Sometimes when I'm traveling, I only have one day to spend in a large city. That's what happened recently on my trip to Brussels. And yet, I often have an amazing ability to pack in as much as possible into a single day by having the day's itinerary plotted out precisely the night before, both on a map -- with everything color coded for the time different venues open -- and in my notebook where I note the best way to get everywhere, including metro, bus, walking or taxi. Yes, it's all very organized but that's what happens when you only have a day to see Brussels. Here's what I managed to fit into 10 hours:
1. Place du Petit Sablon -- a petite neo-Renaissance-style park with bronze statuary, wrought iron balustrades and plenty of ivy. It's worth sitting on one of the benches listening to the tinkling water. You'll feel far from the traffic, though it's literally as the park's doorstep.
2. Sculpture Garden of the Fine Arts Museum -- it's curious that only school groups seem to visit this tiny strip of verdancy that's literally adjacent to one of Brussels' most prominent museums. This garden sits on the site of the city's first botanical garden from the 18th century. I walked along the thin path under locust, linden, maple and plane trees, checking out the statuary that all have a female theme. (One of the works is "Bathing Beauty" by A. Maillot.)
3. The Belvue Museum isn't far away, but clearly I didn't have time to visit. What I did check out is the museum's lovely outdoor terrace where you can sit amongst the shrubbery and sip a fruit juice under an umbrella.
4. Across the street is yet another green space -- Brussels is chock a block full of leafy swaths -- called Brussels Park. But instead of joining the school groups along the main paths, I found a series of tiny gates leading to small pockets of forestland. Not a sole could be bound in these shady retreats.
5. The Magritte Museum deserves a full day, or at least the entire morning, to adequately explore the works of one of my favorite surrealists. Everything is arranged chronologically. But during my brief visit, I'd have to say that among my favorite works are the series of paintings titled The Dominion of Light.
6. I also could've spent most of the day in the Musical Instruments Museum but that couldn't happen either. Instead, I checked out a few exhibits but found this place quite addictive. Once you don the infrared headphones, all you have to do is stand in front of a display and you'll automatically hear the sounds of that instrument. The museum's collection is one of the largest in the world and includes both antique and contemporary exhibits. Just think: they've got 58 different types of wind instruments.
7. On the top of this gorgeous Art Nouveau building is Restaurant du MIM. This is a low-key eatery with one of the most expansive views around. The gazpacho soup with salad is an inexpensive, hearty and tasty choice.
8. I'm a very big fan of contemporary art so I didn't want to miss visiting the Xavier Hufkens Gallery
where in the white-on-white interior I explored the fantastical works of David Altmejd, a Canadian artist who puts together disparate objects. In his most recent exhibit, multicolored thread formed a dragon-like creature sitting in a plexiglass cube as well as the heart and liver of a plexiglass human.
9. You can't leave Brussels without visiting the Comic Strip Centre where I found it hard to pull myself away from a special exhibit on Tove Jansson, the creator of The Mommins. These curious little creatures that occupy numerous comic strips and books are plenty eccentric. But even if these odd forest-dwelling characters -- many that resemble white hippos -- don't interest you, the prestigious collection of comic strips will.
10. I had some difficulty getting the taxi to figure out where Parc d'Egmont was located. That's because you can only access this small park via three narrow alleys. But once inside, I found I had the place almost to myself with just a few locals wandering the paths, past a bronze of Peter Pan and the neo-classical orangery where they serve lunch and brunch of the weekends.
11. L'Atelier Yves Mattagne is a perfect place for dinner though not relaxing in the true sense of the word. That's because it's a combination cooking class and dining experience. Everyone is broken up into groups and set to work at one of four stations to dish out the dinner menu for the evening. Because I love being active, this was a perfect way to end a very frenetic day. Using the executive chef's menu -- and it changes from night to night, though we worked with Belgian cuisine -- we sliced potatoes, diced leeks, whipped cream, whisked in truffle oil and topped the chocolate tarts with raspberries.