This striped car was installed outside Gare Centrale as part of an exhibition connected with the Zinneke parade in May 2014. Some 20 artists were commissioned to create a work near Central Station based on the theme "temptation". The car has gone now, but I have kept this picture as an example of how Brussels can sometimes turn into a strange and surprising city.
Bonom is the Banksy of Brussels. Since 2006, he has been spraying animals and dinosaur skeletons in some of the city's most inaccessible places. A giant Tyrannosaurus skeleton appeared on a wall opposite Bozar at the end of 2008. An elephant popped up overnight on a wall of the National Library in February 2009.
Like many people, I have sometimes speculated about the identity of Bonom. I imagined him as a Belgian. He is brave, like Tintin, but also melancholy, like Magritte or Brel. He knows the city will never respect his art, but he carries on regardless.
Now we know his identity. He revealed it recently in an interview with the city paper Brussel deze Week. It turns out that I was wrong. He is a French artist called Vincent Glowinski. He told the paper that he had stopped spraying drawings because the police knew his identity.
But a few days ago, a new work appeared on a high wall above Avenue Louise. It showed a naked woman masturbating. Many people thought it was Bonom's work. He said nothing.
Now a new work has appeared on the side of a block of flats near the Porte de Hal. It represents a skeletal old man who also appears to be masturbating. Bonom remains silent.
His delicate drawings sometimes last less than an hour before someone comes along with a bucket of caustic chemicals to wash it away. Yet Bonom is slowly conquering Brussels with his strange bestiary, creating an alternative history for this slate grey city filled with dull modern buildings.
When The Guardian asked me to write an article about Mons, I was off like a shot. Mons is one of my favourite little towns in Belgium. It’s quite a sleepy place mind you. Not many tourists visit it compared with Ghent or Bruges. But it has an old-fashioned charm that feels quite French.
Mons is in the news this year as one of the two European Capitals of Culture in 2015. It has a fantastic programme of events beginning with a launch party on 24 January which looks really fantastic. Here is what I told The Guardian.
And here is a more personal list of my 10 hidden secrets of Mons
This used to be a gloomy commuter corridor, but the architects MA2 have transformed the long tunnel leading from Central Station’s booking hall to the metro. The lighting has been improved and the walls covered with metal sheets printed with moody black-and-white Belgian scenes by photographer Daniel Deltour. Even the street musicians sound better in the bright new space.
My secret passage :: Gare Centrale
22 March 2016 :: Down but not out
The British people have voted to leave the European Union. After years of bashing Brussels, they have finally decided enough is enough.
Personally, I am sad beyond words. I was born a Scottish UK citizen. Like most people, I deeply love the country where I was born. But I also love the EU, which has offered me an opportunity to live and work and travel without hassle across 28 countries.
I think Brussels is a special place. I created this website to try and explain its special charm.
Now that Britain plans to leave the EU, I think Brussels might be in line to become the new London. If it can sort out its traffic. And fix the weather.
mysecretbrussels the best of food, music, culture and life
My forgotten museums :: Plaster cast workshop
Hardly anyone in Brussels knows about the plaster cast workshop in the Cinquantenaire Park. Not even Belgians who have lived here all their lives. Yet this secret museum and workshop gives visitors a unique glimpse behind the scenes of an almost forgotten craft.
But first of all you have to find the entrance, which is hidden behind a car park at the back of Autoworld. Visitors enter through a vast hall filled with plaster cast statues of Greek mythological heroes. The building seems at first to be deserted. The floor is covered with dead leaves blown in from the park.
My forgotten museums :: Wiertz museum
One of the most important film museums in the world is hidden down an alley behind Bozar
The film museum is one of those secret Brussels places that no one tells you about. Founded back in 1938, it has gradually built up an exceptional archive collection of 75,000 movies, making it the third largest collection in the world.
The collection has steadily grown since the 1970s because a copy of every film screened in Belgium has to be deposited in the archive after it has finished its run. Among the hidden treasures are artists’ films by Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, as well as the only surviving copies of no less than 100 American silent movies.
New Stories ::
BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO :: I love you Brussels. I hate you Brussels.
