Parc Tournay-Solvay | Brussels

I had planned a post on my trip to Berlin this week but I just want to talk about Brussels. Last year when the city was on lockdown and continuously portrayed as a terrorist den in the media, I froze at first and eventually I felt like reacting by publishing a post on the joyful Brussels I know. The terror and frustration of last year have been replaced by numbness and incomprehension after the attacks this week. My heart breaks for the lives lost and broken, for the ones who have to live with the absence and the pain, and for the light-hearted Brussels of yesterday.  I’ve been going through my pictures of last summer which filled me with a painful nostalgia, I long for my city to come back to a peaceful place. As fate would have it, the last post on Brussels I have in my archives is of the most serene place I know of. 

Parc Tournay-Solvay

The Tournay-Solvay park is a secret garden in the South of the Belgian Capital. I haven’t seen it mentioned that often in guides which is a pity because I think it’s pretty magical. Although I might be biased because this place is linked to many memories and formative moments in my life. It is here that my mum would bring me as a toddler to burn some energy as I learned to walk. Later, I would come with my primary school to learn how to recognise trees by their leaves. I made my first herbarium here and saw the life cycles of many frogs, dragonflies and butterflies. I think it’s safe to say that my love for nature stems a lot from this place. When I was a teenager, I would hang here and laze in the sun or play petanque. And finally, the lost young adult I was would escape here to breathe and reflect when things were a bit too much. I would sit on the bench at the foot of the burnt castle that overlooks the ponds while listening to Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible or Patrick Wolf’s Lycanthropy on repeat.

Parc Tournay-SolvayParc Tournay-SolvayParc Tournay-Solvay

This park that was created in the early 20th century has so many beautiful features, it’s well worth taking an afternoon to explore the various parts of it. It has a rose garden, an apple tree orchard, ponds, a walled garden, centenary trees, the ruins of a castle on a hill and rows of rhubarb leaves that look like umbrellas. If you leave through the kitchen garden’s exit, you’ll find yourself in the Sonian Forest’s dried swamps. We’re so lucky that the forest so close to our city has been so well preserved. It’s not unusual to catch the sight of a shy roe and in the summer nights, the fireflies come twinkling over the swamps.

The exit near the ponds will lead you to the Boitsfort lakes which is another fab place to have a walk. And they’re right next to one of the most creative Brussels neighbourhood, the Coin du Balai (literally meaning ‘Broomstick’s Corner’). You’ll fall in love with the colourful facades. The residents love to decorate their abodes with potted plants and various knick-knacks there.

Parc Tournay-Solvay

When I visited the park last Summer, I was surprised to see it in the process of being renovated. ‘My’ bench had disappeared and new areas to accommodate visitors had been laid out. The eerie ruins of the burnt castle had been replaced by a construction site. I’m a tad worried that this park’s old charms will make place to something too new and too shiny for its own good but I think it’ll be interesting to see what they will make of it. This might strengthen its position on the Brussels map. I’m guessing tourists don’t come here too often because it’s a 40 minute tramway journey from the city centre but if you have a thing for green space, pretty architecture and quiet suburbs, head South next time you’re in the Belgian Capital.

Parc Tournay-Solvay
PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Parc Tournay-Solvay
Chaussee de La Hulpe
1170 Brussels

Admission
Free

Opening Hours
Every day from 8am – 6pm (Oct-Mar); 8am-7pm (Apr); 8am-9pm (May-Aug); 8am-8pm (Sep)

Bus
17 (Etangs de Boitsfort Stop)

Tram
94 (Boitsfort Gare Stop)

Train
Gare de Boitsfort

 

Eating out in Brussels: 3 recommendations

I don’t know about you but I can’t seem to get in the festive spirit this year. November was a rather dark month and I hope that wherever you’re reading this from that you and your loved ones are safe and healthy.
I am not quite ready to roll on the Christmassy posts, hopefully as the 25th approaches, I’ll be a bit merrier and share what Dublin has to offer at this time of the year. In the meantime, I really want to post about my hometown, Brussels. Seeing it portrayed by the media as a macabre terrorist den and the numerous shots of post-apocalyptical empty streets shook me a bit. Maybe it’s a tad shallow and silly but I wanted to fight off the gloom by reminiscing here the good times I had this Summer when I visited family and friends. Brussels is a joyful city with so many great spots to enjoy a meal or a drink so here are a few recommendations from me to you to celebrate Brussels awesomeness (by the way if you’re visiting Brussels this month, you’re in for a treat, the Christmas market is blooming lovely).

