Okay, without further ado and almost a year ago from our actual trip, I bring you our 3rd and final adventure… who said anything about timing?
The last leg of our trip was spent in Bruxelles. We took a direct train from Brugge into The Central Train Station. We knew we had arrived as soon as we stepped foot onto the wet pavement. C’est vrai, 10 months out of the year leaves Brussels rather soggy. Our time spent here lacked any sunshine or blue skies. Nonetheless, we came prepared and made the best of it. After we located our umbrellas and rain jackets, our hotel was less than a 5 minute walk. We stayed at an IBIS hotel which is a popular chain for business travelers in Europe and was located in a perfect location for us–just a 5 minute walk from the train station and right around the corner from the Grand Place. (Which is the most exquisite square in all of Europe!) Needless to say, we knew exactly what to expect with comfort and hospitality and after almost 2 weeks abroad that was all we wanted.
After a little nap and a quick brush up on mon français, our first stop was A la Becasse. Founded in 1877, this lambic cafe is still run by the original family.
We sampled the Timmermans lambic doux and the lambic blanc. Timmerman’s has been serving lambics in clay jars since 1825.
For our first night, we did the most touristy thing you could do and dined at one of the restaurant’s located on the Grand Place. Look, it was right next to our hotel and the weather was crappy… so naturally it was the best idea for dinner. Go ahead and judge us. We ordered mussels and pomme frites and let’s be honest, in Belgium, it is really hard to mess that up. Yes, we might of paid a little more… but we were exhausted and who doesn’t love a embellished gold façade ?
In keeping with the lambic tradition, I tried the Mort Subite Kriek Lambic and my bearded man had the Maes Pils.
I never quite captured the Grand Place at night…
Lit up against the night sky, it really was “All that Gold” cue Menotti
Just past the Grand Place and across Rue du Lombard is the most iconic figure in all of Brussels…
You heard me, a pissing statue of a little boy. And trust me when I say he is a big deal. This garçon is THE mascot of Brussels. He represents the unpretentious Bruxellois.
In fact, King Louis XV knighted him. So technically it’s Sir Manneken-Pis. There is even an entire section within the Brussels Museum (Musée de la Ville de Bruxelles) dedicated to the some 800 costumes that have been gifted to Sir Manneken; the oldest being from King Louis himself. Everything from an Elvis ensemble to a Brazilian Carnival and everything in between.
Our first full day in Brussels we ventured to the Cantillon Brewery. It was about a 35 minute walk southwest of the Grand Place and definitely a walk through the unpretentious streets of Brussels. We took the self-guided tour through the brewery which cost us roughly 8 euros each and included a beer afterwards.
Stage 1: The Brewing Area- where the mashing tun begins…
Stage 5: Barrel Storage- let the natural fermentation begin…
Stages 2-4 (not pictured) included: Hop boilers, the granary and cooling tun.
My favorite stage: Drinking– Cantillon Gueze Lou Pepe 2013
Cantillon Kriek and Cantillon Lambic d’Haute Densité
Not pictured but thoroughly enjoyed: the Cantillon Iris and the Cantillon Fou’Foune
Did I mention Brussels is covered in murals? Look, it’s our friend, Manneken-Pis.
Excuse-moi, Sir Manneken-Pis.
The streets of Brussels.
Place de la Bourse
aka The original Brussels Stock Exchange, one of the oldest in the world. The building no longer houses the BSE and plans are to turn it into a future Beer Museum.
A beautiful building that attracts tourists and beards alike.
Hey, there’s a Starbucks in every city.
After gazing around the Grand Place again…
(you should know I never grow weary from gold) we headed North to explore some of the other neighborhoods Brussels had to offer.
Ste. Catherine Neighborhood is roughly a 15 minute walk from the Grand Place.
It’s a quaint neighborhood–there are artisan shops, cafes, and plenty of seafood restaurants alike.
And lots of street art.
We grabbed a quick pick-me-up at Mer du Nord/Nordzee. This cozy seafood market boasts an inexpensive menu that serves up fresh fare made to order at the walk-up bar.
We tried the scampi à la plancha et les calamars and you should too.
Place Ste. Catherine
This square turns into a Market on the weekends. On Tuesdays not so much.
After exploring Ste. Catherine–we headed back to the hotel to freshen up but mostly to decide where to eat next.
The best thing about Brussels is how culturally diverse the people and food are.
We found a Indian Restaurant called L’Everest that specialized in Nepalese cuisine in the business district and had to check it out.
This walk to dinner also included many murals.
Our last full day happened to be on Wednesday, June 1st and lo and behold, on the first Wednesday of every month, the Bruxella Museum (which is literally underneath La Bourse) opens its doors to the public.
