It’s good to be home, let me just say that right now.
BUT, with that being said, it was also good to go galavanting (word use thanks to my cousin, Stephanie) through Brussels and Paris for a week. I am excited to share some of our trip on this blog and will do so in smaller increments rather than one huge post. Today, let’s review our day in Brussels, Belgium.
We chose to visit Brussels due to the advice of Rudy and Nicolle, the hosts of the bed and breakfast in which we stayed for two nights in Charleroi. The Ryanair flight schedule made it necessary for us to fly into Belgium, rather than Paris, stay two nights, and take the train to our Marriott resort east of Paris where we had made reservations for four nights (way back in April 2014). Rudy and Nicolle recommended a day in Brussels instead of Charleroi–it is a much more beautiful and significant city and only one hour away by train. They were right. I would definitely say our one day in Brussels was well-worth the slightly extra travel time and money.
We arrived to the center of Brussels knowing to head to the Grand-Place, the old, main square in the city. I usually have a plan and a map when touring a foreign city; this time I had neither. But we also had no time constraints so we had the freedom to wander around and enjoy the first day of our vacation. Brussels is known for its fine chocolates, and it was not long before we encountered the first of MANY exquisite chocolate shops. By now, we had a small tour book in hand and knew which way we were headed. We bought our requisite supply of chocolates in the second shop we passed–Corne Port-Royal, a chocolatier in business since the mid-1800’s. (Since then, we have rationed ourselves one piece per night from that small box of assorted chocolates. Oh. My. Word. Are they ever good.)
When we arrived into the Grand-Place, I thought it was pretty impressive. I have been to large public squares in London, Oslo, Stockholm, Paris, Dublin, Prague, and others, but, seriously, this one stood out. For one, it was LARGE. Paul estimates that it is the size of two American football fields. On all four sides, there were large, old (say from the late 1600’s), ornate buildings, that had been kept-up (restored, perhaps?) quite well. At the time of our arrival into the square, there was some youth singing/dancing thing happening, and as we wandered across the square, we saw the familiar font of a Starbucks sign right ahead–coincidentally, this was also time for our first coffee break! Go figure! 🙂
We had eaten a lovely and filling breakfast earlier so we had no plans for a lunch per se, but were open to the possibility of stopping for what we were told was a Belgian staple, frites (known to us Americans as your basic french fries). We passed several small shops or diners offering this food, and finally stopped to try some for ourselves. When asked what kind of sauce I would like, I chose ‘mayonnaise’ because, surely, it would not be JUST mayonnaise, but perhaps a nicely seasoned version of it or maybe a tartar sauce like they use for fries in the Czech Republic. Nope. It was mayonnaise. Paul safely chose ketchup as his choice of sauce.
We continued to amble through the narrow streets of Brussels, longingly gazing into the shop windows of pastry shops, chocolate shops, (jewelry shops…that was me), and finally we toured the City Museum of Brussels which was housed in the Maison du Roi (House of the King) in the Grand-Place. I always find it fascinating to read about and see paintings/illustrations of the history of these great cities. Apparently, the Grand-Place was nearly burnt to the ground in 1695 during the Bombardment of Brussels, and the city fathers decided to rebuild in the same artistic fashion as before.
So, then we roamed through a small alley where there was cafe after cafe with their signs and maitre ‘ds telling us about their dinner specials. One very enthusiastic man called for Paul’s attention, “Here, sir, we have an aphrodisiac for you…” to which Paul answered, “Oh, sir, I have four children! I have no need for an aphrodisiac!” I guess mussels, a main ingredient in this cafe’s appetizer, is an aphrodisiac. Who knew? As it turned out, we chose Le Grand Bi as our dining place for the evening, and actually, Paul did order a seafood dish in which mussels was a key ingredient. 🙂 Me? I ordered escargot.
We walked back to the train station by way of the Grand-Place which was all lit up. What a beautiful scene. As I said earlier, deciding to visit Brussels for the day was an excellent choice.