Category Archives: Belgium

Brussels-Midi

Initially, our plan was to spend two nights in Nuremberg, Germany—departing from Brussels.  Due to snowy conditions, train cancellations and a mix-up with our train passes, K and I were the lucky couple to spend almost an entire day in the Brussels-Midi Train Station—probably one of the most depressing transportation hubs on the planet.  Low ceilings, bone-chilling cold temperatures, gray and black everything, crazy people yelling at vending machines and a fee (€0.50) to use the bathroom.  Needless to say, we never made it out of Brussels that day, but that’s the way it goes with winter travel…you just don’t know.

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Brussels, Belgium

La Grand Place, Brussels

La Grand Place, Brussels

Brussels, a pretty city with a strong French influence, was our second stop on our Christmas holiday.

Maison Antoine

Maison Antoine for a French Fry Lunch

We arrived in Brussels in mid-afternoon terribly hungry.  We asked the hotel concierge for a recommendation for mussels or fries (traditional Belgium fare) and she told us that Maison Antoine, the small take-away spot directly in front of our hotel, was continuously rated as the best French fry spot in Brussels.  Off we went to taste for ourselves.  The fries, wrapped in paper rolled in a cone shape, were lightly browned and crisped to perfection.  Hunger problem solved. Yes, we did eat french fries for lunch, but they were the best fries we’ve had in a long time.

We walked around the snow-covered sidewalks and made our way to La Grand Place, the main square in Brussels.  Here we admired the giant Christmas tree, nativity scene and all the beautiful buildings that surround the square (see photo above).

We wandered through St. Catherine’s Christmas Market (our second Christmas Market of the trip) and enjoyed our first mulled wine (warmed spiced red wine), which raised our body temperatures to a more comfortable level.

The Musée Magritte Museum was the one museum we visited while in Brussels.  The museum, in the heart of Brussels at Place Royale, has over 200 works of the Belgium surrealist painter, Rene Magritte.  Neither Kevin nor I knew much about Magritte’s art before our visit so we were amazed by his pure talent.

Manneken-Pis

We also went to see the Manneken-Pis, the famous small statue of a little boy urinating, which dates back to the early 1600s.  There are many stories, or legends, about the statue on the internet so I will not get into it here.  It’s all too much especially when I found out they dress him in different costumes several times a year.  Do a search and you’ll see what I mean.

Notable Eats & Drinks in Brussels:
The French fries as described above.
(Maison Antoine: Jourdan place 1, 1040 Brussels)

We had a fun dinner at La Fin Du Siecle.  Here they serve hearty Belgian food in a beer hall-style environment with communal tables.  The atmosphere is lively and the staff friendly.    (La Fin Du Siecle:  Rue des Chartreux 9, 1000 Brussels)

A good place for beer is Chez Moeder Lambic.  With the massive selection of beer and a knowledgeable staff, it’s a good place to try something new.   …although they could lower the lights a bit.    (Chez Moeder Lambic: Rue de Savoie 68,1060 Brussels)

Bruges, Belgium

Bruges, Belgium

Bruges, Belgium

Bruges is beautiful.  A perfectly preserved Gothic style city with the best beer, chocolate and waffles (at least we think).

Bruges was the first place we visited on our Christmas holiday.  We arrived via Eurostar from London to Brussels then hopped on a train from Brussels to Bruges.

(We had a slight hiccup at St. Pancras train station in London, which was just the beginning of our transportation troubles due to the snow/ice storms blowing through Europe…..more on that in future posts)

Upon arrival in Bruges, we walked around the Christmas market in Market Square.

Every year, many main squares in Europe transform into Christmas markets.  Local food and drink, Christmas ornaments and crafts are sold everywhere.  Some even have ice-skating rinks.  Even though fair-style festivals are not really our thing, we visited a number of them during our trip and shared a lot of laughs.  We certainly enjoyed the people-watching, hot mulled wine and all the local delicacies.

At this particular Christmas market we did not indulge in any food or drink as we wanted to save the calories for some Belgium beer (more on that in a bit).  Bruges is one of those cities that you can tell is a “tourist city” and rightly so.  It’s wonderful architecture, narrow alleys and weaving canal make it impossible not to like.   Being as cold as it was, we were only able to be outside for short periods of time so we did not get to see as much as we would have liked.  Bruges is an easy city to navigate by foot and we managed to see parts of the city away from the crowds, even if we did have to plod through snow.

To get some heat moving through our bodies, we walked the 350+ steps to the top of the Bell Tower (Belfort) in Market Square—one the most famous landmarks in Bruges.  Due to refurbishment, part of the panoramic view at the top was closed so it was not quite the full view of the town as we expected, but we did enjoyed the hypnotic climb up the twisting staircase.

We also visited the Groeninge Museum which houses a terrific collection of Flemish art from before the Renaissance to modern art.  It was bit overcrowded that day but it was definitely worth the stop.

Notable Eats & Drinks in Bruges:
The oldest pub in Bruges (1515) and one my favorites to date is Herberg Vlissinghe.   It’s old tavern atmosphere is cozy and was the perfect place for our first Belgium beer in Belgium.  With the old coal fireplace burning in the center of the square space, it was also the perfect place to get warm from the wintry weather.    (Herberg Vlissinghe, Blekersstraat 2)

Another pub that is a “must-stop” in Bruges is De Garre.  We sat upstairs and felt right at home.  With a selection of about 150 beers, the decision was most difficult.   Beer is served with small cubes of cheese sprinkled with salt, customary in Belgium.  A relaxing and comfortable space to enjoy your choice and your company (i.e. Kevin).    (De Garre – tiny alley off Breidelstraat)

At Vino Vino we sat at the bar and pondered having a of glass of wine…until we met Rick (the exceptionally friendly owner/bartender ).  We talked Belgium beer and learned a few things about the Trappist style.  We never did have that wine but the beer was great.  Vino Vino serves tapas and plays great music.  I can’t comment on the food as we did not eat there, but the place was busy and patrons were clearly having a fun time.    (VinoVino, Grauwwerkersstraat 15)

We also paid a visit to the Dumon chocolate shop and purchased a small sample of their guilty pleasures.  Creamy, smooth and oh-so delicious.
(Dumon Chocolatiers, Eiermarkt 6)

And finally, it wouldn’t be a visit to Belgium without trying a Belgium waffle. Unlike in American, waffles are enjoyed in the afternoon here.  The waffles we ate were hands-down the best waffles we ever had—warm and sweetened with brown sugar.  Although, I do not remember the name of the café, there are plenty of restaurants and take-away stands to order them from throughout town.

Bruges was a beautiful start to our holiday travels…