It came down to this: we’d been to Paris, several times, but never Brussels. ‘Brussels!’ announced Pete on a whim. ‘Booked!’ I replied.
I announced the happy news on Facebook and then the jibes started. Why did we want to go to Brussels? Brussels is boring! Go to Paris, it’s way better! Or Bruges. Or Ghent. Basically anywhere but the poor old capital of Belgium.
Living in Birmingham, I’m used to dealing with sweeping generalisations that denigrate my home city. They’re usually made by people extrapolating way far much from their own small or poorly chosen experience.
My philosophy is also that if you’re complaining about a capital city, you’re doing it wrong. Everywhere is interesting in some way – you just have to look for the thing that float your boat.
On the other hand, some places can be a disappointment no matter how much you look around.
So what’s my verdict on Brussels?
According to a post on The Telegraph site, Brussels is more for travel while Paris is for tourism. And I have to agree.
Paris is easy – you barely need a map. Just start walking and you’ll hit a famous sight. It’s wonderful, has a strong sense of place and lots to offer (see my post on Unexpected Paris).
Brussels has less of a sense of identity. It has grandeur, history and is very European – trams! Gothic churches! language barriers! – but what do you identify Brussels with as a tourist? What MUST you see? The European parliament?
No, Brussels needed a bit more work to uncover its delights, especially as I also dislike museums, group guided tours and overpriced tourist trails.
Spotted By Locals
Fortunately, on the Eurostar going over, I found a fantastic travel site called Spotted by locals – ‘experience Brussels like a local’, which seemed to cut through the thousands of pages offered by the official Visit Belgium site (wah! too many options!) and just pick out stuff I liked the sound of – for example, a central car park with a fantastic view of the city from its top floor, and Mr Falafel, which did tasty veggie food for only four euros. And if I’d know Brussels had a number of art deco swimming baths, I’d have bought my swimsuit.
We used the site as a guide for most of the weekend – I’ll be blogging where we went on their advice shortly.
So, Brussels or Paris?
At the risk of starting an international incident, I guess, for me, Brussels was an enjoyable city break but I don’t feel the need to revisit it again and would prefer to go to other Belgian cities or further on to Amsterdam.
I sort of feel the same about Paris – but then I’ve been there about seven times and it was only last time around that I discovered the Promenade Plantée and also the 19th arrondissement with the amazing Parc de la Villette. So I’d like to go back and see the suburbs.
I’d be interested to hear what other people think on this one.