Cook & Book
Cook & Book
COOK & BOOK

I had made a mental note to check out this restaurant ever since I saw it featured in the National Geographic’s Top 10 Bookstores in the world. Cook & Book does what it says on the tin, you eat in the middle of a bookshop. Food and books, isn’t that Heaven?! The restaurant counts 9 rooms, each with a different theme. For instance, you’ll find the cookbooks in the diner, general fiction in the main hall where books cover the ceiling or the English bookshop is in a cosy tea-room. My friend surprised me by booking us a table in the travel section… Obviously! In the middle of the room stood a caravan and our tables were lit by repurposed Campbell tomato soup cans as lamps. It was the perfect setting for an overdue catch-up with a life-long friend over a lovely meal, topped off by scrumptious American pancakes.

Place du Temple Libre, 1
1200 Woluwe-Saint-Lambert
http://www.cookandbook.be

Knees to Chin
Knees to Chin
KNEES TO CHIN

My friend Celestine really knows all the best places to eat in Brussels. I always look forward to seeing where she’s going to take me whenever I get to meet her. This time, she presented me with a short list and her description of Knees to Chin immediately tickled my fancy. This place specialises in rice paper rolls, which I’ve been absolutely obsessed with this year. I started making them at home after seeing this recipe on the Minimalist Baker’s blog, so I was excited to sample some in an actual restaurant. There were delicious and a great source of inspiration. I also loved the cute location which manages to mix conviviality and minimalism in a very photogenic way.

Rue de Livourne, 125
1000 Brussels
http://www.kneestochin.com

Forcado
Forcado
FORCADO

This is another of Celestine‘s awesome finds. Ever since going to Lisbon, I’ve been dreaming of sinking my teeth into another pastel de nata. Unfortunately, it ain’t an easy feat in Dublin. But back in Brussels, Celestine introduced me to the sweetest pastelaria called Forcado. Not only their Portuguese egg tarts are on par with the ones I ate in Lisbon but they add their own little twist to the 200 year old recipe: flavours. Yes, flavoured pasteis de nata, isn’t that genius? There were lemon, chocolate, coffee and speculoos ones … and the menu is updated regularly with limited editions. Cherry on top of the cake, the sweet treats can be enjoyed in the cafe’s highly instagrammable space blessed with bright light, marble-top tables and a Scandinavian feeling infused with a modern Portuguese design.

Chaussee de Charleroi, 196
1060 Saint-Gilles

The Flower Carpet | Brussels

flower carpet brussels

Yesterday something quite special happened in Brussels. Something that only happens once every two years. Hundreds of thousands of petals have been laid out all day to form what is the largest flower carpet in the world. Until Sunday night, the carpet will brighten up the centre of one of the most beautiful squares in Europe (okay I might be biased here):  Grand Place. I remember the event being one of the highlights of my Summer as a kid and I’m a bit sad I won’t be there to witness it this weekend. Those pictures are from a couple of years ago but fortunately my mum sent me pictures of last night’s opening so it’s a bit like being back home for a bit.

The design of the carpet follows a different theme each time and this year, it celebrates the 50th year anniversary of  Turkish immigration in Belgium. The pattern is inspired by the intricate Persian carpets ‘kilims‘.

grand place flower carpetflower carpet close-up

The carpet is made of hundreds of thousands of begonia petals. The begonia proves to be the perfect flower for such a feat as it’s quite robust against bad weather and it doesn’t lose its vivid and colourful aspects under the bright sun. The tradition started in the 70s and lit many a Brusseleer‘s (aka Brussels’ inhabitant) heart with joy and pride.

I couldn’t recommend enough you go and see the flowery Grand Place with your own eyes, it is truly quite something to witness the serious grandeur of the square buildings that lasted many centuries come together with the bright, cheerful ephemerality of the carpet.

Also, every evening, a light and sound show will take place on the square to top up this giant flower cake.

flower carpetgrand placeflower carpet from above

Top Tip: For a panoramic view of the carpet and the Grand Place, enter the City Hall and access the balcony.

flower carpet view from city hall balcony

Practical Information

Flower Carpet, from the 14th to the 17th of August 2014 – website
Grand Place
1000 Brussels

Admission: Free

Light & Sound shows: 10pm / 10.30pm / 11pm

Admission to the City Hall Balcony is 5€ and it’s open from 9am to 11pm