June 19th was our first official day in Brussels and it was a great one to say the least! We all settled in with our host families the night before and a got a good night’s sleep for our first big day in the city. The first item on the checklist was making sure we all had a metro pass for the next three weeks. The metro system in Brussels is extremely convenient and user friendly so no one had any qualms about using it as our main source of transportation. After everyone got a pass for the metro we started our short walk through the city to find a place to eat lunch. We eventually stopped at a perfect organic restaurant called Le Pain Quotidien. It had a huge selection of farm to table foods while satisfying the vegetarians and vegans of the group! After lunch we were on our way to taste some of belgium’s famous chocolates! Dr. Birchfield bought us all a variety of chocolates from two different stores. The first store we got a selection of milk and dark chocolate. The second store we had special heart shaped chocolate with raspberry filling. Overall I think everyone fell in love with the sweet side of Brussels that day!
After everyone got their fill of lunch and chocolate, Dr. Birchfield had to take a student to the doctor, and Emma took us on a little tour of Brussels. We walked through the city while she pointed out some main historical attractions. For example, the first attraction that we stopped by was the Royal Palace. The Royal Palace was first constructed between the second half of the 11th and first half of the 12th century but the building that stands today wasn’t built until after 1900 by King Leopold II. The Palace still functions as the residence of Belgium’s Royal Family today.
Another famous landmark is The Grand Place. The Grand Place was originally used in the 12th century as a busy trade center. Although, it is also surrounded by other important spots like the King’s House and the original Town Hall dating all the way back to the 15th century.
Another important location we visited in Brussels was the Cinquantenaire. The Arch was originally planned for the world exhibition of 1880 and was meant to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the independence of Belgium. However today, the various buildings of the Cinquantenaire are home to three museums and one mosque.The surrounding park is used for differing purposes like concerts, festivals and parades.
Martyrs’ Square is also a very important location of Brussels. The Place des Martyrs is a public square with different cabinet offices of the Flemish Government, built around the 18th century. More than just being a lovely town square it is also the it’s the burial site of many Belgians that died during the Revolution.
Finally, a more comical star attraction of this city is the famous little statue Manneken Pis. This tiny fountain statue is commonly referred to as the face of Brussels. There are many legends to why this statue is so famous and many question the origin of the art but to most it is a silly tourist attraction!
Overall, the first day of being in Brussels was about getting a good feel for the city and learning our way around. We were able to do this by having a nice morning with our host families and going out to lunch with our group. After walking around and eating lots of chocolate we were able to decide what we wanted to see in the city. Emma explained some of the major sites while the rest was up to us. A great first day!