The first time we visited Brussels was almost a decade ago. We spent just three days in Belgium, during our three-month tour of Europe in our twenties. I could never have imagined that ten years later, this would be our home.
When we rediscovered the photos of our European adventure a few nights ago, we quickly skipped to those we took in Brussels. Although we’ve seen them several times before, this was our first time looking at them since arriving in Belgium. The monuments, sights and landmarks have suddenly taken on a new significance. The Grand Place and its biennial flower carpet display, the Mont des Arts, the touristy restaurants along Rue des Bouchers, the Royal Palace, the Galeries Saint Hubert, and even Merv’s now-beloved Fritland. It all feels so familiar now. And it is with a new fondness we look back on those three days in our now home city.
Unlike nearby cities of Paris, Amsterdam or London, Brussels was not an obvious destination for a young Australian couple travelling to Europe for the first time. But having developed an interest in the work of Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte while at university, I was keen to visit the city that inspired him. In fact, the main purpose of our trip here was to visit the René Magritte Museum, located in the artist’s former home in the Brussels suburb of Jette (not to be confused with the newer Magritte Museum at the Place Royale, which didn’t exist at the time).
For me this was one of the highlights of entire trip. And although it didn’t feel like it at the time, perhaps this is partly the reason I didn’t fully appreciate everything else that Brussels had to offer. Looking back, I’ve realised I never even tried a waffle. Or frites. Or beer. I remember buying Belgian chocolates as gifts to take home, but don’t remember actually trying any myself. I suppose it’s just as well then, that I had a chance to come back and make up for all the quintessentially Belgian things I missed out on the first time around.
All those years ago, we stayed a charming hotel called Résidence Les Ecrins. When I first moved into my apartment in Sainte Catherine and explored the neighbourhood, I was stunned to find that the very same hotel was located right along the Vismet, just a few streets away from home. My memories of the area back then are a hazy blur at best. Aside from the hotel façade, it seems we didn’t take many photos in this part of town, so we don’t even have that to jog our memory. But somehow, something led us right back here. And I for one am very glad it did.