Brussels and Bruges - 10 Days in Europe, Part-3
Continued from: Amsterdam - 10 Days in Europe, Part-2
Our 10 days in Europe travel started in Paris, then Amsterdam, and our last stop on this journey was Brussels. We took the Eurostar train from Amsterdam Central to Brussels Midi and it was just under a two hour journey. It was evening when we arrived in Brussels and the area around our hotel was bustling, mostly with people traffic. So much that our Uber couldn't pass through. We had to get off couple of blocks away and walk to our hotel.
Traffic aside, Hotel Agora Brussels Grand Place is in the best possible location. We couldn't have found a better one if we looked harder. It is a charming old building in the center of some of the most popular tourist spots and surrounded by countless number of eateries.
Brussels Grand Place
When we thought about including Belgium in our itinerary, we had very specific goal in mind - Food. Sightseeing happened when we were not hungry. Although, Belgium has some of the most beautiful cities in this world and renowned architecture with rich history. But its food scene is like nowhere else. Belgium is famous for its waffles, chocolates, fries, speculaas to name a few. And of course beer.
Brussels, to our surprise, happened to be the most festive and lively city we had been to on this trip. The city center with a maze of narrow streets were adorned with chandeliers and beautiful light installations. There were so many Christmas markets in the small central area. We planned on going to one market, stumbled upon three more, and who knows how many more were hidden around. Even though Christmas was over the vibe did not seem to fade one bit.
Christmas Decor in Brussels
The Grand Place is known to be one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. It was only a three minute walk from the hotel, yes that's how close we stayed. A large Christmas tree stood in the center of the square, surrounding it were grand structures of Brussels City Museum, Town Hall, and many with restaurants and businesses.
Brussels City Museum
From there we walked to Winter Wonders Christmas Market. The largest of all the markets we had been to in Brussels. Like in Paris and Amsterdam, many wooden chalets sold an assortments of Christmas decor, souvenirs, food and drinks. Well, if you haven't guessed already, the first thing we looked for was mulled wine. Followed that with beer, fries served with a variety of delicious dipping sauces and Oliebollen (fried dough balls). We so regretted not having Oliebollen in Amsterdam and were very happy to finally try it here.
Winter Wonders Christmas Market in Brussels
Day 7: Our hotel did not serve breakfast but there was no shortage of options around. Aux Gaufres De Bruxelles was right next to our hotel and was highly recommended. We picked up nothing else but waffles for breakfast and started our stroll to explore the city.
Our first stop was once again Grand Place. We also wanted to see it during the day and get a real sense of the grandeur surrounding the square. We thought we made it early and could avoid crowds, but the square was already packed with tourists. Nonetheless, we could clearly see the intricacies and detailing on the buildings and got some more photos, but with lots of people in them.
Brussels Grand Place
Mannekinpis, the iconic statue in Brussels, was only a couple of mins walk from the Grand Place. Oh boy! The crowds (mostly tour groups) gathered around the little boy's statue was astounding.
Mannekinpis / Some old Buildings
We strolled around admiring the old buildings, beautiful churches, spotting comic book murals, and just having fun. Old England building - Museum of Musical Instruments, Église Notre-Dame de la Chapelle - Gothic-Romanesque Church, Place Royale - historic square, were all very impressive.
Église Notre-Dame de la Chapelle
Not far from the Old England Building was Mont des Arts. The park has a beautiful geometric garden in the center and a spectacular view of Brussels from the top of the stairs.
Mont des Arts
From there we walked to St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral. One of the most beautiful churches in Brussels with incredible architectural detailing on the outside and inside, impressive statues, wood carvings, and colorful stained glass windows. With a one euro entry fee we could go underground and see the remains of the original foundation.
St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral
Next we explored Galerie du Roi, a shopping mall just off of Grand Place. The mall was full of restaurants, bakeries, chocolatiers and luxury stores. Window displays of the chocolatiers were all so unique and each better than the other. Each of them had a variety of melt-in-your-mouth chocolates, truffles, chocolates filled with what not, chocolates in some unimaginable shapes and colors, and so on. We purchased some treats from Mary Chocolatier and Maison Dandoy - a biscuit heaven. We also hopped into Gaufres & Waffles for some savory waffles.
Galerie du Roi
Unusual Chocolates / Savory Waffles
After a little strolling around we stopped for a very early dinner at Le Cirio. The restaurant was packed even at such an odd time. But luckily we didn't have to wait long and we got to try some local delicacies, Waterzooi and Vol au vent.
Once again we had our breakfast at Aux Gaufres De Bruxelles next door and had an early start. We took a train from Brussels Central (only a 3min walk from our hotel) to Bruges, which was about an hour's journey.
Bruges was in our dream destinations list for years. Looking at it live felt like we were in a medieval fairy-tale. Horse drawn carriages riding tourists around cobbled alleys, picturesque canals with graceful swans resting on the banks, beautiful squares studded with old churches and notable architecture, and gorgeous brick houses. Bruges is nothing but photogenic.
Bruges Market Square
Hoards of tourists walked from the train station towards the city center. We could have followed them. Instead we took a bus to the Market Square, and no idea why we did that. Anyway, the bus dropped us off right at the square. The square was buzzing with people and festive music. Some of the notable structures of Bruges stood in the Market Square. There was a Christmas market right in the middle and lots of eateries around. Horse carriage tours started from there, so add animals into the mix. It was a very lively and touristy atmosphere.
Bruges Market Square
Bruges Town Hall
We tried our best to photograph the square without getting people in the pictures. We then walked around the Christmas Market, had some beer and munchies before further exploring the city.
From there we walked aimlessly admiring and photographing everything that came along the way. Rozenhoedkaai - Quay of the Rosary, a very famous photo spot in Bruges, was truly the most gorgeous part of the canal.
Rozenhoedkaai - Quay of the Rosary
Bonifacius Bridge is another very famous spot on the canal. The backdrops and surroundings of this bridge are so beautiful its hard not to get a few pictures despite the crowds.
View from Bonifacius Bridge
In the middle of all the chaos there is an escape for tranquility. Beguinage's white painted houses and tree filled courtyard in the center was a peaceful getaway. It was as though we had stepped into another world.
Walking around Bruges
As we walked around we came across many signs for beer tastings. We finally decided to step into T'Brugsch Bieratelier. A quaint little bar with an unusual decor of currencies and notes written by customers covering most of the walls. The beer taster had a selection of 12 beers which also included Christmas specials. Most of the beers were really good and worth the money. We left there a little light headed.
T'Brugsch Bieratelier / Beer Tasting
That was the end of our little day trip to the most fabulous city on earth. We took a train back to Brussels and called it a day.
Our Europe trip had come to an end. We took an early morning train from Brussels Midi directly to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. Did I mention it was the time of protests in Paris and most of the public transportation was shut down. The train we initially booked got cancelled so we had to re-book on a different train the night before. Luckily we were able to find the right time and route. And in case you are wondering, the 10th day of this trip is actually the first day lost completely in travel.
So that's the end of our first trip to Europe and for sure there are many many more to come. These 10 days were filled with lots of excitement and created beautiful of memories.