This is really a confusing place. Turns out that the city (and the whole country) is in a complete identity crisis. The country has an overall population of about 11 1/2 million. Brussels, the largest city and the capital has about 1.2 million and Antwerp, where we are now has just over half a million. By comparison, Southern California alone has over double the population of Belgium (about 23.6 million). But Belgium has SIX complete governments! SIX Parliaments; SIX Prime Ministers. There’s the French group, the Flemish group (Dutch) The German group; the Brussels group; the French-speaking group residing in the predominantly Dutch-speaking area and one more that I can’t remember. No wonder they can’t agree on their name! They use all 3, all the time. And they all fight for prominence on anything printed.
antwerp(en/vers) is the best!
Now, having said that, I want you to know that I’ve absolutely loved Antwerp(en/vers). The city has a rich and beautiful heritage, including being the location of the first stock exchange in the world! The last photo below shows the current entrance to the original stock exchange – through which 40% of the worlds goods passed in the 15th century! The 3rd photo shows the two remaining original Guild House facades; the Carpenters and the Tanners (skinning and curing animal hides). Back in the day, all the butchering and skinning and curing for the city took place in this location. Can you imagine the smell . . .?
We did a day trip to Brussels, and the identity crisis is almost as bad as Antwerp’s. When I go the the Eurail planning app, they have trains to Brussels and to Bruxelles. Which one do we choose? Turns out it doesn’t matter because they’re both the same – just different spellings (one Dutch and one French). And it doesn’t end there . . . in the Arts district of Brussels, there is an “Arts” building with a pretty funny name. The building owners didn’t want to make the name either Dutch or French, though they’re French . . . so they named the building with a Name that is neither Dutch OR French; BOZAR. But when you say the name, it sounds exactly like the French Beaux Artes. Hmmm . . .
When you think of Brussels, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Maybe chocolate? Maybe the capital of the EU? Or Brussels sprouts? Yep, they did in fact originate here. They’ve been referenced as far back as the 12th or 13th centuries and began being called after the name of the city in about the 15th century.
One of the other “interesting” landmarks in Brussels is the statue (actually a fountain) of a naked boy . . . “peeing.” Lots of legends surround this little man. And they dress him up for about half the year to celebrate a holiday or birthday. The other half of the year, he’s buck naked. The day we were there was one such dress-up day and from my photo, you can see his ensemble. But he wasn’t the only one! There were about 30 or 40 young men, all in tuxedos, except one lucky guy dressed exactly as MannekenPis. And they were traveling with not one, but TWO kegs of beer on a dolly. By the time we saw them at about 2:30pm the first time, and then again at about 5:30pm the second time, they were clearly ready to BE the little man . . . you get the idea. You’ll have to click on the photos to get the full impact.