Belgium wasn’t exactly a country I had planned as a must-go during my exchange. However, when C found a Ryanair flight from Barcelona to Brussels for 30 euros round trip, I couldn’t say no to that. What was interesting about this trip was that instead of staying a hostel or hotel, like I usually did, we stayed at a guesthouse. I hadn’t really looked into guesthouses, since I didn’t really know how it worked, but C found it randomly. Useful websites or apps are hostelbookers or booking.com. Anyways, we stayed at this lady and her husband’s house which was really cute! She loved antiques so our room was all decorated with dolls and sculptures. It was definitely a more girly room. It was a sort of bunk bed with a queen size bed above the desk, so we had to share the bed. Not exactly what we had imagined since we requested two doubles. We had our own separate bathroom at the lower floor, and each morning, she would prepare us a basic breakfast. Bread with a variety of jams and spreads, as well as tea/coffee and orange juice. I wouldn’t say this was cheaper than a hostel, but it was definitely nice to live somewhere that felt more cozy than a hostel. Also, it was great to have a local tell you where to go and give us advice. Maps were provided for us. Our guesthouse was also extremely close to the metro, so that was a plus!
On our first day, we really just had an adventure in the city. I guess we walked into the more touristy part of the city, since there are a ton of chocolate shops everywhere! One street would probably be half filled with chocolate shops. Some were more like souvenir shops with chocolate being sold, while others were chocolate boutiques and some were big international brands. This was Belgique Gourmande, which I believe we saw two of them during our time here. This shop has a large variety of chocolate, and they sell brands from other companies. Perfect place if you’re looking for a gift. You can find things like just a chocolate bar, to gift boxes and truffles.
What we liked about Belgique Gourmande was the option to just pick and choose truffles and some select chocolates which would just be priced by weight. Here, I got some truffles as well as a chocolate orange. Not bad, but I wouldn’t say they are anything better than chocolates like Godiva or Lindt. It was just fun since you can try different flavours.
Godiva is also everywhere! I actually didn’t realize that Godiva was Belgium since I first encountered Godiva when I was in the United States. What we have in Vancouver is pretty much the same as in Belgium though. Warning: The prices are either the same or even more expensive in Belgium than in Vancouver! Not sure if it’s because tourists would assume that Godiva would be cheaper here, since it’s from Belgium, but they really weren’t. Some items were maybe slightly cheaper by a dollar or two, like the chocolate dipped strawberries, but honestly not that much and not worth bringing all the way back and wasting luggage space. I guess it might also be because the euros are so strong, so everything is just expensive for us Canadians!
Belgian waffles are a must! You’ll find these little waffle shops all around the city. They advertise their waffles to be 1 euro, which is true, but only if you get just the waffle itself! Of course we didn’t, and added some toppings. Each topping has additional costs, but I think ours came to under 3 euros, which is a decent deal. The waffle was so warm and fluffy! They make it right on the spot. Strawberries were also fresh, and the whipped cream made it a perfect combo!
And then we found Mannekin-Pis. I didn’t even know about this famous statue, but all around town, you would see little figures of this naked boy urinating. Even chocolate. Yup. Anyways, when we finally reached this landmark, I was like “Wait, what? That’s it?” I was sort of disappointed. He was so tiny! Even those chocolate sculptures of him were bigger… Apparently the original is actually at a museum since it was stolen many times. While I was there, I still didn’t really know the story behind this boy. Now that I’m home, I did a quick search and learned that this statue was made by Brussels sculptor and has many different legends behind it. The most famous one is about the troops putting Duke Godfrey III of Leuven, who was a two year old lord in a basket and hanging it on a tree. Apparently, the boy urinated on the other troops who then lost the battle. Interesting…
Belgian is also known for beer! I don’t know much about beer, but we found this shop that had a ton of beer! Like I’ve never seen so many types of beer in my life. I don’t even like beer, but I wanted to buy them all since the packaging were so nice! A lot of them even catered to girls too with really girly labeling. Some were holiday versions as well.
C and I ended up grabbing two beers to drink for the night. She chose the Delirium Beer since we saw many people getting that. However, she found it very strong and bitter. We’re definitely not beer drinkers, so probably why. I went for the Peach Lambic Beer. I actually really like it and C did too! It tasted more like a cider than beer to me. Fruity and bubbly.
While were in Brussels, the Christmas Market had just begun as well. We didn’t find the market to be too impressive compared to the others in Europe. A reason might be because it was the first day and they were still setting up. It was a lot of arts and crafts, and mostly drinks. Not a lot of food, and since we’re foodies, we’re always looking for food… They had an outdoor skating rink and also a Ferris wheel.
