I didn't know what to expect from Brussels. Probably I expected a larger version of Leuven. I knew that (1) The headquarters of the EU are in Brussels and (2) Is the only really bilingual area in Belgium. The lack of a proper map and all the bilingual signs everywhere made me get disoriented in our incursion into downtown. After walking for a few blocks among empty office buildings it was obvious we were walking the wrong way, so we "jump" into the metro and I still manage to get confused by the similar names of the stations (De Brouckère vs. Bourse/Beurs) which for a while made me upset. That and the kid that approached us as we get out into the street to ask for money, first in Spanish and then in English.
The realization of poverty in the "capital" of the EU, specially around tourist areas was somewhat eerie. There are homeless and beggars in Canada, and growing up in Guatemala City you end up desensitized to the hardships of the less fortunate. But hearing more than once a woman or a child, obviously immigrants and sometimes well dressed, telling you that they need money for food is heartbreaking.
There wasn't all that overbearing, but it was something that I was not prepared for. I was able to be amazed by the architecture, by the Grand Place and the tourists flocking to see the Mannekin Piss. The wonderful gardens and the little cobblestoned streets were also a delight to experience.
The highlight of our stop-over in Brussels was, I believe, the outdoors market around the Gare du Midi (the main international train station) on Sunday morning. It made me think of one of a modern day version of an Old Testament market in a city where people from all corners of the world converge and converse in different languages, or in a common language that usually is not the native tongue of either of the interlocutors. It was huge. You could get everything from fresh produce to clothing to rotisserie chickens to watches to orchids to rugs and the list goes on.
In summary, BXL was a one day trip around the globe, where I was able to sit in a restaurant listening to music in Spanish (El Metekko) and then sip some "Lago Azul Guatemala" coffee in a nearby café. Where everyone tries to understand the other and you can find something for you. A sort of "anti-Babel", but possibly a Babylon.