DO YOU WANT TO KNOW A SECRET :: my hidden restaurants revealed
A SMALL TOWN IN BELGIUM :: Aarschot - where nothing ever happens
ROMANTIC RENDEZ-VOUS :: the secret love hotel
BRUSSELS DOWNTOWN WALK :: where to go now the cars have gone
LOVE BITES :: the 10 most romantic things to do in Brussels
STREET ART UNCOVERED :: the secret art that no one sees
Brexit :: Could Brussels become the new London?
Could Brussels be your new home?
Words by Jacques Brel written in chalk on Place de la Bourse
Once again a city has been hit by a terror attack. Once again lives have been brutally shattered. Once again people are struggling to cope with enormous and incomprehensible sadness.
The attack on Brussels seemed particularly heartless because Brussels is essentially a peaceful city. It is a tolerant city of one million people who are mostly trying to get along together. It is a city of discussion, not a city of hatred.
Some people enjoy criticising Brussels. It is something you have put up with if you live here. But Brussels is not a hellhole. And at times like this you can see the solidarity coming through.
In the aftermatch of the attacks, people were offering to donate blood (even though it wasn't needed). Taxi drivers were turing off their meters when they picked up stranded people. Hotels were offering rooms for the night for free.
But the damage is done. It will never be the same in this city. This is undoubtedly a dark day in the history of Brussels and Belgium. It's our 9/11 moment.
But it would be wrong to give up hope. The Belgian people have a unique way of standing up to terror and oppression. I think it is likely they will come through this without losing their cool.
Brussels is down. But it is not out. Come back one day when it is safe to do so. You will discover a special kind of place like nowhere else.
"My country! I did not think enough of it. I almost ignored it. I did not see that I loved it. But since they torment her, the monsters, I see her everywhere. I breathe her in the streets of the city, in the shadow of our palace. She lives in me. I live in her. I will die for her singing."
Gabrielle Petit, 1916
Gabrielle Petit did die for her little country. Maybe not singing. She was shot as a spy, like the British nurse Edith Cavell, on 1 April 1916. She is commemorated by a statue on Place St Jean in the centre of Brussels, not far from Grand'Place.
I like this quotation, because I think it sums up the mood in the Brussels streets at this moment. We don't think about our country, or our city, until the monsters take it over. But then we realise how important it is to us, not as a symbol of national pride, not really, but as something much more basic. It is where we live and breathe. It is home.
The Hidden Secrets of Brussels
an online urban guide for the curious
This is a site about Brussels, a city that sometimes to be nothing more than a chaotic intersection of roads and railways and tramlines, a place where everyone is passing through on the way to somewhere else.
But it turns to be a city of many secret places that most people know nothing about.
The aim of this website is to steer you away from the more obvious tourist sights so that you can discover the hidden places that reveal the soul of the city.
Hidden Secrets :: my books on secret Belgium >
Brussels commuter by graphic artist Nena Peeters at Gare du Nord
Street art at Gare de la Chapelle by Leuven artist DinDin
Mad about Mons
24 January to 31 December 2015
My secret street artist :: Bonom
"this little gem is an instant Brussels bestseller"
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"best Brussels guidebook"
"the descriptions are short and snappy and give you just enough information to tease you into discovering them for yourself"
The Brussels Tribune
"Really love your book. I always knew Brussels was a great city and no way boring. We enjoyed our stay in Sweet which your book rightly recommends. Sofie the owner was sweet."
now :: 10 new secrets revealed including 5 best food trucks
Now in French ::
500 coups de coeur
Second revised French edition now in bookshops
Walking tours in
the secret city ::
10 walking tours in Brussels based on the bestselling guide
"I was touched by the city that you showed us. I have lived here for a year and I have always felt that there is more to Brussels than I could describe, show or touch. Even though I have read hundreds of books about Brussels. I loved the gorgeous photo exhibition, and the abandoned old fountain lined with rubbish made me cry. Brussels is a magnificent old city, but it's a pity it's not visible on a daily basis. Like the narrow street near the Rue de Flandres that isn't even on Google maps. Every citizen should be obliged to try to see Brussels through your eyes."
find out more about urban walks here