4 February 2010

Chocolate & Cherry Beer... A weekend in Belgium

A few months ago I booked some cheap eurostar tickets to Brussels. Before we knew it, the time had come... Saturday morning started (too) early, and we were off to Kings Cross for our second journey on the Eurostar. The morning was a bit of a shambles really, with late trains, delays on the tube, but we managed to make it in time.

I commented on how much I liked the Eurostar on our Paris trip, and I'm going to say it again. You show up half an hour before departing (from the centre of London), no crazy security checks, a comfortable, smooth journey, and you arrive a couple of hours later in another country - again, right in the city. How good is that?

We arrived at 11am local time, and went hunting for a cash machine. In the main station of Brussels, the capital of Belgium, there is only one cash machine! Unbelievable! After queueing for about 15 minutes, I found it refused my card. It looked as though it was from a local bank and only took local cards. Great. Luckily Subway took visa, so we managed to get some breakfast.

From the station our hotel was only about 10-15 minutes walk. We had decided to stay at a nice place, not our usual 1 star hostel. The lobby was amazing and we had high-hopes for the room - only to find it was a big let down. It was tidy, but very simple and small. So if you are in Brussels and want a really nice place, dont choose the Bedford.

We dropped our luggage and went out to explore. One thing we quickly noticed was the cold - it was a LOT colder than London. But at least the sun was shining and the sky was blue. I found an online walking tour on the Frommers website which we semi-followed. The first stop being the Grand Palace, which has been described as the most beautiful square in the world. It is home to the massive town hall, with its 91m high spire... impressive!

Just down the lane was the Mannekin-Pis (Dutch for little man urinating) which dates back to 1619. There are many legends behind the statue, but it seems noone really knows the real story. Regardless, it still drew a huge crowd. Right beside it was a guy selling escargot, which smelled (and looked) pretty rank - we were not keen! So moved on to the place du Grand-Sablon.

The place du Grand-Sablon is a small square filled with market stalls... but this is not your average fruit and veg market - they have all sorts of crazy bits and pieces, lots of antiques, and other completely random stuff. It seems a bit wierd to be selling antiques from a tent! But hey, whatever works. Toward the back of the square is the intricate Note Dame du Sablon church.

Our walking tour then lead us to the Palais de Justice (Law Courts), an ENOURMOUS building, that was unfortunately covered in scaffolding. Very, very impressive all the same. Out front their were these crazy 'sculptures' - trees made from wooden crates. None of the information was in English, so we assumed it had something to do with the environment and cutting down trees. Looked cool.

The cold wind was starting to get the better of us, so we decided it was time to head somewhere indoors. We decided on the Cantillon Brewery, which came highly recomended. This is the only traditional brewery left in Brussels, and the beer (called Lambic) is closer to wine than the beer currently sells in pubs. It has few bubbles and a strong sour/bitter flavour. It is also brewed in barrels. We took a self-guided tour, wandering around the brewery looking at all the interesting machinary. The method used is still very traditional, although some of the machinary has been updated. Afterward we sat down and enjoyed a few glasses - Gueuze (blended 1, 2 and 3 year old Lambic), Kriek (cherry) and Rose de Gambrinus (raspberry) - all very nice. We even bought some to take home.

From the brewery we headed back into the cold to discover the Mont des Arts - an area with many museums, theatres and historical monuments. We visited the nearby Royal Palace - another huge building, with a massive road out front - it must be about 40m wide! Just across the road is the huge Parc de Bruxelles - a beautiful park filled with snow covered trees. On our way back to the city we walked past Saint-Michaels' Cathedral and back to the Town Hall, both looking spectacular all lit up.

As the sun set we got a bit hungry so decided to head into the city again to find some food. The streets surrounding the Grand Palace are very narrow and packed full of beautiful looking resturants. They all have huge awnings that reach out over the street, and there are lots of lights and colourful displays of seafood. We wandered for a while not finding something that took our fancy, in the end settling on a burger followed by a huge belgian waffle covered in chocolate... soo good!

We headed back to the hotel with the intention of having a shower, then heading back out to a pub to sample a few more Belgian beers. But it had been such a huge day that after a relaxing shower there was no way we were going out again. I made a quick trip to the corner store and picked up a couple of bottles for us to try, and we spent the rest of the night enjoying the beer and watching foreign TV.

Our Eurostar ticket afforded us free domestic travel within 24 hours of arriving in Brussels, so we decided to make the most of it and head to Bruges for the day. I have been to Bruges once before, but it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to so I did not mind going again.

My alarm rang way too early, we made the most of our hotel breakfast, and were on a train by 8am. The journey only takes one hour and gave us a good look at the Belgian countryside. We arrived in Bruges just after 9am, threw our gear in a locker, then went out to explore!

The city is everything I remembered it to be. Everything is just perfect. The buildings, the canals, the horse drawn carts everywhere... its like being in a postcard. Then there is the fact that every second store is filled with mouthwatering chocolates. It really is an amazing place.

We first visited Markt Square (Grote Markt), which contains Belfry Tower and the Provincial Court. The tower is very impressive, and the square is very nice, surrounded by colourful and unique buildings. Just next door is Burg Square, which is smaller, but equally as nice.

We then walked down along the canals to the Church of Our Lady, along the way we found a nice looking chocolate store and picked up 1.5kg of the best tasting pralines and truffels, as well as two big packs of waffles. The canals themselves are stunning. The water is so calm and clear that the reflections are breath-taking. It is really beatiful.

We also visited the windmills on the outskirts of the 'old town', sat and ate frites, wandered through the narrow streets, sat and watch the clouds go by, as well as drooling over all the chocolate.

By 4pm we were so tired and cold we just wanted to sit in the warm and relax. So that is exactly what we did. We found a nice looking pub and sat down infront of the heater with a few drinks and just relaxed. It was a perfect wind down to a great weekend.

About 6pm we made our way to the station to catch our train back to Brussels. Along the way we stopped at a supermarket and picked up about a dozen different Belgian beers, including rasberry, citris and chocolate... not sure how good chocolate beer will be though.

The return journey was fairly standard. We arrived in to London at about 9:30pm, and home by 10:30. As we were wandering down our street we were commenting on how crazy it seemed that just the day before we had left for Belgium. It was such a short trip, but it felt like we were away for days! Probably because we packed so much in... It was good though, we felt as though we had a decent break from work and everything else, and came back ready to face it all again.

Check out all my Belgium photos here


  1. Nice trip!
    I never cared much for Brusseles, but looking at your pictures I wonder if I should give it a third chance ...

  2. What a lovely weekend getaway! I've only heard about Bruges because of the movie. What a charming town and you did so much in such a short time! I will have to put Belgium on a future itinerary.

  3. Beautiful! Great post.Thanks for sharing.
    I am dropping EC here. Enjoy the weekend. :)


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