Last Christmas, Google did a good time fun thing for the holidays–their Christmas “Village.” Each day, a new game or learning experience would be available. One of those days was focused on Christmas celebrations around the world, with pictures of famous decorations, lights, shopping villages, and the like. One of them was the Grand Place in Brussels. We were beginning to plan our next Europe trip and we’re still figuring out the destinations we wanted to visit. When I saw that square–the beautiful, eccentric, and detailed architecture all the way around–I knew we had to go.
I’ll admit the happenings of the last few months had me a little hesitant about visiting, but I’ll be damned if a terrorist is going to stop me from seeing the world. So onto Brussels we went.
Upon getting off the train, I was not very impressed. The city all around the station was modern, hectic, and a little dirty. But a few streets in, the historic architecture I was expecting became visible, and it was beautiful. Narrow buildings, each of them a different color and style, some with flower boxes on every window adding even more color. There were cafes on every corner, with outdoor seating practically into the street. Chocolate and waffle shops were also frequent, and both filled the air with the most delightful of smells. I’m going to miss the constant smell of waffles. It was one of my favorite things about this city.
We took a cab from the train station to our hotel–The Augustin. After getting off on the wrong stop and f*cking up our luggage in Amsterdam, this has become the easiest thing. The hotel was in a lovely, historical-looking white building, but the inside was all modern. There was a surprising amount of space in our room; the ceilings were high and one wall was solid windows that you could open in multiple ways. We had a king-size bed and one extra twin bed that I told Zeus was for when I got mad at him. He used it to store his luggage on instead. The best part for these Floridians though–air conditioning. I patted myself on the back for a job well done in finding this hotel. We took showers and then went out to explore the hotel. Our first stop was the Grand Place, and after to find a restaurant on Brussels’ “Restaurant Row”–Rue des Bouchers (located just behind the square). Our hotel was in walking distance of the Place, no more than 10 minutes.
The Grand Place was everything I wanted it to be. The architecture was gorgeous–so much detail. Every corner had something different, and I noticed something new with each look. I don’t know what the names of each building were so I won’t bore you with history and such. Just know that it was a spectacular sight and if you’re ever in the area, you have to see it.
After seeing the square, we went in search of dinner. We walked down narrow streets filled with cafe after cafe, each with a server waiting to harass you about coming in and eating at their restaurant. Reminded us a lot of Miami. We walked until we saw one that didn’t bother us and sat down to eat there. The menu was mainly seafood–mussels are a huge deal here–and meat dishes–lots of different cuts of steak. They had huge platters of meat, seafood, and a combination of the two. Zeus was in the mood for a steak, so he ordered that. I ordered beef stroganoff, but it was not the beef stroganoff that we Americans are used to. I know the German version is way different than the meat, noodles, and mushroom sauce we eat, but this version was just pieces of beef, onions, and mushrooms in a gravy sauce. No rice, no noodles. They served fries on the side, a Belgian staple of course. The meat was very tasty and I dipped all my fries in the gravy–it was very fulfilling and I couldn’t even finish it all. Zeus enjoyed his meal too. It was extremely overpriced though, so we learned our lesson about Brussels’ “Restaurant Row.” Next, we walked around a bit trying to get a feel for the place. We stopped in a chocolate shop and I couldn’t resist buying all the delicious things. I filled a box with truffles, chocolate covered raisins, and I don’t even know what else–it all looked so amazing. I resisted the urge to stick my face into the chocolate fountain. We paid and then walked to the Mannequin Pis–apparently the most underwhelming sight in all of Brussels. You just have to know what to expect I guess. It’s a statue/fountain of a boy peeing–not too much to it.
Next, we went to the Delirium Village–a small alley with multiple different bars. We went to the famous Delirium Cafe, which has three levels that serve different beers–all of their own and many from the other bars in the Village (Floris was another one; they had a lot of fruity beers that I really enjoyed). We visited every level and stayed in each for only the time it took to order a beer because they were all so damn hot. Why no air conditioner?! There were way too many people in there to not have the A/C on. But the hallway between all three was nice and cool, so we just found a place to sit there and enjoy our beers.
The next morning, we slept a little late (we needed it). We found a couple of bikes to rent and then rode over to the Grand Place again because we wanted to see it in the daylight (the sun had just gone down when we saw it before). I walked around and took some more pictures, then we found a place for lunch–La Roue D’or Brasserie – Restaurant. This one was a little off the main path, no waiters hassling us to come in. We ordered tomatoes with mozzarella and basil for an appetizer. Zeus ordered mussels with garlic butter and I ordered meatballs with onions and beer sauce. The tomatoes and mozzarella cheese were fantastic–one of my favorite dishes so far. The cheese in Europe is so different and much more flavorful than that in the US. Something about pasteurization.
