Brussels initially wasn't on my radar in terms of places I wanted to visit and I only went because it was the cheapest place to fly into from LA. However, I'm glad I stayed here because Brussels has a lot to offer! In my opinion, it definitely has the city vibe but feels smaller than other larger European cities like London or Rome. You'll fall in love with the waffles and frites aka fries (I know I did) and the architecture. All in all, it's a beautiful place and this is definitely a city to put on your go-to list! The only thing I regret was not eating more waffles, chocolate and fries since that's one thing Belgium does very, very well.
I got into Brussels Airport - Zaventem at around early afternoon, and I decided to hightail it to my hostel, the Meininger Hotel Brussels City Center so I could start exploring. Right off the bat, I liked how Brussels Airport was set up because they try to make it friendly for passengers in the airport (little games for kids, a cute mini basketball hoop over the trash can). Initially, my plan was to take public transportation to the city center. However, I was very confused for a second because it seems like you need a MOBIB card (smart card for transportation) but there were no dispensers selling the card. In the end, I decided to take an Intercity Train to Brussels Central, where I was able to buy a MOBIB card there by talking to the station attendant. I bought 10 journeys (as in number of one-way rides) for about 19 euros, which included the price of the card. Then, I was able to head to my hostel and drop off my bags for the day.
This was one of the nicer hostels I've stayed in as it felt more like a hotel. My room was very spacious and my bed was very comfortable. Although I didn't really vibe with the people in my room, I would definitely recommend this hostel as they make a big effort to make you feel welcome! They have an all you can eat breakfast for a fee, towels and other things for rent, social events (there was a toga party in front of the hostel one day?), and an area with a pinball machine and games and such.
After I dropped off my things, I took the tram to see Mini-Europe and the Atomium. On the tram, it's kind of like the Toronto streetcars where it's on the honor system - there isn't a barrier to scan your card in order to get on the tram, but you scan your card or pay the driver on the bus. But you could technically get away with just hopping on and not paying - I don't recommend this! But anyways, Mini Europe is kind of cute. It's essentially just a bunch of famous European landmarks scaled down - think of it as something in Legoland. It was definitely pretty cool, but I would pass if you're pressed on time. Same with the Atomium - it's a big atom and it's pretty impressive, but not the most important thing to see.
After that, I headed towards Parc du Cinquantenaire, which is a big public park. I really liked the park because it felt pretty relaxing. There's a huge arch-like structure and a fountain. I decided to take a rest here and just take it all in.
I was getting pretty hungry at this point, so I decided to go to Maison Antoine to get some fries (they call it frites in Belgium, but I'm just going to say fries because it's easier for me). Let me tell you, they were some good fries. They're thicker than fries you find at American fast food chains, and it was really good for something so simple! You can pay a little extra to get some sauce, but I passed on the sauce. I then walked to the Royal Palace and Brussels Park. The Royal Palace was pretty impressive, but it was partially blocked off because of construction. Brussels Park seemed a little small to me, but it was still nice to walk though! After I walked through the park, I went back to my hostel since I was tired from a long day.
I started my day by sleeping in, which was something I haven't had the chance to do recently! I decided to spend the day exploring the downtown area. I was walking to the Grand Place, but then I got distracted by a waffle shop. I had not tried Belgian waffles yet, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to try some. I was also very hungry, and the waffles looked very delicious and they didn't disappoint. I got the one that was 6.90 euros that had the green macaron and it was AMAZING. Everything about it was great, and I don't think I'll ever be able to eat Eggo waffles again.
Then, I walked to the Grand Place and it was indeed very grand - it was a huge public square with City Hall close by, and the buildings just looked really cool. You could tell it was old, but it didn't seem old. I sat on some steps and ate my waffles while taking it all in. It was a great way to start the day!
I started to walk towards Manneken Pis, which is literally just a statue of a little boy "pissing". It's definitely an interesting statue though. On the day that I went, there was a person that was changing his outfit - apparently that's pretty rare, so I felt super lucky! It was funny to see so many people get excited over a statue getting an outfit.
