If you didn’t know, I’m creating posts about all of the cities we visited in Europe during the fall of 2013. The previous post was Amsterdam and was the first stop on our journey. From Amsterdam, we took a train to Brussels and arrived in the late afternoon. We planned to be in Brussels for only about 36 hours, mostly because we thought it would be a good halfway point on our way down to Paris. Brussels was a strange experience, and that was mostly due to our housing arrangement. We stepped out of our comfort zone and decided to stay as a guest in someone’s house and let’s just say we had a less than satisfactory experience. A number of factors contributed to the strange accommodations but it didn’t necessarily impact the rest of our time there!
We had very few recommendations for Brussels and they were very generic, like “eat French Fries and a Belgian Waffle”! We did the usual and searched for the best coffee, restaurants and other miscellaneous things to do. It’s a very walkable city so you can cover a lot of ground in one day. Just a warning, communication in Brussels is a bit difficult. There are two national languages, French and Dutch, so depending on where you go you might be greeted differently. It is amazing that most of the people there are tri-lingual speaking both French, Dutch and some English. Makes me feel like dirt that I only speak English and a little Spa-talian (when we lived in Italy I was great at speaking Italian but now get it all mixed up with Spanish hence the combo of Spanish+Italian = Spa-talian). I did toss in my Dutch courtesies where I thought appropriate since my French skills are shameful.
It was surprisingly difficult to find a good cup of coffee in most of the cities we visited, including Brussels. I’m generalizing yes, but when you come from a city with boutique local roasters in every neighborhood you expect at least some good coffee in Europe. (I sound like a true coffee snob! I promise I’m not!) David Lebovits wrote a whole blog post on finding good coffee in Paris which I found helpful to know ahead of time. We had a preconceived notion that finding a great cappuccino would take some work and it really did! We spent a few hours at OR Coffee Roasters hiding from the rain. I loved that coffee here (and a few other places we visited) came on a silver tray with a complimentary biscuit aka shortbread cookie. Something about it just made the whole experience more enjoyable.
After you have your morning coffee you should find Frites (french fries) since this is where the tasty morsels were born! We went to Maison Antoine and the frites were great! Really tasty fries and sauces. Michael has a serious aversion to mayo so we went the less traditional route and got two sauces to try: Andalouse and Curry Ketchup. I loved the funny little forks but I’m guessing they are more useful when your fries come smothered in mayo. Yuck. I’m sure there are more notable frites restaurants to try but since we only had one day we only had fries once.
We had a really wonderful meal at a restaurant called Le Fin de Siecle for dinner one night. While we waited for the restaurant to open we had beers at Gecko Cocktail Bar. I drank more beer on this trip than I have in my whole life combined! Don’t get me wrong, I like wine, and tequila is my liquor of choice, I just never had that moment in college where I learned to like beer. Drinking beer in Europe was a new experience and I grew fond of Belgian White Beer. Nothing too hoppy or dark and this girl stays happy. After a couple beers we wandered back to Le Fin de Siecle and were able to get into dinner very quickly. The restaurant was full of locals which is always a good sign no matter what country you’re in. Our sweet waitress helped us with the menu written on a giant chalkboard at the center of the restaurant. Michael ordered meat and potatoes and I a sausage dish with spinach mashed potatoes. Both were really delicious and we were extremely full after our hearty meals.
We didn’t eat anywhere else noteworthy on the trip and sadly we had no waffles, but we did take a gigantic walk around the city. The architecture in Brussels is very pretty. There are some hidden gems along the way especially near Ambiorixsquare. We left our accommodations near the Grand Palace and took really long walk to the East. We walked to European Parliment, Leopold Park, Jubelpark (with short stop by the military museum because it was free and we needed to escape the rain and found a great view of the city from the top), Ambiorixsquare, Warandepark, and finally back home. We stopped to rest and read where we could, took silly photos and enjoyed looking at lovely old buildings.
Almost everyone we met asked us if we were going to Bruges. I’m guessing tourism in Brussels hinges on tourists stopping over while on their way to Bruges. Since we just came from Amsterdam and assumed the two cities would be very similar we decided not to go. In hindsight, I wish we had stayed in Amsterdam a little longer and skipped Brussels all together but we did get to experience another culture with fantastic architecture. I think it’s important to be entirely honest about our stay here, especially if you’re considering traveling to Brussels, because for my slightly less glamorous write up there are probably three hundred others with very positive reviews. Check out our photos on Flickr for more beautiful photos of the city.
We’re traveling to Paris next so stay tuned. Paris has so many good things I may have to split it into two posts!