Check out the latest tips from Rebecca
I grew up in Surrey and studied languages and literature, spending periods living in Toulouse and Hamburg. After a short stint in the UK selling trampolines and working in a pet shop, I knew it was only a matter of time before I moved abroad again! It was Brussels that called first, and I have spent the last four years happily wandering its streets, sampling its beer and rowing on the canal in the rain. Why Brussels?
I remember arriving for the first time in the grey EU quarter one freezing January day, negotiating slippery pavements of slushy snow. My first house had dodgy wiring, a landlady who didn't always pay the bills and trains that passed behind it, shaking the foundations. My housemates were young interns from all over Europe. We shared train-induced insomnia, collective resistance to the landlady, and a desire to find work and stay.
Meanwhile I set about acquiring a taste for relaxing in cafés, tracking down surrealist hangouts, visiting markets and art nouveau houses, going to exhibitions and concerts, and exploring the ancient and shady Forêt de Soignes by bike.
Brussels is home to EU institutions, international organisations, 2000 foreign companies and almost as many lobbyists as Washington D.C. But away from the Embassies and networking receptions, you wouldn't know it. This city does not market itself as the Capital of Europe, but it has its own identity, shaped by its many linguistic communities and the people who continually come and go. To the newly arrived visitor it can be shy or contrary, taking time to reveal its charms.
Away from the tooting horns and frayed nerves of its main roads, Brussels feels a long way from the frenetic bustle of London and now, when I disembark at St. Pancras station I feel lost.
Nowadays I combine full-time work and part-time study. I tune in to the many languages spoken here, pick up a few words of bruxellois and dream of one day training to be an interpreter. But not yet: I enjoy my little corner of Ixelles, with its trees, lake and frietkot too much!
You can read more about my appraisal of stoemp, carbonnades, frites, burgers and trappist beers - and my search for the perfect cappuccino - at http://www.becinbrussels.blogspot.comIn the meantime, here are three tips to get you going:
1) La Fin de Siècle
I can’t stop coming back for its delicious and copious food, but also because for me it seems to encapsulate what Brussels is about. There’s no name outside, no menus, no music and no website - and you may have to queue! Food choices are listed on a blackboard, the prices are strange and someone has chalked up “no visa”. You sit elbow to elbow at the bare tables, trying to catch what your companions are saying against the background noise, but instead find yourself listening to the conversation your neighbours are having, in some other language. Luckily you don’t have to keep this up very long for soon your food arrives; and it’s piping hot, meaty, tender and substantial. I’m a particular fan of the carbonnades here, but in fact everything on the menu I’ve ever tasted has been excellent.
Rue des Chartreux 9, 1000 City of Brussels, Belgium
+32(0)2 512 51 23Google map
How to get there: Bus 71 or 38
Metro: stop De Brouckere
At night ring the buzzer and neatly sidestep the doorman to enter this beauty of an art deco bar, with its upstairs gallery, custard walls and wood panelling. The faded glamour of the interior surely calls for a whisky or cocktail, to be sipped while dancing around the piano, or up above, looking down at the assembled heads. L’Archiduc also hosts free jazz concerts, “Jazz After Shopping" and "Round About Five", during the Autumn and Winter months; and “Tell me why I do like Mondays” jazz and blues in the Summer.
Antoine Dansaert, 6, 1000 Brussels
+32 (0)2 512 06 52www.archiduc.net/Google map
How to get there:
Metro Line 1, stop “Sainte Catherine"
Bus no. 63 or 71
Place du Jeu de Balle in the Marolles district is the venue for a daily flea market, where all manner of things are laid out, only some of which might be useful. That doesn’t matter. It’s just fun to wander around and you’ll enjoy the contrast if you’re fresh from perusing antiques and chocolate shops in the moneyed, if dull, Place du Grand Sablon. Just remember that if you do buy something, you should expect to negotiate!
In the streets surrounding the square old men play cards, and everyone else walks without purpose or lingers on terraces. Have a look inside some of the retro emporiums on rue Haute or rue Blaes, groaning under the weight of the furniture, paintings and pistols piled on top of one another, and flinch at some of the prices. There’s a similar feel in Modes
, stuffed claustrophobically full with vintage clothes. Then have a drink at La Brocante
, on the corner of the square, before heading up to browse in the bead and silver jewellery shops (Atchoum and Dominique Polain) on the rue des renards, and finally finish off the promenade with your choice of a beery Belgian stew at Restobières
– or a wholesome brunch at Het Warm Water
, across the road.Restobières
Rue des Renards/Vossenstraat 32, 1000, Bruxelles
+32(0)2 502 72 51www.restobieres.eu/Google map
: bit.ly/jh6RTYHet Warm Water
25, Rue des Renards, 1000 Bruxelles
+32(0)2 513 91 59
Rue des Renards, 20, 1000 Bruxelles
+32(0)2 514 3811
: bit.ly/jZFEYSBijoux Dominique Polain
Rue des renards/Vossenstraat 26, 1000 Bruxelles
+32(0)25 13 53 74Google map
: bit.ly/ltmmJNCafé La Brocante
170 rue Blaes/Blaesstraat 170, 1000 Bruxellescafelabrocante.skyrock.com/Google map
Rue Blaes/Blaesstraat 164, 1000 Bruxelles
+32(0)2 512 49 07www.modes-antique-textiles.com/index.phpGoogle map
You can follow Rebecca's tips by clicking on her username: becinbrussels
and check out her blog at www.becinbrussels.blogspot.comBeen there locals homepage