The mussels Zeus ordered actually made me want to try one; they smelled and looked so good. But the texture of of anything mussel and oyster like makes me want to vomit. My meatballs (three very big ones) were very flavorful and tasty. They came with steak fries (my favorite!). I asked Zeus if he wanted to try any of my balls, and he did. The bill came on the cutest little receipt we’d ever seen, and it was cheaper than the night before, plus the food was better too.
After lunch, we rode our bikes to the Royal Palace and then around the park in front of it. Next, we rode to the Parc du Cinquantenaire where there is a beautiful arch and a few museums. We hung out in the park for a bit and then walked around the arch getting a few pictures. The ride there was a long one, but most bits were downhill, so we decided to return the bikes rather than making the uphill journey back on them.
Afterwards, we caught the metro back to our hotel and took showers before taking the metro out to the Atomium. They built the Atomium for a world fair but decided to keep it apparently. It was massive, and unlike anything else in historic Brussels, but it was a sight to see for sure.
We planned on eating dinner somewhere around there but it was mostly museums and stores around it. So we caught a metro back to the area around Grand Place. It was raining when we came out so we bought umbrellas and stopped at the first restaurant we came across, which was called Drug Opera. The inside of this cafe was reminiscent of an old English-style pub with lots of dark, intricate woodwork, red wallpaper, and dim lighting. The menu consisted mainly of Italian food and desserts. After sitting there for about 10 minutes, the server finally came and we ordered a bottle of wine and a pizza. The wine came in a clear rubber “bag” with water and ice. The pizza was great, biding try to add extra ingredients because they do not understand that concept. Everything is as it is. We planned to stay for dessert because it was still kind of rainy but ended up leaving after our meal because the service was horrible. They were slow and inattentive; not rude or anything, just didn’t seem to care. After dinner here, we walked around a bit and then headed back to the hotel–the next day would be an early one.
On day three, we got up around 8:00am and took a train to Bruges, which is only about an hour away. We rented bikes at the train station and then rode into the center of town. The ride was pleasant; there was a specific bike lane on the sidewalk so you didn’t really have to worry about traffic much. There was a lot of greenery and now and then you could see a canal. We made it to the Markt Square around 9:45am and it was practically empty. There were horse-drawn carriages and tour busses just waiting for the onslaught of tourists to arrive. It was really nice to walk around and get pictures that were not obscured by a million people. Like the Grand Place, Markt Square is filled with beautiful buildings featuring exquisite architecture and detail. The bell tower looms over it all, and plays music regularly that you can hear throughout the city.
By this point, we were starving so we had breakfast at Meridian Tea Room right in the square. It was finally cool enough to order a hot beverage so we both ordered a cappuccino. For food, Zeus ordered an omelet; I ordered a breakfast with eggs, ham, cheese, a croissant, and bread rolls; and we ordered a waffle with strawberries and whipped cream to share. My meal also came with a glass of the freshest orange juice I’ve ever had.
The waffle arrived first and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. It tasted amazing; the strawberries offered slightly tart contrast to the sweetness of the waffle and whipped cream. The waffle was not as fluffy as I’m used to when Zeus makes them–more dough like–but I welcomed the difference with an open mind (and mouth). Our breakfast dishes came next–Zeus’ omelet looked like a work of art, if art was covered in cheese that is. It was steaming hot and so flavorful. It had all kinds of things in it. His dish also came with a salad, which was an odd choice for breakfast, but given the lack of vegetables over the past few days (all fries all the time), he ate and enjoyed every bite. My meal wasn’t as pretty, but it satisfied my hunger. I made a breakfast sandwich out of a roll and added the ham, egg, and cheese to it. I ate the croissant all by itself; it was perfectly buttery and flaky.
After breakfast, we walked around the square a bit more and then rode our bikes to the next destination–Burg Square. This square is another full of ornamental architecture and included a museum and a church–the Church of the Holy Blood. I tried to go in but they were having a mass so I couldn’t. The next time we rode by, it was closed so I guess we’ll have to go back again sometime lol.
