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Off we go, Brussels, Belgium bound! Lots of people were traveling that morning, but in our specific car there were only a handful of people so we had our own four-seater with a table, nice! It reminded me a lot like Amtrak Acela business class trains, but better. We had decided to upgrade well worth it! The train ticket & upgrade came with a little breakfast/snack. Orange juice, hot tea with fresh lemon, yogurt and various breads and croissants, perfect to tide us over so we weren’t ravenous upon arrival.
The seats were very comfortable and there were outlets to charge computers/electronics, which was convenient. The train ride was nice, a little under a three-hour ride. I tried to nap, but was too excited for the next adventure. As soon as we got to Belgium, we put our luggage in storage. If you’re traveling to a country and are only there for the day, why stress yourself out dragging luggage around everywhere?
For only a few euros for a 24-hour period, this is the way to go. Not surprising all of the huge storage lockers were taken, so we took it to what looked like an airport security room or when you leave luggage in a hotel, complete with bellhop. I think I felt a lot safer leaving it there since there was an actual person watching it. After dropping off our stuff, we went outside and saw there was a cute little outdoor bazaar right next to the station. It was PACKED. We hailed a cab and headed for the downtown Brussels area. I have a couple friends who helped with our mini-itinerary. [Thanks Maria & Dana!] First stop? The Mannequin-Pis. This was the most famous/popular attraction, if you want to call it that, in the city. Completely overrated, but worth the quick visit. Don’t expect it to be this enormous statue of epic proportions, far from that, but still, cool landmark and staple of the city. It was right by the Brussels Town Hall and the Grand Palace. It’s kind of hidden but located at the corner of Rue de l’Étuve/Stoofstraat and Rue du Chêne/Eikstraat. When we got there we said…this is it?
It is only 24 inches tall in front of a small fountain with a huge fence around it. Apparently this original had apparently been stolen and this was a replica statue replaced in the mid 60s.
Translation of this statue: a little boy peeing. No, seriously, peeing. It is kind of gross if you think about it and not for the weary people really needing to use the restroom.
We found it hilarious how all these tourists were SO excited to see this. Some traditions with the statue include dressing it up in different little costumes. Okay, moving on, taking a walk through each small street, the buildings were ornate and beautiful! The flat cobblestone streets had little cafés at every corner. Most people spoke French, which I loved, but there also were people that spoke Dutch and German as well.
We made our way to Grand-Place, a huge square of buildings that were so intricate and impressive only a few blocks away from the Mannequin-Pis. The Town Hall was probably the best to see up close. The outside of the building had hundreds of little statues that, upon researching later, represent the Dukes and Duchesses of Brabant who ruled between the years 580 and 1564.
Seeing all this history really makes buildings in California in 1956 kind of extraneous, doesn’t it? We happened to be there on the weekend of “Folklorissimo” The Festival of Folklore where there were actors on stilts, bands and music playing and little booths for food set up.
There was also a Mannequin-Pisstatue that was large that would shoot water which I think was attached to a motion sensor. Why little kids enjoyed this is beyond me, but it was pretty funny. We walked around the square, looking at the buildings and peeked in at some of the museums but didn’t go in. There were stores everywhere, all selling Mannequin-Pis merchandise. Total tourist traps, selling corkscrews (so inappropriate), mugs, glasses, t-shirts, the works. We went straight to Delirium Bar after attempting to lose our way amongst the crowd of people. “Look for the pink elephants”. I found out later they actually carry this beer in the States, but its realllllly expensive. RFD in downtown DC sells it for $11 a pop. Delirium Tremens was named the “best beer in the world” so of course we had to try it.
A quick note about these beers: The name Delirium Tremens is Latin meaning “trembling madness” and people say that when you have a withdrawal from alcohol abuse, you hallucinate and see pink elephants. Hmmm, I think I’ll stick to only seeing the elephants printed on a menu, thank you.
Nothing on the menu of seasonal strong ales were under 8% ABV…and with only a few pastries, juice and tea in our systems, you can only imagine what happened next…and I’m a lightweight! We ordered a couple to try and boy were they delicious. My favorite was the Delirium Red, which was a cherry beer and tasted like a jolly rancher…a.k.a. dangerous for me, haha. We sat outside of the bar and people watched. There were men playing the accordion and then going up to people asking for tips. I noticed that a lot of people did this in Europe; even coming up to people while they were eating lunch and dinner, odd. I also noticed the fashion. Bright colors, tailored…everything, matching shoes to scarves to belts and jackets. Couples walking both young and old were either holding hands or arm in arm; quite romantic and no two people looked or dressed the same. A couple beers down, we decide it’s probably best to eat something!
There are six things that Belgium is probably best known for: chocolate, lace, waffles, beer, mussels, and Georges Lemaître, credited with proposing the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe in 1927! (Okay, seven, if you include Jean Claude Van Damme!) I decided to save the mussels for my next trip, due to the limited time we had. We wanted to explore the city more than sit and waste time in a restaurant. There were lots of little stores with beautiful lace; everything from dresses and tops to shawls and doilies. Expensive, but beautiful and all hand crafted. Kevin had to pry me away from staring at all the chocolate fountains in the shoppes. I could easily waste all of my money on just buying and eating chocolate.
The true Belgian Waffle…Let me tell you something about these things…words cannot even describe how delicious. First, think of hot dog/food vendors in New York. Everywhere, right? Now think if they were just waffles, AMAZING! There were so many choices and varieties to choose from. After a couple beers this was the most delicious thing ever. I wanted to get a hundred of them, but instead we made our way to another pub to taste more drinks and sitting inside we must have just missed a short rain shower because by the time we left the ground outside was wet. Lucky us!
With only a short time in Belgium, it was worth the layover. Brussels is very popular destination for tourists as it is located right in the middle between Amsterdam and London and right on the borders of France. People often take the same route we did to visit other cities. We were in the same waiting area leaving London as those going to Disneyland-Paris, talk about tempting…but nonetheless, Belgium was great even if we were there for just a few hours. I am excited to go back and see other parts of the city and definitely go back to see Antwerp and Bruges, which I hear is beautiful, also known as one of the cities labeled the “Venice of the North” because of its breathtaking canals. Next up, another city to explore, also known for its famous canals…Amsterdam! We almost didn’t make it, but that’s a story in and of itself! Can’t wait to share it with you!