On our first day, we took the Eurostar from Kings Cross St. Pancras International to Brussels-Midi Station. The journey was 2 hours long and it is crazy to think that we went through the underground tunnel through the English Channel, passing through France, before arriving at our destination. Hello Brussels! The city, well country really, of Belgium Beer, moules des frites, and chocolate!
To be honest, my first impression of Brussel was not the best though. It was a gloomy day and the area around the station seemed to be of low income with graffiti sprayed on shop fronts and buildings. The walk to the city centre was not a long one, just a mere 20 minutes of so. Our plan was to check out the infamous Delirium Café that I had read about with more than 2000 types of beers offered as well as recommendations from a friend. However once we arrived, we realized it would be more of a place to grab drinks after dinner and not a sit in and enjoy our meal dining place. In the city center, it is not hard to find a restaurant to eat at, but with the recurring offering of moules de frites, and set menu deals with similar selections, it is quite hard to choose a place that sticks out from the rest if we had not done our research or read reviews on restaurants in advance. Outside restaurant fronts, you will also often be greeted by an employee advertising their restaurant in a rather pushy manner. We ended up choosing a random place to eat at. The food was not spectacular, neither was the service, so there is not much to comment on there.
After our meal, we met up with our Airbnb host and made our way to our Airbnb. It was in a lovely central location and the room we were staying in was incredibly spacious and comfortable. We quickly dropped off our bags and made it to the Belgian Comic Strip Center before its closes at 6pm. The Center offered a plethora of information on how comic strips came to be and the process of brainstorming, drawing, and publishing comics. I had only wished I had kept more of my French 12 knowledge because the comics were mainly in French, so I found myself being drawn to the comics that had no written language but spoke only through illustrations. I also discovered Bourke comics which can be for an older audience or with stories that can be quite grim yet funny through the medium of comic illustrations. In the evening, we ended up eating at this Pho Place, Hong Hoa (Yes, we found an authentic pho place in Brussels!). One thing I learned from service in Belgium is that eating out is more for a special occasion, people speak extremely quietly compared to an American culture (even British culture), and that service is slow. I had a lovely bowl of beef pho there that I would definitely recommend! Afterwards, we went to Delirium Café and due to my low alcohol tolerance I only had one beer that I had randomly picked from the long list of options chalked onto the wall. It was an alright beer, but I am really no expert of what makes a good beer.
The next day, we woke up to a rather gloomy Brussels and scattered showers. We decided to explore the city for a bit before making our way to Brugge. We passed by the Mont Des Art, the Royal Palace of Brussels, and also went to Brussels Park before spending a few hours at the Musical Instruments Museum. The Musical Instruments Museum was quite an interesting museum and I would definitely recommend it to anyone with an interest for hearing and seeing the transformation of instruments through time. We were given our own headsets and were allowed to walk around at our pace to hear the sound of pre-recorded instruments through our headsets. However we did not have enough time to really appreciate everything at this museum, so I would definitely recommend slotting a couple hours for a visit here. The train to Brugge was a fast train and took about 1hr20 minutes.
Upon first arrival in Brugge, I immediately noticed the difference between Brussels and Brugge; Brugge is more of a touristy town, known as a canal city like Venice and Colmar. We made our way to our Airbnb which was a 15 minute walk East from the city center. We were greeted by our lovely host, took a quick power nap, before heading back out to the city center. We ended up dining at this restaurant called ‘t Fonteintje where I had one of the best Fish Soups I have ever had but my main course, salmon, was nothing special. After dinner, we decided to walk around but quickly realized that all the shops close quite early around 7pm or so. We ended up doing a bit of wandering before heading back to our Airbnb. The next morning we started off quite early by having brunch and then spending a few hours at the Chocolate Museum and the Frites Museum. Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend either because I found the museums quite boring where we were expected to just read information off walls. The museums also seemed quite outdated. In the evening we ate at Poules Moules which I had wrote as a “must go” for moules de frites. I ordered a white wine moules de frites. I was greeted by a huge pot of mussels that were very good but I don’t think they were as good as Chambar back at home in Vancouver, Canada. On our last day, we realized we had explored most of the city center so a lot of it was spent just wandering aimlessly around the city. Overall, I would say that Brugge is a city mainly for walking around and for eating. Look up the restaurants you want to go to in advance! From Brugge we took the Eurostar back to Brussels. We had dinner by the Brussels-Midi station at a Greek Restaurant called Au Bon Coeur. The food did not disappoint and I was finally able to have lamb that I had been craving for. This time around I had booked an Airbnb in an area between Saint-Gilles and Chatelain so we could see a different part of the city. This area is located south of the City Centre. I would highly recommend staying here because on our walk to and around Saint-Gilles I finally felt that I was able to see what it would be like to live in Brussels. Most people I saw on the streets were locals and it was definitely a more livelier atmosphere. We ended up ending our night early after a long day of travelling.
The next morning, we were greeted by snow in Belgium! I was quite excited because I had been missing out on all the snow in Vancouver, Canada (home). However, it made our travel to Parc du Cinquantenaire slower. I was not prepared for the snow so our time spent outside before needing to find somewhere to go in for warmth was limited. The area of Saint-Gilles has a lot of trendy, hip coffee shops and cafes and we ended up going to one called Parlo Coffee Roasters. Service was friendly, coffee was good, and the brunch was 10/10 for taste and presentation. It was definitely something I needed for a cold, snow morning. We then made our way to Parc Du Cinquantenaire. I can imagine this place would be lovely in the summer with endless lawns of green as a picnic area or a place to lie down with a book. However, having a different view of this park, seeing it completely covered with a layer of white also gave me a remarkable feeling of serenity. We ended up at the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Miliary History which we spent a solid few hours exploring before catching our train back to London. The entrance fee was very cheap, only at 4 euros and there was a wide selection of artifacts and information to take in at this museum.
Overall, I feel that my first trip to Belgium was a good one. I always find it exciting to explore new cities and places that I have never been. I personally don’t think there are a lot of main attractions in Brussels or Brugge that would take more than a few days to see, but both cities feel incredibly artsy where simply just finding new places to eat, and grabbing coffee while wandering around the city is the best way to experience living in Belgium!