After that, I made my way towards the Mont des Arts, St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, and the area around Le Botanique. All of these sights were pretty cool to see, but they were pretty quick to see - you won't be spending the whole day here. Le Botanique seemed to be closed when I went, so I just walked around the surrounding gardens and got lost for a bit.
Then, I walked towards Jeanneken-Pis and Galeries Royales St-Hubert. Jeanneken Pis is essentially the female version of Manneken Pis, which was interesting to see. St. Hubert's is a "mall" that consists of lots of shops and places to eat! It was very nice to walk through and see everything that they had to offer. The area around St. Hubert's was very lively when I went, with all the shops spreading outside of the area to where the Grand Place is. Overall, I thought it was just a very nice place to walk through and see.
After that, I decided to head to a bar/theatre that had an open rooftop to watch the FIFA World Cup 2018 third place game between England and Belgium. It was definitely one of the big highlights of the day because I was able to experience the game with various locals all cheering for the same team. The people I were with were very spirited whether Belgium got good chances, and the crowd would go nuts every time Belgium scored! After the game, there was a huge crowd gathered nearby all cheering and celebrating the win. It was definitely a great experience.
Day 3: Day Trip to Brugge
To kick off my 3rd day in Brussels, I decided to go to Brugge for the day. My friend went recently and showed me pictures, and I immediately fell in love. I knew I had to go, and I'm glad I did.
To start off the day, I went to Bruxelles Midi Station and bought myself a train ticket to Bruges and back. It was surprisingly easy to do, as I just went to one of the machines and followed the prompts to buy a ticket. An unexpected surprise was that my ticket was 50% off because I was traveling on the weekend! It only cost me $18.47 USD for a round-trip ticket. However, you can only use a debit card at these machines (the machine wouldn't take my American credit card). So, if you want to pay with cash, you might have to go to the counter and buy it in person.
To make sure I knew which train to get on, I simply set Google Maps to tell me how to get from Bruxelles Midi to Station Brugge. It will most likely tell you to take an IC train from some platform, and that's where you'll want to go. The train was fast and comfortable as I caught myself dozing off a little. Before I knew it, we were at Brugge!
Now, to get to the center of Brugge, you can opt to take the bus or a taxi but I simply chose to do the 20-minute walk. This option is better anyways because it's a very nice walk and you'll want to take a few pictures here and there. I ended up passing by Site Oud Sint-Jan and Church of our Lady Bruges - both were very pretty to look at!
As I was walking closer to central Brugge, I realized how insanely pretty this town was - it definitely had a quaint element to it. I really liked how charming it was for such a small town. You can pay around 8 euros to do a boat ride around the city - I didn't get the chance to do it, but it looked like a great time.
On the way to Markt, I passed by the Belfort van Brugge, which seemed like a tower in which you could climb to the top and see Brugge from above - but the line was quite long when I was there, so I didn't choose to see more of it. I stopped by a place that sold waffles and got myself one because they looked really good. I was also hungry and the waffle satisfied my sweet craving for a while.
Then, I went to Markt, which was a huge square with a peculiar looking statue right at the center. The square is surrounded by the tower on one side, and several restaurants on the rest. There are several walkways that lead out of the square, so if you are feeling particularly adventurous, you could just choose a path and see where it would take you! I spent some time just walking around and exploring all of the different shops. There were a LOT of shops that sold chocolate and I would have bought some, but I had no more room in my luggage!
Afterwards, I started walking towards Jan Van Eyck Square, where there was a interesting dolphin statue. It seemed like the further I walked, the less tourists I saw - which was nice! As I left the square and started to walk around the city more, it seemed like there was a different architectural style on every street.
At this point, I didn't really have a plan on where I wanted to go so I decided to make a circle around the city and see what was there. I walked through a very quiet area of Brugge until I reached Kruispoort Gate. The walk itself was pretty nice and the gate is somewhat cool (it's a drawbridge), but if I had a limited amount of time, I would just stick to the city center.
I started to make my way back towards the city center, where I eventually ended up near the waffle shop that I was at earlier! I chose to eat a late lunch at a restaurant called Tom Pouce near the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Sure, it was somewhat overpriced but I chose to treat myself. I got the mussels and frites, and it was absolutely delicious. It was nice to just sit near the square and take it all in. At one point, there were street performers singing near where I was, so I also got live music with my meal. Not too bad!
