As with most stereotypes, the widespread notion that Brussels, otherwise known as Europe's Capital, is a boring city of Euro-clerks and bureaucrats, is just as shallow as saying, for example, that Milan is purely a shopping and business destination. Granted, Brussels does not quite possess the glamour of London or Paris, but is much more personable and friendly than the British and French capitals. It is also famous for its gourmet restaurants and more than 350 brands of beer. Part of the reason for Brussels' openness may lie in its multicultural constitution. More than 100 different languages are spoken in Brussels, which is home to the embassies of approximately 160 different countries.
In a sense, Brussels is a city that consists of 19 different villages, or 19 small cities within a larger one. Each has its separate daily rhythm and atmosphere. One of the most enjoyable activities is to discover and savour these diverse and colourful districts, to visit a different part of the city each time that you are in Brussels. The Brussels of the Matonge or African district is completely different from that of the city centre. The city's most famous flea market, the Jeu de Balle, lies in Marolles, which is also home to the colourful shops and antique stores on the rue Blaes and rue Haute. Nearby (on 132 rue Haute) is a free glass and metal elevator, which will take you up from the Marolles district to the Place Poelaert - once again, a completely different part of Brussels, close to the main shopping streets of Boulevard de Waterloo and Avenue Louise. Genuine fashion freaks surely know that the best place to shop for clothes is the area around the rue Antoine Dansaert, otherwise known as the epicentre of Belgian fashion and design.
Brussels is also famous for its outstanding Art Deco and Art Nouveau buildings. The edifices designed by Belgian architect Viktor Horta, including such legendary pearls as the Tassel House, Solvay House and Van Eetvelde House, are practically obligatory stops for architecture fans. The Belgian capital is full of endless surprises, such as the monument to the Pigeon Soldier at the Square des Blindés. During the Second World War, Belgium was the only country that raised pigeons for military purposes. Competitions assembling pigeon growers from more than 50 countries still take place, with trained homing pigeons capable of flying up to 1800 kilometres in pigeon races. Brussels is home to countless pearls in the form of cafés, restaurants, art galleries, museums, parks and squares. Some of them can be very difficult to discover, such as the L'Orangerie du Parc D'Egmont, a great place for lunch that stands hidden in a park, not far from the Palais de Justice. As in any great city, Brussels is a place where one first has to find the right key, after which the remaining doors will open by themselves.
One of these keys is the guide to Brussels recently published under the title of '500 Hidden Secrets of Brussels'. It's author Derek Blyth is a writer and journalist, originally from Scotland, who has lived in Brussels for more than 20 years. He is a former editor-in-chief of The Bulletin and has written countless articles and books on the city, including a regular column on Brussels life in Eurostar's Metropolitan Magazine.
'The 500 Hidden Secrets of Brussels' is a unique guidebook written by a true Brussels insider who knows the city like the back of his hand, loves it and feels proud of it. Blyth is keen to reveal its secrets to other people as well, helping dispel deep-seated stereotypes and misconceptions and look at the city through completely different eyes.
Derek's aim is to reveal the 500 places and details that no one knows, like the cafeteria on the top floor of the national library, the hidden remains of the city wall, the metro station that is decorated with 140 characters from Tintin albums or the art cinema that seats just 20 people.
Some are places to visit, others are bits of information, for example on the people who have shaped Brussels (René Magritte, Victor Horta, King Léopold II). The aim is not to cover the city form A to Z, but to inspire. The book also contains a number of maps, on which you can find all the numbered locations.
This is a book for visitors who want to avoid the usual tourist spots and for residents who are keen to track down the city's best-kept secrets. The latest of these can be found on his website at www.mysecretbrussels.com.
Keywords: guide book, Burussels, Belgium