I spent six days in Brussels, Belgium on a business trip. I had a busy schedule and despite long daylight hours, I did not get to tour the city and most importantly, do “people watching” while taking photos of them.
Fortunately, I had a stay scheduled through a Sunday, until approximately 4pm. I had already seen “the usual” sights, went to some open air markets, tasted the food from street vendors. I was also very exhausted from work, the jet-lag and all the walking I did on Saturday. The rain that made things messy on Saturday was gone but the city was mostly deserted. So I decided to take a very slow stroll and mostly stay near the Grand Place (French: Grand’Place or Grand Place, Dutch: Grote Markt) where there were still tourists and street performers. I hanged out there and enjoyed the weather, rested and took photos.
Starting from Place Rogier to Grand Place, one passed through a street with (closed) shops and the bourse. There were not many people around but a few interesting shots came out.
A mother with her two kids; she appeared tired and bored. Just trying to push that stroller across the streets, get home and be done with it.
Very near to Place Rogier was a collection of s*x-shops and strip clubs (apparently the region used to be the red-light district). The one named “Show Center California” caught my attention since apart from fillet americain (or “American Fillet”– a dish made of raw meat (i.e. Steak tartare), this was the one thing that suggested an unusual presentation of something American.
Waffles, waffles, waffles. Street vendors selling “Belgian waffles” were a common sight. Waffles smelled good, looked good but the taste was not really any different from what you get in an American diner.
Yes, yes, I realize shots like the above of graffiti or stencils do not make good photos, but what they say is often interesting. I tend to photograph them a lot.
Empty streets, squares with tents left over from previous day’s fairs, people talking out of their windows, enjoying their take-out lunches, and couples (old and young) enjoying the sun.
Grand Place; The performers and the people
Grand Place turned out to be the interesting part where street performers, mainly musicians, were showing up one after another. The hype suggested by tourist guides doesn’t check out — yes there are historic buildings, but that’s all there is to it. Nevertheless, it provided me with an entertainment for a few hours.
I photographed a whole bunch of the performing groups, but a particular group that played what they called “Balkan Music” caught my attention. The musicians reminded me of characters from Emir Kusturica movies, the music was reminiscent of Goran Bregovic.
This last one, I left in color, because the drummer that appears to be of Gypsy origin was wearing this flashy blue suit and white shoes. His loud and lively drum solos gave a touch of authenticity (for the lack of a better word) to the performance.
They wore interesting shoes and they danced. And in the background, this little girl was getting restless and picking interesting postures.
Finally, they finished and met some other friends, kissed their goodbyes or may be “hey, long time no see” kisses.
And their audience..
Performers are nothing without their audiences. Good ones tend to draw a larger audience (duh!) and hence make for more interesting “people watching” material.
This guy and his friend were weird. Here they were washing their beer bottles in a public fountain. They kept showing up, mingled with the audience during performances. I do not know, probably I was influenced by the warnings about pick-pockets and I decided that they were up to no-good but might very well be that they were just two people enjoying the day.
There were some benches for people to sit down which was nice because I got tired after some time.
Of course, I was not the only photographer. Some used giant zoom lenses although one could get near performers but ,of course, most used cell-phones. It had been weird enough watching people take photos with point-and-shoot digital cameras and now this — people staring at their cell-phones. I wish I could see some of these photos.
Some photographers had to duck and run. She did that quite a few times. I like how comedian street performers always make fun of them. I should have done that maybe. Heheh..
This baby posed a lot. I liked this particular one because it had some built-in dynamics.
This other one kept wanting to walk up to the musicians and stare at them up close. One other group suddenly started marching towards the curious kids and caused quite a stir.
And dancers… Nothing tells enjoyment as much as audience that dances to the music. Either tapping the feet while standing, or clapping or outright dancing.
Hmm…. maybe this guy was also planning to dance … break-dance anyone?
Way back: Lunch and March for immigrant rights
Then I figured that I better eat something before my flight. So I wandered off to neighboring narrow streets. This particular one caught my attention because it had a row of Greek restaurants with their “come on in, we got the best gyro here” slogan. The smell made me hungrier and I stopped — I had already sampled a lot of Belgian food.
And being a good Cypriot, I ate my share of gyro and watched people pass by. These musicians were of a different breed, playing while walking and asking for money.
After lunch, I spent some more time at Grand Place and started to move towards Place Rogier to pick up luggage and get a train from North Station.
I’ve noticed a heavy presence of police in their riot vehicles. Then I heard some loud noises and headed in that direction.
There must be some sort of an attraction between me and protests because I ended up marching for immigrant rights. I think their sign says that they are like flowers without papers and they should be legalized. I asked around, it turns out it was a march demanding naturalization/legalization of illegal immigrants. It was a very diverse bunch with Africans, Middle-Easterners, Turks and a few Eastern Europeans. It was not as colorful as their American counterparts that I am used to but rather was organized in a similar manner as those I used to attend back home (Cyprus).
Then I realized that if I don’t put away my camera, I will never catch my train and my flight. So I shoved it in my bag and ran towards the hotel.
Larger photos are available at my WnWStreet_BrusselsBlog set on Flickr.