There are only 2 tours done that day one in English and one in French. We miscalculated the time of the English tour and missed it by 20 minutes. So we opted for the French tour. Je parle un petit peu français.
We purchased our tickets at the Brussels Museum (Musée de la Ville de Bruxelles) the building seen here on your left of the Grand Place. (Don’t forget the Manneken-Pis costumes are housed here too!) We toured the Museum while we waited for our tour to start. And we were in luck that day. We were apparently the only 2 people interested in a French tour. Dieu merci! I told our guide that I spoke some french and that she could give the tour in french if she desired. She politely declined in English and it was a good thing she chose not to because it was an intense hour detailing the very extensive history and creation of the city of Brussels. Lemme tell you, this city has been completely broken down and built up from scratch more times than Jenna Maroney was ever able to nail a Mickey Rourke sex joke. Thanks 30 Rock!
We began our history lesson with our fav, the Grand Place. So apparently… during the 19th century a butter market occupied the Grand Place. Butter=$$ Later towards the end of the 19th century it was replaced by a trade market and now it’s a historical UNESCO site and the most important landmark in Brussels. Add that to your Jeopardy list!
And just right outside the Grand Place adjacent from La Bourse is the Church of Saint Nicolas.
We went inside to continue our history lesson where we learned that this church was bombed during the bombardment of Brussels by the French troops of Louis XIV in 1695. Also, so was the entire city. Brussels was pretty much burnt to a crisp that day. It was the most destructive event in its entire history. The Grand Place was destroyed, along with a third of the buildings in the city. On the bright side, this church survived… well half of it, anyway. The hole above is where a canon is still remains lodged from the bombardment.
We made our way into the Bruxelles 1238 (underground) Museum. Come to find out, in 1238, a Franciscan convent settled down where La Bourse now lies and played a crucial role in the development of the social and religious life of Brussels…until it was burned and destroyed. I told you Brussels has had a long history with fire… This monastery wasn’t discovered until the late 1980’s while the city was doing renovation work on the Rue de la Bourse and accidentally uncovered numerous graves from the 13th century which then welcomed a historical archaeological dig. Ha!
The tour was about an hour from start to finish and was a completely unexpected experience.
school let out our tour ended, we headed East of the Grand Place to the Palais Royale.
We visited the St. Michael’s Cathedral on our way.
Another Fun Fact: We learned during our history lesson that churches built with 2 towers signified a higher political importance than say other churches within the city with only one tower.
Bienvenue à Parc de Bruxelles!
This park is located across the Royal Palace (Palais Royale) and
pays homage to is a knock-off of Versailles. The Palace wasn’t open for tours so we just walked around its jardin.
Jardin de Sculpture is literally a garden of sculptures. La Rivière is probably the most famous within this park, created by Rodin’s contemporary, Aristide Maillol, a master of the female form (obvi).
Back to Beer.
Our last evening in Brussels we checked out Moeder Lambic. This bar has a cool industrial feel and has over a dozen beers on tap. The food was pretty bland. I recommend just coming here for beers.
LEFT: l’Abbaye du Val-Dieu Triple and De Ranke Noir de Dottingnies. TOP RIGHT: Caulier Blonde and Moeder Lambic Band of Brothers. BOTTOM RIGHT: Cantillon Lambic Framboise and Tilquin Gueuze.
Our final rendez-vous was at La Porte Noire. We really felt like locals at this underground cavern. The ambiance was laid back, the staff only spoke french, and the music was classic American Hipster.
We tried the Abbaye Paix Dieu Triple and the Westmalle Trappist
And the grand finale: Trappist Rochefort 8
Afterwards, we wandered back to the beginning. One cannot simply leave Brussels without making sure that you have taken
sufficient 500 photographs of the Grand Place at every hour.
At the stroke of midnight I finally made the transition to European. It was a fairy tale come true.
Water with gas and fries with mayo.
The next morning we had one last liege waffle, posed with the bearded statue outside our hotel, and then made our way to the airport.
We made sure to pick up the #1 beer in the world on our way out. The Trappist Westvleteren 12 (XII). This bottle will set you back roughly 16-22 euros depending on where you can find it.
From Philadelphia to Rome, then to Sicily…Sicily to Barcelona… Barcelona to Brugge via Brussels then back to Brussels to return home after 2 weeks was quite the excursion but was well worth it. If you’re planning a Summer trip to Europe, May is the best time to go. It’s before the peak tourist season and before the heat really kicks in. Remember, Europe isn’t used to Central AC like the U.S.
À bientôt mes amis!