Nilo is a drummer, guitar player, singer and translator - basically the person you could trast when it comes to cultural and alternative part of his city.
What is the most bizarre place in Brussels?There are so many bizarre places in this city. Some people take pride in the fact that Brussels is the capital of surrealism. We have statues of a peeing boy, a peeing girl and a peeing dog, and people come and take pictures of them. Our equivalent of the Eiffel Tower is the Atomium, nine balls of steel rising up to 100 metres in height! (But it’s pretty cool.) Recently, it was declared Europe’s most bizarre monument by CNN!
What is the best night food after party in Brussels?You are in the country that invented French fries, so those are always a good choice. Nice and greasy, perfect to soak up the alcohol. Have them with mayonnaise or andalouse or any other of the many sauces available. Tabora, Fritland and Manneken Frites in the centre are all open late.
If it’s really late, you might just head to a bakery and get some croissants and pains au chocolat for breakfast.
What is your favourite place (outside tourist's track) in Brussels ?Brussels has a ton of green spaces, which are great to relax and clear your head a bit. Most people head to the Royal Park in the centre or the Cinquantenaire park, but those are flat and square and dull. Go to Parc Duden in Forest for some big hills and big trees, or to Les Jardins du Fleuriste for a perfectly manicured design park. Bois du Laarbeek is a nice little forest in the northwest with cute bunnies and Forêt de Soignes is a huge forest in the southeast, one of the last remaining natural forests in Belgium. I’ve never seen any bunnies there though (but apparently there are deer).
What to do to increase your adrenaline in Brussels?Ride a bike! Throw yourself in traffic and race down one of our many hills. Your heart will start pumping for sure. But beware, traffic is dense and car drivers don’t really watch out for cyclists. Slippery cobblestones and tram tracks make for extra obstacles. You can find Villo! rental bikes all over town, but they’re a bit heavy. If you can find a nice light bike, you’ll go faster and it’s more fun.
Some abandoned places in Brussels?The Cité Administrative/Rijksadministratief Centrum used to be a big complex of government buildings smack dab in the middle of the city. They were built in the 50ies but already abandoned at the beginning of this century. Now they’re empty and derelict, awaiting renovation. There used to be nice esplanade with a view over downtown but now it’s completely overgrown. It’s a bit eerie but also quite beautiful, in a way.
|RAC (Rijksadministratief Centrum) Brussel|
Bauhaus symbol in windows
by the Polish artist: Maurycy Gomulicki
Where do the hipsters go in Brussels?Thankfully, we don’t have as many hipsters as, say, Antwerp. The ones we have though tend to hang out around the rue Dansaert area (mostly Flemish hipsters) and around Flagey (almost exclusively French-speaking hipsters).
What is the strangest-looking bar/club you like in Brussels?Recyclart is strange in that it’s housed in an old train station. During the day you can still catch the odd train there, but now it’s mostly known as an arts centre/music venue. The old ticket booths have been turned into the bar during concerts. It all looks rather underground-like, although it’s publicly funded. But they have some cool gigs and parties every now and then.
Le Goupil-le-Fol is a bar in an old brothel. It’s spread out over two floors, in different rooms with carpets and old couches and old junk from the flea market on the wall. It’s quite cosy, a nice place to hang out with a group of good friends – although you’ll also find some couples necking in the couches. Their selection of drinks is very limited and not cheap but they have some absolutely delicious fruit wines.
What is the coolest alternative street in Brussels?I don’t think we have such a thing as an “alternative street”. Of course, some areas are cooler than others, but in general, the hip and the mundane, the bourgeois and the bums blend in pretty well with each other. It’s typical for Brussels too that in just a few hundred metres, you can go from a “ghetto” to some really posh part of town.
Where would you take your guest to show him/her something distinctive in Brussels?On a Sunday morning, if it’s not raining, we could perhaps go to the Midi Market for some Moroccan pancakes with fresh mint tea. Then we could head up to the residential neighbourhoods of Saint-Gilles and Ixelles and go look at some nice Art Nouveau architecture.
After that, if my guest is into beer, we could relax in a specialised beer bar such as Moeder Lambic or Poechenellenkelder and sample some nice brews.
Do you know some places where you can see the city view from the roof of a building?The rooftop of Parking 58 in the centre is a long-time favourite. There’s been talk for a while now that it will be torn down, so maybe soon we won’t be able to go anymore. In the Army museum in Cinquantenaire Park, you can go to the top of the arcades overlooking the park (free entry). If you have money, go to the top of the Atomium!
What don't you like about Brussels?There are way too many cars in Brussels. The city authorities are lagging behind a couple of decades when it comes to city planning and mobility. The congestion is terrible and the air quality is dreadful. Most drivers are real pricks too.
Which district would you avoid living in? Why?There are some outer-lying districts full of ugly concrete buildings from the fifties and sixties, such as Evere and Ganshoren. Living there just seems extremely dull, and you’re far from everything.
At the same time there are some really gritty, run-down areas just outside the centre, such as Kuregem, Molenbeek … There’s very little green space, everything is really dense and dirty, the quality of life isn’t great there and sometimes it’s not very safe either.
What super distinctive thing should one try in Brussels?When you’ve tried the beer, the fries, the waffles and the chocolate, head to an old café called Cirio, right by the Bourse. It’s a bit posh but has a really pretty old interior. Ask for a “half and half”, a mixture of white wine and sparkling wine/champagne, apparently it was invented there. It’s yummy.
What is your favourite place for a party? Why?I don’t really like big, posh, expensive places with bouncers and dress codes and stuff. I mostly like informal, sometimes improvised parties. With lots of tropical grooves. Could be at a friend’s house, or in places such as the now defunct Nepomuk or the soon to be defunct Compilothèque.
Or wherever DJ Funky Bompa is spinning, usually there will be a great vibe then. If you want to know about big, posh, expensive places with bouncers and dress codes and all that, ask my brother, he knows about that kind of stuff.
What to do outside the city?Catch tram 44 from Montgomery – it will take you through a beautiful forest to the town of Tervuren, which has a huge park and the Museum of Central Africa, which is pretty interesting but will be closed soon for renovation. Otherwise, trains will you get anywhere in Belgium real quick.
Gent is probably the nicest city to visit outside Brussels. Even London, Paris or Amsterdam are never more than a couple of hours away!
Nilo is a translator/musician living in Brussels. He plays drums in a Belgian soukous band called Jean-Mikili and sings and plays guitar and occasionally hits a drum in an indiefolk band called Uncle Berry. He is also part of the dance/film/music collective La Ignorancia. You can find his blog at nilonilonilo.tumblr.com, fallow him on Twitter.