Brussels is very old, very historic. It’s the first thing you sense. It’s spread out, open, you don’t find many skyscrapers. It’s not very congested, even in the evening, you don’t see any people. You wonder where everybody has gone! It’s never overcrowded, not even the pubs.Around and About
Unless you have a lot of luggage, avoid taxis, they are horribly expensive! Take the underground: Very efficient, a good network. And buses and trams. Most tourist and business places are at the city centre, so you can just walk. To see the city, try the tourist path marked on the city maps. It’s all very tourist-friendly. Shops close at six, so, after-hours, you can only go to a café or a pub. The nightlife is fun — lots of nightclubs, pubs, restaurants.
The Grand Place, the central market square. It’s huge and some of the buildings around it are over 500 years old. No cars are allowed, so it’s totally pollution free. People go there in the evening to relax. It’s packed, people running around, taking pictures, chilling out. There are a lot of cafés on the side.
The statue, Manneken Pis [“little man urinating”], is a famous landmark. It’s very small when you actually look at it. You wonder: You walked all the way for this?
European heritage hotels have some of the highest rates in the world. But there are many decent four-star hotels.
There are lots of places to visit nearby. Not just in Belgium. It is the centre of Europe so you can take a train to Paris in an hour-and-a-half, London in two-and-a-half, Amsterdam in three.
Food, you can get good Thai, French and Italian. There are couple of Indian restaurants too, but the gravies are very heavy on the oil. I avoid eating Indian food abroad, you should be always ready to experiment.
My favourite restaurant is Al Maharabba; it has some of the best Lebanese food that I’ve eaten. The falafel and baba ghanoush are great. I am vegetarian, but my guests say the lamb is great.
Brussels has, I think, the largest number of beer pubs in the world. A single pub will have 150, even 200 different beers.
Did you know French fries are actually Belgian? You must try them at a street-side café, with coffee.
And chocolates. The best chocolates in the world, quite sinful! Locals recommended Marcolini; I tried some and brought some back for my wife. Cost me an arm and a leg, but it’s worth it. One piece and you are transported to another world! They have amazing flavours and they keep coming out with new ones. Marcolini has tasting days. You can even tell them what you like and they’ll make it for you. You can’t have Indian chocolate after that, no way! (As told to Angshumitra Chakraborty)
(This story appears in the 11 September, 2009 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)