Walking to the Grand Place.
Last Friday Peter and I left for Brussels on the Eurostar.
Before I start describing our wonderful weekend let me say a few words about the Eurostar. For me, it’s the most civilized way to travel to continental Europe. It may be more expensive, £275 for a return ticket but we were in premier standard. This includes a meal, wine, coffee and tea and you can choose your seats. We left the house just before 4 pm on Friday, took us 20 minutes by tube to reach Kings Cross/St. Pancras International railway station. We went through security by getting our bags scanned, no stripping down, we showed our passports to two French customs officer who barely looked at us, stamped them and returned them to us. We boarded the train 15 minutes before departure and off we went at 5:04 pm. Right on time. Travel time to Brussels by bullet train is 2 hours. You add-on an hour of time difference, we arrived in Brussels at 8:04 pm, right on time. Took a cab to our hotel. Checked in, changed a bit and off we went. We were walking in the winter market in Brussels around 9 pm. Now that’s amazing!
When we arrived on Friday it was the first day of the Winter Market in Brussels. Winter markets are a big thing in Europe. This is a great way for a city to display their attractions and for local artists and vendors to sell their crafts and products. Every year they rate the top 10 winter markets across Europe and last week before leaving I came across an article ranking Brussels at No. 3. I haven’t seen No. 1 and 2 but I can tell you, Brussels loves Christmas. The decorations are beautiful, the light show that takes place every night on the hour is spectacular and the street food is yummy for the tummy. We tasted the beignets d’hiver with a nice hot chocolate with Bailey’s, yummy in our tummies.
The beignets were warm, freshly made and delicious and the hot cocoa with Bailey’s hit the spot.
We walked around with our Bailey’s and doughnuts, took in the light show and we were happy.
Saturday morning we headed out and made our way to the comic strip museum. Brussels is known for being the birth place of many comic strips such as, Tintin, Spirou, The Smurfs, Benoit Brisefer, Gaston Lagaffe, Boule et Bill etc…You walk the street of Brussels and there are large figurines and painted murals of comic strip characters everywhere. As soon as I stepped into the comic strip museum, I went back to my childhood. A little confession here, I was a fan of Spirou, Tintin, Gaston Lagaffe but I was a HUGE fan of the smurfs. In fact I noticed that the last one I purchased was #18 and there are now 32 Stroumph (French spelling) books. I have some catching up to do next time I am in Montreal. I read all the stories about the creators Herge and Peyo and looked at the many storyboards. Lovely way to spend the morning.
After the comic strip museum we headed back to the old part of town. We walked around and took in the sights. The city is very pretty, easy to walk and we just enjoyed the sites. Many museums are free, you can simply walk into them and start looking at artifacts. People in Belgium are very friendly. Better than the French! We had a nice lunch at a small tavern. I had the escargot and the vertimouzz with fish (belgium fish stew) and Peter had coquille St. Jacques, which is simply sautéed scallops on a shell. The scallops were a good size and they were excellent. No potato, no sauce, it was good. Then Peter had the mussels. Great lunch. Plenty to fill our bellies and for us to get out and once again hit the pavement. We walked, and walked and walked. My pedometer said we walked over 6 miles that afternoon.
That evening we had dinner at Ogenblik an old French bistro in the galeries royales. When we walked in I noticed a lot of sand on the floor. I asked the waiter what the sand was about, he explained to me that it’s an old tradition. In the past, men would go to this restaurant, chew tobacco and spit it on the floor. With the sand it was easier to pick up the chewed tobacco. These days you can’t even smoke in the restaurants in Brussels but Ogenblik still keeps the tradition.
Of course the meal was lovely. Foie d’oie dans du porto, some scallops, a nice chateaubriand and some good wine. What could go wrong. Once again, we needed to walk around, get some fresh air before making our way back to the hotel.
Sunday morning we actually slept in. Just made it in time for the breakfast that was closing at 10:30 am. We checked out, left our luggage with the concierge and off we went for more sightseeing. It was a little bit chilly, after walking to a new part of the old city and looking at lace and tapestries we decided to warm up by taking a bus tour. This tour took us out on the outskirts of town where the Euro Parliament is. Where King Leopold used to live and simply where the other half lives. It was a great way to see another part of Brussels.
At 3 pm we had a late lunch reservation Chez Leon. Chez Leon is a restaurant established in 1893 and their main dish is what else, Moules Frites. Mussels with fries and of course beer. It was great. The mussels were big and fresh. Best mussels I had in a long time. Soon after we paid the “addition” it was time to get our luggage at the hotel, grab a cab and head to the train station. At the station it was once again easy. Security, customs, wait ten minutes to board train etc….Coming back is always a treat because we left at 6:56 pm, the train ride took two hours and we got one hour back by returning to the UK. We arrived at St. Pancras promp 8:04 pm, took the tube home to South Kensington and we were walking into the house around 8:45 pm. As far as I’m concerned, if you can afford it, it’s the best way to travel to continental Europe bar none.
Just a great weekend in Brussels.