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Day 2: Brussels

We made an early start this morning and were out and about by 9am, ready to explore Brussels. We didn't have to go far before we came across our first sights, as the apartment is just across the road from a large market square.


It was difficult to get a good photo of it with all the Christmas stalls, but the gothic-looking church at the end of the square is the church of St Catherine. It looks a bit more impressive from the opposite side where it seems to have been cleaned up.


Our vague plan was to walk towards the Grande Place, which is the main square in Brussels. On the way we crossed the Place de la Bourse, where this ornate building is the historical home of the Belgian stock exchange.


The Grande Place was just a five-minute walk away from there. I had read in the guidebook that it was impressive, but nothing had prepared me for the scale of the town hall! It was absolutely enormous, and difficult to fit all into one photo!


On the opposite side of the square from the town hall is the Maison du Roi, which is home to the Museum of the City of Brussels.


The Christmas decorations in the square were beautiful too, with a large Christmas tree from Riga and a barn with a life-sized crib scene.


We even found a building with a duck on the front, although we hope that wasn't an indication of what the restaurant was serving!


From the Grande Place we climbed uphill towards the cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula.


We had, perhaps naively, assumed that Belgium would be completely flat, so it was a surprise to learn that Brussels is in fact divided into a Lower Town and Upper Town, with the Upper Town being very much uphill. Once we got as far as the cathedral there was a nice view back down across the Lower Town, with the tower of the Town Hall clearly visible in the distance.


The Upper Town is home to the Belgian parliament, which sits in this beautiful building.


Opposite the parliament is a large park. It looks like in summer it ought to be full of fountains, but today everything was completely frozen over.


If you walk all the way through the park you will come to a gate guarded by some rather frightening lions.,.


...and on the opposite side of the road from the lions is the official residence of the Belgian royal family.


From the royal palace we had more walking uphill to reach the EU quarter of town. We were initially quite underwhelmed by the EU Parliament building, until we realised that we had actually been looking at the visitor centre, confusingly called "Parlamentarium" by mistake! The real parliament building is a lot more impressive.


We had to wait for a large group of tourists armed with selfie-sticks to move on before we could get a picture with the statue outside.


Although we were potentially more excited about how many languages the name of the parliament was written in. Can you guess them all?!


Behind the parliament building there is a pleasant park which leads downhill to a duckpond. They seem to have had a bit more snow in Brussels over Christmas than we have had in the UK, and parts of the pathway were quite slippery where it had melted before freezing again.


The battery in my new camera chose this point at which to die (possibly I hadn't charged it enough!) so I had to experiment with taking photos on my phone. Luckily some of them came out quite well; this was the entrance to the Parc du Cinquantenaire, which is uphill again from the EU parliament.


Most of the signs in Brussels are billingual in French and Dutch. This park is called the Jubelpark in Dutch, which is much easier to spell than Parc du Cinquantenaire :) Most of the structures in the park were commissioned by King Leopold II in 1880 for a national exhibition to celebrate 50 years of Belgian independence.

Lots of the park is beautiful but the masterpiece is this, Belgium's very own Arc de Triomphe.


We finished our tour of Brussels with a visit to the city's most famous statue, the Manneken Pis. Although the statue is a landmark, it's actually extremely small and we only just about managed to get a photo of it above the heads of the hordes of tourists with selfie-sticks.


By this point we had walked over eight miles and were starting to feel rather tired. We went to find lunch and then headed back to the apartment for a rest before going out again in the evening to see the Christmas decorations and markets :)


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