I managed to schedule a trip to Brussels on the 25th of November. Just a day trip. More like a preliminary exploration of the place for when I get back. I was informed at the ticket counter that work was being done on the rails so I have to take 3 trains instead of the usual two: Utrecht to 's-Hertogenbosch, 's-Hertogenbosch to Roosendaal, then Roosendaal to Brussels. I was supposed to be in Brussels by one in the afternoon, but delays on all three trains got me there an hour and a half late, and with the shortened daylight hours, I knew I wouldnt be able to take pictures worth crap. Anyway, I got to Brussels Central station, and hopped on a City Tours bus to get a bird's eye view of some of the places I intend to visit, inshallah, when I get back.
By the time I got back to the Central Station, it was almost 4. The Museum of Fine Arts closes at 5 so I hightailed it over there and went in. An American man was on his way out and I almost ran into him. "Need tickets?," he asked. Yes, I said. "Here," he handed me 2 tickets. "Some of my pals didnt make it." Ok, how much for one? "Nah, take them. We won't be able to use them." Thanks. At the entrance a nice old lady gave me a map of the museums (there are 2 of them: one for ancient art and one for modern art, joined together). "What do you want to see?," she asked. We're closing at 5 so you won't be able to see them all." Rubens and Bruegel, I said. And she pointed to their display rooms on the map. I skimmed through the Rubenses. I really wanted to see the Bruegels (both Pieters), although Brussels didnt have a large collection. I didnt need a large collection since I didnt have that much time. I liked them because they were un-Italian, and therefore to me, a bit quirky. Their style is more primitive; cartoony even.
Then I came upon Pieter the Elder's The Fall of the Rebel Angels and went, Holy crap! Give me whatever it is this guy was smoking.
Pieter the elder wouldve been right at home working in Japanese animation. The painting is a wonderful, bizarre portrayal of Michael's battle with the fallen angels. (There's Michael in the middle, with long spindly legs, in the process of kicking some dragon-like creature's ass.) The monsters are an assortment of reptiles, insects, fish, frogs... I even spotted what looked like fruit in there somewhere--monster fruit! Killer pomegranates! Run for your lives!!
I was mesmerized. For comparison, take a look at Peter Paul Rubens's version here.
Here are some details of the painting.
Take a look at that lizard man's ass. Is that light coming out
of his bunghole?
Die, flying furry fish creature!
Butterfly lychee monster of doom
Got out at closing time to the delicious smell of Belgian waffles. But waffles can wait. I have to try the beer. The raspberry Kriek was good, but I have to say the White beer is my favorite. Made from wheat, and flavored with herbs and orange peel. Yum. Served with lemon.
Mussels in Brussels? Not on this trip. Although Brussels is known for its mussels in white wine and there were rows and rows of restaurants serving them, with fries a la Belgique on the side, I didnt have a chance to try them. I was going to, but on my way to the Grand Place, I spotted this small Tunisian tea house with a delicious display of pastries and I just had to get in. I had a tea made from fresh mint leaves and one--ok two--pastries: sweet filo dough around a creamy center with a hint of rose water. Damn, that was good. By the time I reached the brasseries, I didnthave enough room for the mussels. Besides, they serve them in big buckets and I dont think I can finish all of it. Maybe next time. I tried the street food instead: escargot in broth. Take that, orange eggs and fishballs.
There are a lot of things to go back to in Brussels, and maybe someday I will. Any city whose symbol is a pissing little baby is okay in my book.
(Note: The picture of the painting is from the Web Gallery of Art site. The one I took was crap. All the other photos are mine.)