After what seems like ages we finally had our Spring mini-break last weekend – with a trip to Brussels. We’d delayed our break with all the house hunting/buying and in the end it turned out to come at a particularly timely point after a particularly stressful part of the process.
Gabriel had managed to time the Eurostar slightly better this time so we arrived after the Disney Express had departed to I didn’t have to get too sulky about not going to Disney – although there were still a few people heading that way via Lille!
We arrived at Brussels Midi and our first task was to grab a bite to eat before then finding somewhere to purchase our MOBIB cards – basically Oyster cards for Brussels. It was quite odd seeing the army presence in the station, although it seems to have moved on a number of the drunks! I also picked up a free sample of green ice tea – thus beginning a new soft drink obsession.
Not wanting to start off our 72 hour cards yet we walked to the hotel. We’d picked the Sandton Pillows hotel and this prove to be a great choice – the staff at reception were all really lovely, the room was great and it was in a really good location with easy walk to a tram stop and the Grand Place.
After getting unpacked we headed out for a wander. First stop was just around the corner and the Manneken Pis – needing to tick that off our tourist list. After a look around the Grand Place and some photos we headed to the Delirium Cafe. It was really quiet and we settled on a table near a big window over looking Jeanneke Pis. From here we decided that our first beer in Brussels had to be a Delirium and settled into drinking it whilst watching the tour groups come to take photos of the statue. After our second drink were were starting to wander what all the fuss was about as the place didn’t seem up to much. Then we went downstairs and discovered the lovely bar there with the much more extensive bottle list. It was still quiet there so we stayed for a couple more before heading out for food. We basically hit tourist trap central with lots of places offering set menus with staff outside trying to ‘entice’ you in. So we walked past all that and into the first place that didn’t have someone outside – Drug Opera – which turned out to be a rather elegant looking place. After dinner we did a bit of window shopping and picked up some chocolates to eat in the hotel.
The next morning, Gabriel’s first job was to head out and find a plug adaptor as I’d managed to pack the US one. We had the USB one luckily but without the precious plug adaptor I couldn’t boil the kettle for a cup of tea of dry my hair! We had borrowed one from reception but couldn’t get it to work and were too British to ask again.
After our delayed start we got the tram out to the Atomium. The Atomium was built for the world fair and is in a lovely park just outside of the city centre. Our first job was to try and dodge the ‘mascot’ desperate to have our photo taken to sell later. I’d read about this on trip advisor and had decided that it was a matter of pride not to let this happen and we succeeded. We then headed up in a very fast lift to the top ‘ball’ where there is a viewing gallery. You get a nice view of the park and surrounding exhibition complex, including Mini Europe, which we would be heading to a little later. We then took the lift back down to the ground and then began to use a series of escalators and stairs to explore the remaing ‘balls’, which housed an exhibition on the history of the Atomium. Afterwards we had a little wander down the road but didn’t stray too far as we were getting hungry. We headed over to the Bruparck and dinner in Brussel’Air.
After lunch we walked over to Mini Europe, which is a sort of model village but this time with sections for the different countries in Europe and their most famous landmarks. We again managed to dodge the mascot – although this one was harder as he appeared to jump out at us from nowhere. That made it two out of two and something to be proud of. Mini Europe is the sort of place that is quite fun if you don’t take things too seriously. In a particularly apt moment the train in the England section had broken down, making it a much more realistic depiction of London than the Sherlock Holmes figure riding a boat outside the Houses of Parliament. Whilst we’d got quite used to seeing soldiers everywhere, it was quite odd to see them amongst the model monuments and perhaps a bit unnecessary given that there were only a handful of people there.
We then got the tram back into town and had a walk around the Royal Quarter, although it was now too late to visit any of the museums. We then did a bit more window shopping and I popped into Mary to get some of my favourite dark chocolate squares. After that we went to go to a cafe that was in our beer book but it was full and instead went to the Moeder Lambic which turned out to be a great call and we settled in there until it was time to head out for dinner. We looked around the Central Place for somewhere to eat this time and we ended up in the beautifully odd Roy D’Espagne. It was then back to the hotel for tea and chocolates.
Saturday got off to a better start with a cup of tea! We then walked back to the tram stop, this time heading Schaarbeek and to Trainworld. Unfortunately, I had left working out how to get there to Gabriel. So instead of the tram to the stop outside the station we instead took one that stopped on a random bridge by the port and had a lovely walk through an industrial area of the city! This always happens at least once in any of our holidays and we’ve usually found our way eventually. Trainworld is exactly what you think it is, a museum dedicated to the history of the railways in Belgium. It is full of trains and train geeks. Gabriel was very happy. I was even reasonably amused and did get to drive a train simulator.
We made our way back to the centre of town and stopped for a quick lunch. We then walked to the Grand Place to pay a visit to the Belgium Brewers Museum. This is a little place that the Belgian Brewers Association run. There’s a little room made up like an old brewery and one like a modern one with a video to watch. Then, the most important bit, the ‘sample’.
After that we walked around in circles for a bit before finding the Museum of Original Figurines (MOOF). The museum houses a private collection of figurines such as the Smurfs and Tin Tin. This unfortunately re-awakened a dormant Smurf obsession in Gabriel. Even worse, there was a Smurf shop next door so we came away with a Papa Surf plush.
It was then beer time. We first popped into the BrewDog to tick it off our list and make the most of Gabriel’s discount. We once again found another cafe from our book but it was full so we gave up and headed back to the Delirium Cafe, which was a lot busier than the last time. We had a drink in the cellar bar before heading right up to the Hoppy Loft to try a couple of the offerings there.
Hungry again we walked towards the Place de Bourse where there were some more restaurants. It was a little eerie walking through there as the roads have all been closed to traffic and suddenly as you get close everything becomes quiet. We paused a bit to look at some of the tributes before moving on. We found a lovely Thai place this time for dinner. We then stopped off for Waffles and window shopping as we walked back to the hotel.
Sunday was our last day, although our train wasn’t until late, so we packed up, checked out and left our bags at reception. We walked again to the Grand Place and to have a look around the Brussels City Museum or Maison Du Roi. The museum gives a history of the city, although it does seem to spend a lot of time explaining why there’s not much of historical Brussels to see after the Victorians demolished things for ‘progress’ – not too different to most of London really. It was quiet when we first got there but it got busy as the weather outside went from sunny to rainy to hail! We also go to see some of the outfits that the Manneken Pis gets to wear. I think that being his dresser has got to be the best job in Brussels.
We left into the now heavy rain and made our way back through all the tourist trap restaurants, again diving into one of the first places that weren’t trying to force you in. It turned out to be a lovely Italian frequented by locals, Sole D’Italia, where we filled up on pizza.
We then had time for a little bit of shopping. First some posh tea and mustard from Delice Du Roy. Then some particularly posh chocolates in Pierre Marcolini and some smurf chocolates in Neuhaus. Then for a spot of beer shopping – some craft beers from the Beer Temple and then to the supermarket to stock up on some Delirium and Rochefort 10 but no Westmalle. We just had time to stop back at the Moeder Lambic for a beer since it was close to the hotel before we had to pick up our suitcases, repack them with beer, and get the tram to the station. Luckily the Carre Four at the station had some Westmalle for me.