At night time, I finally decided to try the Hot Wine, which is called Vin Chaud. Oh, did I also mention that they speak French in Brussels? I never knew that until I got here and saw everything in French! I guess it’s because they’re situated so close to France. Anyways, they were selling Vin Chaud at almost every drink booth at the market, so I decided to give it a try. I didn’t really like it though. I found it difficult to go down my throat. The red wine they used must’ve been quite dry. I personally wouldn’t get this again and prefer cider more!
Then we came across Grand Place again. The Grand Place is a must see since it’s the central square of Brussels. On the four sides are guildhalls, the city town hall and the Broadhouse. We walked by this square a lot since it was on our way to other tourist landmarks and to the metro. It’s absolutely beautiful during day time and we had seen a Christmas tree had been planted in the center in daytime. This specific day though, people were surrounding this area and we were sort of confused. Like what was going on? C and I kept discussing I guess a little too loudly, and I told her there must be something special going on! A young man overheard us and laughed and said “Yup, today’s the lighting of the Christmas tree, except it was scheduled a while ago, and nothing has happened, so everyone’s waiting anxiously, unsure what’s happening.” Funny enough, we found out this man was from Seattle, very close to my home! This is what I love about traveling. You meet people from all over the world, and even people who are close to you back at home. After a few minutes of chatting, the tree finally lit up! And music began to play and lights flashed everywhere. It was beautiful! They basically had lights flashing on the buildings on the four sides and they would move based on the song’s rhythm. Absolutely amazing and it really started to feel like Christmas! (even though it was only November). A must see if you are traveling here around December.
After, I suggested we go to see the Atomium! It wasn’t on the top of our list, but since it was our last night and we had some time, I wanted to go see it. It was constructed for Expo ’58 and is supposed to be a cell of an iron crystal. You can actually go on the top of the sphere which gives you a panoramic view of Brussels. Perhaps where we saw it wasn’t the best spot because we were slightly disappointed. It was sort of situated beside a parking lot… Two pictures and we left. Also, it’s not near anything else, so you really have to go out of your way to come here. Not worth it if you’re on a tight schedule.
So apparently there’s a bar called Cafe Delirium which has over 1000 different types of beers and is a must go for beer lovers. Although we don’t love beer, we thought if we’re in Brussels, we might as well. Sadly, I think we ended up at the wrong Delirium. Apparently, there are a bunch of bars called Delirium with this elephant logo. I’m not sure if they’re related and owned by the same one, but this wasn’t the one that was famous! The original one is listed in the Guinness to have the largest selection of beer in the world and has two floors! We had asked the bartender if this was the right one, but of course he said Yes… The sad thing was that I think I saw the real Delirium Cafe just a few blocks down… So confusing.
Well, we still settled for some beer. I chose the La Corne since I saw the girl next to me drinking it. It came in this horn shaped glass so I thought it was really cool! It was a bit difficult to hold and drink though. It was a golden colour and wasn’t too bitter. Yea I’m not very descriptive with my beers, since I don’t know much about them.
C got the Chocolate Beer, but she really didn’t like it. I thought it tasted sort of funny too. There really wasn’t a chocolate flavour to it and tasted more bitter than mine. They do have a bunch of fruitier beers, which she probably would’ve enjoyed more.
The next day, we had half a day left before we needed to catch our flight. We decided to head over to another part of the city which had lots of new, modern buildings. Lots of offices too. Here, we also found the European Union building. Wasn’t as impressive as I had imagined though, and there was a ton of construction going on all around.
We also went to the Parc du Cinquantenaire, which translates to the Park of the Fiftieth Anniversary. This is in the European Quarter of Brussels, and basically next to the EU building. It features the triumphal arc, that I swear almost every city in Europe has! It commemorates the 50th anniversary of Belgian independence. What I thought was impressive was the horseshoe shaped arcade they also hard. Seems like a nice park to walk around on a nice sunny day. I think there’s also a museum here. This area definitely gives you a different feeling compared to the rest of the city. A much more modernized and business-like area.
And that concluded my trip to Brussels! We stayed for 2 nights and 3 days, which we found more than enough. There wasn’t too much to see in terms of tourist spots. It was more of a food trip for us and it was nice to travel with just another friend who shared the same interests. Always great to have someone who will splurge on food with you! Tip: Book early to avoid high prices. Also, we found Brussels quite touristy, so don’t fall into tourist traps. Do your research on food and restaurants, so you can truly enjoy the local experience. We also found locals to be quite friendly here and the city is relatively safe.