If you’re looking to expand your francophone horizons, consider a long-weekend in Brussels, the capital of Belgium. Brussels is officially bilingual, a little island of French in the middle of a sea of Flemish. Since 2001, Brussels has been the capital of Europe and many important EU buildings are headquartered there. It’s easy to get to from Paris via TGV and the city has a wonderful public transportation system. Bring an umbrella; it rains often in Belgium!
Brussels is an elegant, cosmopolitan city of over 1 million inhabitants with over 90 museums, great places to eat, and lovely parks to walk off your excesses. A highlight of the old city includes the Grand Place with ornate facades on the various guild halls. Manneken Pis, a quixotic statue of a urinating child, is lavished with custom outfits by visiting dignitaries. The hundreds of outfits have a museum of their own. There’s also a wonderful glass-roofed pavilion chock-full of second hand and rare books.
Belgium is famous for beers, but I’m no help to you there. I made up for my abstemious ways with my appreciation of the wonderful chocolates. Also delectable are the waffles (or gaufres) and fries (served with mayonnaise) sold from stalls all over the city. Of course, this is also the home of moules frites, fragrant heaps of mussels in a savory broth.
Many famous bandes dessinées were born here, including Tintin, and there is more than one museum devoted to the art. There’s a Magritte museum, Autoworld with a wonderful collection of classic cars, and a lace-making museum, just to name a few. I really enjoyed a visit to Victor Horta’s house, the art nouveau architect, which presented a cohesive arrangement of art, architecture, and furniture. There are many wonderful examples of art nouveau throughout the city, which makes it a must-see for those who enjoy this lovely style. It’s like the whole city is an open-air museum.
Today’s expression, parler de la pluie et du beau temps (parlay duh lah plooE ay do bow tehm) literally means “to talk about the rain and the good weather.” Figuratively, however, it means “to make small talk.” While the weather while you’re in Belgium may be damp, Brussels will certainly give you plenty to talk about.