Brussels. It’s not a name that conjures up an excited yearning in the heart of typical travellers. To some people three things spring immediately to mind, when the squidgy-soft syllables ‘Bruss-els’ are spoken – bureaucracy, boredom and sprouts.
This is a great shame, because beneath the veneer of a city sometimes seen as just a stuffy administrative centre, Brussels is in fact an historical, fun and happening city – more than worthwhile the visiting.
It is, after all, the city whose mascot is a little boy peeing onto the heads of soldiers of a rival army. It’s the capital of the country where the comic book was invented and home to the iconic comic strip hero Tin Tin (and in fact has a renowned comic museum to brighten up its houses of culture).
And it’s also the city that has bought us the diverse pleasures and sublime sourness of Belgium’s lambic beers.
So put any preconceptions to one-side. For all its multi-national mix-up and pompous post-war architecture, in its heart Brussels has kept true to the spirit of the cultural fusion that is Belgium. So if you’re coming to Belgium for something a bit deeper than a post-stag hangover, you’d do well to consider making the capital city more than just a point of entry for your Belgian stay-over. Better by far to make your stay fit around Brussels.
This city isn’t just the capital of Belgium (and unofficially also of the EU), its largest city (at over 1 million citizens), and the home of a quiver of international organizations (NATO, the European Commission, the European Parliament and, of course, the European Brewery Convention).
Brussels is also the most diverse of Belgium’s big cities, by far. Although three-quarters of its population are classed as Belgian nationals, most were not born here. A third of Brusseleers call themselves Brusselaar (Dutch-speaking Belgian) or Bruxellois (French=speaking Belgian), but a third originally came from France and other European countries. And another third were born as far afield as Congo or Rwanda, Morocco or Turkey.
The city lies about 115 km inland from the coastal town of Ostend, sitting just north of the line that divides the Dutch-speaking Flemish community of from the French-speaking community.
It started as a tiny hamlet on an island in the River Senne, and literally dug its way out of the marshes surrounding the area, as it laid out drainage ditches and canals.
In fact the name Brussels probably comes from the Dutch ‘Broeksel’, meaning ‘home in the marsh’. Its damp beginnings are recognised today in the bright yellow iris flowers that are used on the city’s coat-of-arms – and as the name for one of the beers of the city’s Cantillon brewery – Iris.