up a bit. On the first floor, you’ll find the free ‘Experience Brussels’ exhibition, offering a bombardment of info about the city as well as its surroundings. It’s a very colourful and visually impressive whole, offering facts as well as images and personal stories. You can work your way around by yourself or visit it as if you were taking a quiz. The centrepiece is a giant interactive map of Brussels on which you can light up the areas or buildings you want to locate. A very good alternative for foreign groups stuck in Brussels on a rainy day (although rain is a recurring theme in the visuals). www.biponline.be/?q=nl/bip-expo

 

Brussels Brussels

 

5. Have a genuine Brussels dinner

Brussels has a lot of superb restaurants, but why take your clients to a French or Italian kitchen? They can do that in France (and Italy respectively). I chose to have dinner in a restaurant that serves Belgian food and beer exclusively. It even combines the two in wonderfully simple, but very tasty dishes. Restobières is a cosy restaurant in the heart of the Marollen, decorated to the brim with old cookie jars and beer mugs. Chef Alain Fayt specializes in the pure Belgian beer kitchen. A look at the menu is mouth-watering: homemade paté with Rochefort, Belgian stewed meat with Gueuze Girardin and real Brussels waffles with Kriek Lindemans. The food is great (and cheap), the atmosphere is pleasant and you’re right in the middle of Brussels’ most famous popular neighbourhood. www.restobieres.eu

 

Brussels Brussels

 

For more info on Brussels or any of these activities, go to www.visitbrussels.be.

BBT Online stayed in Hotel Le Plaza www.leplaza-brussels.be.

 

 

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