Belgium: Books and Monuments


The last day in Brussels we had breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien, a restaurant-bakery founded in Brussels in 1990 by Alain Coumont, a chef who, upon realizing that he didn’t like the bread available for his restaurant, decided to make his own. He opened a small place in the rue Dansaert, and that small shop is now an international business.

We went to the one that’s inside the Galeries Royales St. Hubert without knowing what it was or what it had. It was probably one of the best decisions of the whole trip. The coffee was great, the food was fresh and the bread was amazing.

From there, were walked to one of the most recommended book shops in Brussels: Tropismes.

The place isn’t too big, but the charming thing about it is that they managed to put books in every single space they had. Between the furniture, on top of other books, under the stairs, you name it.

As always, I searched for the Latin American Literature shelves and I soon found Julio, Carlos and Gabriel, among others, standing next to one another in a bottom shelf.


That same day we went to Bruges and let me tell you that the train station was chaotic. Every single train (and I mean literally every single train) was at least 30 minutes late and nobody knew what was going on or what to do. They say you don’t appreciate what you have until you lose it; well I am never complaining about German trains again. Yes, they’re always late, especially during the winter, but at least you know why and how long they’ll take.

Bruges is Brugge in Dutch, which derives from Old Dutch and means ‘bridges’. The earliest accounts of the name are from around the year 840 and include the variants Bruggas y Brvggas. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle, historical document that I was able to study this semester, mentions the city under the names of Bricge in the year 1037, and Brycge in the years 1049 and 1052.

Fun fact: in Spanish, it’s called «Brujas» which literally translates to «Witches». It’s a rather unfortunate name, but if you ask my dad, he calls it ‘the most beautiful city in the world’.

We arrived in Bruges and the first thing we did (apart from eating and leaving the luggage at the apartment) was look for the Church of Our Lady, which is the place where the Madonna of Bruges is. I was looking forward to seeing her because of the movie The Monuments Men, which is one of my favorite movies.

The Madonna of Bruges is a marble sculpture made by Michelangelo in 1504, and it’s only 1.23 m tall. It has only left Belgium in two occasions: when it was taken to France in 1794 and when it was taken to Germany in 1944.

We found her beautiful and sitting in her chapel, as she always should be.

Afterwards we went to the museum-gallery of Salvador Dalí, but first we stopped by a book shop I had seen on the way to the Madonna.

It was a pretty place, small too, but full of books and other literature-related objects. One thing I love doing whenever I travel is going to local book stores. I love to see what books they sell, how they arrange them, what languages are they in. I always try to buy something small, a book store souvenir if you will, but I don’t always purchase books because I don’t always understand the language.

The museum-gallery isn’t big either, but it’s well located (in the Central Square), and it has some of Dali’s less known works.

It is just one room, which is why you don’t spend a lot of time in there. For those who are like me, who love galleries bur really dislike Dali, the size is ideal.

Hanging from one of the walls, I found this version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I would have loved to see the whole edition.

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