After eating my lunch, I started to walk towards Bonifacius Bridge and Minnewaterpark in order to make my way back towards the train station. The bridge itself is very photogenic and makes for a good photo, but it's a little small. Minnewaterpark is a very open park and it's absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately, when I was there, the park was blocked off because of a concert - so I could only walk on the outside edges. However, that was still really pretty by itself!
Then, I got to the train station and waited for a bit before hopping on the first train to Brussels - overall, I'm very glad I decided to take the day trip to Brugge! I would highly recommend it if you're in Belgium at any point.
This was my last day in Brussels, so I spent the morning furiously packing in order to make it before the check out time. I was planning to meet up with my friend that was interning at the European Parliament, who I was really excited to see! We met through Model UN, and I was looking forward to getting to know her in a non-MUN related atmosphere.
I took public transportation to Bruxelles Luxembourg, which is a train station near where all EU-related things are. I put my big backpack in one of the lockers inside the station. We ended up eating lunch at a small place that sold all sorts of seafood. I can't remember the exact name of the place. There were only a few spots to stand and eat, and that's what we exactly did. We got a calamari dish and some clams (not sure exactly on what it was) but it was really good! I definitely wished I logged the place down so I could come back someday. It was also nice to catch up with my friend!
After that, we ended up walking up a little further to get some more waffles at a truck. At this point, I'm really glad that my friend knew French because she did most of the talking. The only French I knew was "bonjour" and "merci". This was also when I learned that there are two kinds of Belgium waffles: Brussels and "Liege". Brussels waffles have sharp edges, kind of like a rectangular shape where you usually put toppings. Liege waffles have slightly rounded edges, are fluffier, and don't usually have toppings on them. We got the second kind and it was amazing! The waffle itself was warm and gooey. We ended up walking around and eating our waffles until she had go to back to work.
After that, I decided to explore the area of the EU headquarters in Brussels. Throughout the entire afternoon, I went to the Parliamentarium, the European Parliament - Hemicycle, and the House of European History. Now, if you aren't into anything history or politics related, you can probably pass on these places. However, after doing Model UN for 4 years and occasionally needing to research on how the EU works and current issues it faces, I thought it would be nice to see how it all came together.
I thought the Parlamentarium and the House of European History were quite similar in the fact that they give you an overview of the EU along with other things. However, at the Parlamentarium, they give you an audio guide where you use it to learn all about why exactly the EU was created, how member-states became members of the EU, and the problems the EU currently faces. I thought it was very interesting to learn all of this information in such an interactive way.
At the Hemicycle, you need some form of ID to get in - I ended up having my passport on me, so it worked out. However, you really want to get there when someone is giving a tour because you'll get the most out of the Hemicycle that way. The times are listed online, but I ended up showing up right when a tour was about to start - talk about good timing! The best part of this experience was when we got to see where the elected EU officials sit to discuss important matters. For me, it was a Model UN dream come true as I was able to nerd out at everything the tour guide said. It was definitely a cool experience, and I would definitely recommend.
I ended up having to rush through the House of European History because I had to go to the airport to make my flight, but the staff inside are very helpful! The moment I went inside, someone approached me on what I should do next and told me that there were free lockers to use, so I definitely took advantage of that. They have audio guides upstairs, which I forgot to get. However, you use some form of ID to get an audio guide, and you get your ID back when you return it. The House reminded me more of a general museum, where there are exhibits and such. However, what made it different from a regular museum and a European History textbook was that there were many exhibits showing how things changed over time - such as cooking, etc. it was really cool to see! I felt like I would had gotten more out of it if I had the audio guide, but that's for next time.
After walking through the House of European History, I took the bus to the airport. Going through security was very efficient, and I liked how they had a line dedicated to families. I ended up getting some food and sitting somewhere to wait for my flight, but it turned out to be delayed. So, I just sat there for a while until it was time to board the plane to London. After a few hours, I was able to board and we were off - until next time, Brussels!
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