Its only a short stop in Brussels and being a major rail transit city must be annoying because so many people pass through but so few stop to appreciate what Brussels has to offer. The grand city centre has great restaurants, bars and galleries but I think the cosmopolitan Marollen district around the Gare du Midi has more interest. There are more bargains in morning flea market then you'll ever find in Paris and the street cafe culture is lively rather than jaded or touristy as in Paris.
Last time I was here I tested several famous and powerful Belgian beers but I need a clear head today so I'm seeking out some of the city's famous street cartoon artwork.
Brussels has been a hub for comic book art throughout the twentieth century and the city boasts three comic book schools/studios producing a string of successful artists. There are 44 house sized wall murals around Brussels and when I meet Marc Marghem he said he could give me a whistlestop tour in the 90 minutes I had before my connnecting train left for Cologne.
Tintin is a Belgian icon and makes an appearance in the foyer of the Gare du Midi - riding on the front of a steam engine in an American adventure. Tintin's popularity never seems to fade and the new Hollywood film - The Secret of the Unicorn - is due out in October 2011, with its world premier appropriately in Brussels. The film starts off in the popular Brussels flea market where Tintin and Snowy are of course drawn into adventures around the world.
The Smurfs, another international cartoon export, also have a new 2011 film out. But Marc said - The Kat - is of far greater cultural significance to Belgian's. The Kat would unexpectedly appear in the Brussels Evening newspaper and make political or social statements about Belgian life - a sort of cartoon editorial.
Brussels is such an easy day trip from London and I think its got more charm, a bigger welcome and is much easier to explore than Paris. Brussels does not expect hoards of visitors, which is a welcome change from cities with big iconic draws that often make them feel they don't need to put any effort into welcoming visitors.