How to be a Brussels local: The February List – Eight things to do this month
SEE THE BRIGHT SIDE OF BRUSSELS
Escape the winter gloom in downtown Brussels later this month when the Bright Brussels Festival brings light art to locations in the Dansaert and Sainte-Catherine districts. Take a look at the Rue Léon Lepage where trees are lit in different colours and shops turn their windows into art displays. Or squeeze down the little lane Rue du Nom de Jésus where Mathilde Lemesle is creating playful art on the wall of an old Brussels house. From 22 to 25 February, from dusk to midnight.
LOVE IS BLIND
Most people celebrate Valentine’s Day with a box of chocolates or a bunch of flowers. Nothing wrong with that. But you could maybe be a bit more imaginative. The BELvue museum has come up with an unusual idea for the night of 14 February which involves a visit in the dark. They plan to turn down the lights and hand out torches so you can discover the troubled history of Belgium in a new way. And it’s not just for couples, they insist. From 17.00 to 22.00.
LEARN A NEW SKILL
As a city of one million people, Brussels is teeming with experts who can teach you a new skill. You might think about learning to make furniture at one of the sessions organised by Atelier 365 in its Ixelles workshop. They offer an inexpensive four-hour session on the basics of woodworking, along with extended courses that will teach you furniture-making skills.
Or you might decide to spend an evening learning how to create a terrarium in the hip downtown venue Urban Therapy. A cross between a NGO and a concept store, Urban Therapy sells terrariums from Green Factory in Paris. But they also organise workshops on creating one of these miraculous ecosystems.
HONEY, WHAT DO WE DO WITH THE KIDS?
School’s out, so what do you do with the kids during Carnival holiday. It falls in the middle of February, which is not the best time of year to have kids at home, especially if you are an expat parent with no relatives around to help you out. You might sign your kids up for a language class, or, if you feel energetic, you could wander with your children around the old streets of Brussels looking out for the comic strip murals on the sides of houses.
Pick up a €1 map of the comic book trail at the tourist office to find out what lies in the neighbourhood. Kids enjoy the Rik Hochet mural in Rue de Bon Secours, the Tintin mural in Rue de l’Etuve and the Nero cartoon on Place St Géry. On the way, stop for lunch in one of the child-friendly cafés in downtown Brussels, such as Chicago or De Markten.
For more inspiration, get hold of the latest issue of the Kids Gazette, a free magazine in three languages that lists events in Brussels for children, including plays, dance, concerts and other events.
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHOPS
It doesn’t always have to be Ikea. You can find interesting shops in town to give your Brussels home a stylish look. For furniture, head to Depot Design on the canal waterfront. Founded in 1985, this huge store stocks contemporary furniture by Italian and Nordic designers. The owner has an eye for smart pieces that you don’t find anywhere else, often made by small firms that produce limited editions. So if you want a unique sofa, a stylish lamp or a quirky bookcase, this could be the place.
For kitchenware, you can pick up everything you need at Dishes Factory on the pretty Quai aux Briques. This friendly store is crammed with stylish plates, kitchen equipment and cool Italian coffee pots.
To add some green to your living space, head to Agave in the multicultural Matonge where three young locals have turned a small shop into an urban jungle where they sell exotic house plants, retro terrariums and hanging baskets. The friendly owners offer useful advice on keeping your plants alive. They also organise plant workshops.
The Brussels retail agency Atrium has created a useful website that pinpoints about 10,000 independent shops in the city, listed by category, district and name. It might persuade you that shopping locally can be a lot more fun than a trip to a suburban megastore.
GET YOUR TICKETS FOR MUSEUM NIGHT
Find out what lies hidden in some of the city’s secret collections by joining the Museum Night crowd on 3 March. It’s a fun way to visit museums after closing time on a Saturday night with dozens of events staged in 27 venues involving more than 500 of the city’s most creative people. The programme includes exhibitions, art installations, indie bands, DJ sets, dance, film and unusual guided tours. From 19.00 until after midnight.
HELP, I DON’T SPEAK BRUSSELS
Brussels can be a confusing place. Just ask any Belgian. You have to understand the 19 communes, communicate in French or Dutch, figure out how the transport system works, and sign a complicated rental agreement. It’s not the easiest place to settle down. But the regional government has come up with a solution. For more than 25 years, the multilingual staff at the Welcome Desk have been sitting down with expats to talk them through the system. The office is close to Schuman, while a second office opened recently inside the European Parliament.
CAST YOUR VOTE
Now is your chance to have a say in shaping your city. The tourist office Visit Brussels wants locals to vote for the best tourist initiatives of last year. You can support new ideas in eight different categories, ranging from fast food concept Stoempdog launched by Be My Stoemp to an escape game that takes you through the streets of Brussels. It’s a way of helping to create the kind of city you want. Vote can be cast online until 4 March.
By Derek Blyth