I shared the first part of my London adventures with you earlier this week, and today I’m excited to continue sharing experiences from my first European vacation, with a post on the 24 hours my mom and I spent in Brussels. When planning the trip, I wanted to try to squeeze in a second country since it’s just a big trek (distance- and finance-wise) to make from Florida to Europe. A lot of people were thinking I was crazy for not doing a London/Paris trip because that’s kind of a standard, but the famous waffles, chocolate, and beer of Belgium was calling out to me.
We caught the Eurostar at London St. Pancras just before lunch and in just 2 short hours, we arrived in Brussels! When we stepped off the train, there were SO many French signs. We knew it was going to be interesting (neither of us know any French.. other than “bonjour”). A quick 7-minute cab ride (much nicer car than a normal cab but we thought our driver was going to kill us, the way he was driving.. and also we were on the “right”/normal side of the road again.. weird!) later, we made it to our hotel, Hotel Amigo.
The first order of business after checking in? WAFFLES. We were actually starving at this point and really wanted anything, but we found out that basically every restaurant in the city was closed because it was about 3 p.m. and restaurants are only open at breakfast, lunch, and dinner times. Nothing in between. Fortunately for us, Maison Dandoy was just steps away, so we popped in for a quick waffle snack. Little did I know, my taste buds were about to explode, and waffles as I knew them would never be the same.
After our mouth-watering “snack” of a waffle topped with chocolate and another topped with strawberries and vanilla ice cream (the best thing I’ve EVER eaten) to share, we walked over to the next block, where we ran into Grand Place! The architecture of the buildings was incredible. We were pretty speechless standing in the center of this giant square (which also housed a gorgeous Christmas tree)!
We were mostly the walk and admire tourists during our 24 hours in Brussels. There weren’t a ton of sights, but we did want to squeeze in as much as possible. So some pictures we took were more of the I-have-no-idea-what-this-is-but-it-looks-cool type business. Like this one (note: please excuse my awful hair – the straightener died on me).
One of the (many) things I was excited to check out during our time here was the Christmas market! Starting just outside Grand Place and stretching for quite a few blocks, there were approximately 240 chalets/shops! Since we only had a short time to spend in the city, we knew we had to get a move on it!
One of the chalets featured more candy than I’ve ever seen in my life (spread before me). Very appealing!
The end of the market had a bunch of shops leading up to the grand finale, the ferris wheel! So pretty at night all lit up. We were disappointed that a lot of the shops were repeat (i.e. same vendor with multiple booths), but all in all, it was an awesome experience. I even purchased a handmade set of Russian nesting dolls, Christmas-themed, of course!
We were pleasantly surprised to find out that the market shops remained opened until about 9 p.m. each night during the week! Most things in London were closed well before that time. So many cultural lessons on this Europe trip!
Our last hoo-rah for the evening was dinner. Which actually ended up being pretty comical. As with most places in a new city (unless we have reservations), we’ll wander around and check out menus of restaurants we walk by. The only problem was just about EVERY menu was in French (#americanproblems)!
I’m very thankful for TripAdvisor, because we popped back into our room at the hotel for some Wi-Fi use and found a highly-rated Italian restaurant listed. It wasn’t far from our hotel (less than 10 minute walk), so we decided to give it a try. Fortunately for us, there was ONE table left at the restaurant. Pasta Divina was a pretty small place and typically you need a reservation, so we really lucked out! Here’s a peek at our insanely delicious meal!
The next morning we got up, re-packed our bags and checked them with the bellman, and were out the door for a few more hours of adventure in Brussels! First on the list was visiting the famous Manneken Pis statue. We took a wrong turn and ended up at this roundabout. But again, beautiful.
Turns out it was MUCH closer to our hotel than we had anticipated. But we were able to see some more of Brussels in the process. We knew we had found the tiny statue when we found the crowd of people around it. The description was in French so we weren’t able to get a good understanding of the statue’s purpose at the time, but we did get a kick out of it. I mean, look how festive!
At this point it seemed like an opportune moment for a waffle stop, because “when in Brussels…” You would not believe the amount of options the Belgians offered for waffle toppings (see my photo at the top of the post for a glimpse). For this round of waffles, we opted for toppings of bananas and strawberries with half dark and half white chocolate. YUMMM.
Down to 2 hours left, we still had a couple things we needed to cram in. This basically involved my priorities for coming to the country. Beer and chocolate. I had read great things about Delirium Cafe (the name’s deceiving, it’s really a brewery/bar). This was definitely a hidden gem of the city. And when I say hidden, I mean it was way off the beaten path. But alas, we found it!
It was pretty empty considering it was late on a Wednesday morning (hey, it was vacation), but it reeked of bar and kind of reminded me of college days. But I can absolutely see this place hoppin’ later in the day/into the night!
We stocked up on as much gingerbread (big tradition in Brussels at Christmas) and chocolate as we could and literally ran back to the hotel to grab our bags and catch our taxi to the train station (to say we were running behind is an understatement). But one more stop through the Grand Place was necessary. I’ll leave you all with this gem of us being photobombed by some random British people.
And just like that.. it was over. Oh Belgian waffles/beer/chocolate, how I miss you.