Next, we rode our bikes to the river to see the windmills that were on our map. We rode up to the first one, took a few pictures and then rode back in search of a bar called De Garre, recommended by a friend. We rode all around the squares and couldn’t find it, and in doing so worked up an appetizer for lunch. During all this, we happened upon a flea market type thing, visited a few local churches, and watched as a guy blew bubbles in the square, much to the delight of every child around.
We stopped at a burger place called Jilles Beer & Burgers. It had a hipstery vibe to it; everything felt organic, simple, and natural. It was an attractive restaurant. We both ordered beers and decided to split a hamburger and fries. We ordered the Dovo Burger–one of their top suggestions–which was described as explosive (😱) and had cheese, tomatoes, a spicy dressing, and maybe some other stuff. I can’t remember and I can’t find a menu in English. I’ll remember to take pictures next time. Anyway, it also came with a side salad and fries. They cut the burger in half for us, and stuck a toothpick with their logo on the end in each side. The salad came in an adorable glass jar (so hipster lol). The fries came on their own with a thing of mayo (yuck); they were steak fries and fried just right–some soft and some crispy. Delightful. As for the burger, I would put it in my top 10 favorite burgers ever. It had so much flavor, and quite a kick thanks to the spicy dressing. It was gone way too fast, but with the salad and fries, we were both plenty full by the time we left.
While at Jilles, we were able to sign onto Wi-Fi and find De Garre, so that’s where we headed off to next. This bar is well known for having great beers that you can only get there. It’s extremely hard to find, tucked into an alley between Burg and Markt Squares. Inside, it’s an adorable little bar with six or seven tables and knickknacks all over the place. You can sit down and order or go up to the bar. The bartender was very friendly and happy to recommend something to us. Zeus got one of their own beers and I ordered a strawberry beer from some other brewery. I loved my beer, but was not much of a fan of his. He said it was heavy, but good.
We had two or three beers then decided it was time for waffles and then the journey home. The same friend who recommended De Garre also recommended Oyya for waffles, and reviews on TripAdvisor confirmed her saying it was the best waffle and whipped cream ever. Zeus ordered one with strawberries and whipped cream (so original lol) and I ordered one with ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce. They let you pick your own ice cream out of around two dozen flavors and then your own chocolate sauce (white, milk, or dark chocolate). I was overwhelmed by the ice cream choices and the sheer beauty of them all that I took the first one the server suggested–a vanilla ice cream with Speculos cookies, which are kind of like graham crackers, and then I topped it with white chocolate. It looked too pretty to eat but I couldn’t wait to eat it. It was super sweet and super filling, and made me very glad I’ve been doing so much walking.
After waffles, we went into a few shops and then rode back to the train station. We made it back just in time, because it started sprinkling as we were walking in. It only took about 10 minutes for the train to arrive and we were on our way back to Brussels.
When we got back, we took showers and made the mistake of laying down. Well, Zeus did. It took about two hours of convincing for him to go back out. I kept reminding him it was our last night in Brussels. We still had more to see (although I felt like we got to visit all of my must sees)! Once he finally agreed to go out and got ready, we walked to a bar called Poechenellekelder. They had outside seating but it had been sprinkling a bit so we went inside and sat by a window. This bar was something else. They had a huge selection of beers, and a huge selection of creepy dolls and puppets. They were hanging everywhere. There were also pictures of Mannequin Pis and his many costumes and pictures of comics. Apparently Brussels is home to the artist who created “The Adventures of Tin Tin,” so there is related art all over the city. We saw numerous murals throughout featuring comics and other scenes. It was pretty neat spotting them while exploring. But back to the bar, we both ordered around four drinks and a plate of salami and Gouda cheese (finally some cheese!). It may sound creepy–my friends even called it the “Nightmare Bar” after I showed them pictures–but it was fun and unique. The service was ok. We went home after this to pack and get ready for our journey to Cologne.
Our last morning, we got dressed, packed up all the last little things, and headed to the Grand Place for breakfast. We didn’t make it there through, because we passed one too many waffle shops with all their delicious, sweet temptations that we couldn’t resist. So a waffle with strawberries, kiwi, and whipped cream was Zeus’ breakfast and mine was a waffle with strawberries, bananas, and whipped cream. These waffles were as good as the last, with the exception of the tiny f*cking plastic fork they give you to eat it with. That fork is literally useless and all the waffle things were all over me by the end of it. I finished it all though and I have no regrets. Afterwards, we went into a few shops, stopped at a cafe for some (strong) coffee, and then went back to the hotel to collect our things.
Finding the right train was much easier this time, so we arrived in Cologne safely and on time.