Why did we go to Brussels? Well, there wasn’t a real reason other than, “why not?” I thought it looked beautiful (in photos) and being so close to our planned visit to Amsterdam, we decided to stop in on our way.
I didn’t plan this portion of the trip to well, I have to say. I booked a later flight, thinking we could get to the hostel before dark. Arriving in the Belgium airport I realized I knew a lot more Spanish than I thought because French looked as familiar as Chinese and in Spain I didn’t have trouble reading signs at all.
After finding our luggage we knew we had to take a train to the north station. In short, we couldn’t figure out what platform to stand at, none of them said north station, in any language. It was getting late and we were hungry, tired and confused. It was at this moment an angel descended from the escalator, a girl we met at the hostel in Barcelona was from Brussels and happened to be flying home the same day (different flight and time though). We were so relieved to see her! She rode with us on the train and walked us to the street of our hostel. This was nothing short of a miracle, I’m telling you. What are the chances?! (Thank you, Karen!!)
Arriving at the hostel should have been a sigh of relief, but it wasn’t. I won’t say the name of the hostel but it was by far the worst accommodation of this trip. I booked it for around the same rate as all the hostels so I didn’t expect what we encountered. The receptionist told us upon arrival that our room was outside of the main hostel, across the street and down the block, red flag #1. He then told us there were no lockers in the room so we store our bags at the desk. Yes that’s right, if you want something out of our bag that you don’t want stolen (everything) you have to go across the street each time, red flag #2. He handed us a pile of sheets to make our own beds, they resembled fine sandpaper and mine had a gaping hole the size of my head, red flag #3. We walked up two floors in pitch black (no lights or heat) to our room that resembled a prison cell. The mattresses were those plastic mats you see at gymnasiums so you don’t fall on hard ground. The showers were down the hall and I cringed at the sight, I’m not being dramatic, but I would have cried myself to sleep if I had to stay there. Their cancellation policy was standard but on the weekends it is stricter, I was very determined to get at least a partial refund after what we saw. I got a full refund and booked a hotel across the street, we ate dominos pizza at 11pm. It was quite the “adventure” and I will willingly let go of the memory because the rest of our trip was great.
Day 2 morning motivation was the hunt for Belgian waffles. I love waffles, so much. Maybe this was my subconscious reason for wanting to visit Belgium. There are tons of waffle shops but we stopped in the one where I could see them making them from scratch (The Waffle Factory).Best waffle I’ve ever had, hands down.
With a nice sugar high, we wandered through town and into an outdoor flea market in south Brussels. It was huge, covered with rows and rows of stuff you could spend hours shuffling through and probably find something pretty cool. We worked up an appetite for lunch and headed towards the center for a beer. We first went to Délirium Café, a bar which is the The Guinness Book of Records for their impressively long beer list (over 2000). On offer are beers from over 60 countries, including many Belgian beers. There was a large booklet you could flip through, and I don’t know how Mikel felt but this place wasn’t feeling warm and cozy to me. I don’t like when a bartender looms over you waiting for a decision, there was a dictionary sized booklet to browse and they were not busy. We thought we would choose two of the crazy sounding ones on tap, Pink Killer (grapefruit notes) and Floris Cactus. They came out pink and green, super weird, very interesting taste.
We enjoyed the unique beers but also wanted a more “normal” Belgian beer so we headed to Moeder Lambic, stopping for frites and wandering through chocolate shops on the way. This place had a more “hipster” vibe, the servers were more like beer sommeliers and knew a lot about of their beer, giving us recommendations based on our tastes. Mikel ordered a traditional Belgian Lambic sour beer, apparently the locals love it but tourists say it tastes like beer when it’s coming back up (if you know what I mean). I’ll confer with the tourists it definitely tasted I threw up in my mouth when I tried it, but Mikel liked it? They also served a little dish of dried barley (I think). I thought was a tasty little bar snack.
Oh, also, there is this very famous small bronze sculpture in Brussels, Manneken Pis. It is 24 inches tall and was swarmed by crowds of people taking photos. Don’t mean to offend but it was very underwhelming statue of a little naked boy urinating in a fountain surrounded by a tall gate. There are many legends behind its actual meaning, but it looked so silly to me I had to take picture of Mikel in front of it for perspective.
We had this tour map made by locals, which was really helpful for us since we try to avoid the super touristy spots if possible. Sometimes it’s fun to go to those places as well though, we are tourists afterall… Anyway, they said you don’t need to waste your money at the specialty chocolate shops that cover each block, you can find just as delicious Belgian chocolate in the grocery store, and for much cheaper. So, that’s what we did!
I read that mussels are a must while you’re here, and there were tons of restaurants offering buckets of mussels and frites for a low price. If there is one thing I don’t want a “deal” on, it’s seafood. I have to wonder where a place that sells them for half the cost of another just across the street is getting their mussels. I didn’t want to risk it, so we went to a very popular place with average prices and a line out the door. It was a really nice meal aside from the fact they charge 4.50 for a small bottle of water. If there was one thing we didn’t budget for here it is bottled water, holy moly it is so expensive you need a separate budget just to hydrate yourself…awful!
Walking around the center of Brussels was beautiful, but I don’t think more than a day or two is necessary. It is very easy to “do” the city in a day but if we were there longer we probably would have taken a trip to nearby towns like Antwerp or Bruges to see more of Belgium.