Eurotrip 2011: Brussels

We've arrived in country #3. Read all the details from our three-week Eurotrip here!

Once again, we were up at the crack to board a train from Paris' Gare Nord station into Brussels. The trip was a relatively short one, perfect for a snooze or for reading a book. We decided that we like trains. Cheap, quick, scenic, comfortable.

After arriving in Brussels, we set out to understand the metro system, which proved to be more challenging than planned, as the same tracks are used by both the subways and the inter-city trains. We apparently didn't have it completely sorted out, because we ended up jumping on a train that we thought would get us from Brussels' Gare Midi to Gare Central, but instead we found ourselves in the midst of short-distance bus stops for locals. We finally switched lines and got ourselves to Gare Central, where we locked our bags in the lower-level lockers. I then found a pharmacy nearby to stock up on tissues and the like to deal with my developing head cold. Traveling and my immune system don't always get along.

The touristy part of Brussels is centralized around Grand Place - the main square in the town's center, surrounded by beautiful, ornate buildings.

While NS obtained the obligatory tourist map at the information center, I shot the square.

Most popular gargoyle in Europe, I think!
Belgium's culinary claims to fame include chocolate and waffles; there were plenty of relevant shops to choose from in this area.

Chocopolis combined two of my favorite things - chocolate and elephants - brilliant!

N's information search brought some disappointing news: All museums in Brussels are closed on Mondays. It was Monday. Foiled! So much for the Musical Instruments Museum, or, more importantly, the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate.

All this exposure to chocolate made us hungry for lunch. We were craving very different types of food, but fortunately, the area near Grand Place hosts many small eateries with all sorts of offerings. Here's where we landed:

My choice: Not the cheapest route, but all from an organic cafe.
With an all-natural sandwich, the cappuccino was my splurge. Healthy food!

His choice: A hot beef sandwich on a hoagie roll with "frites" (twice fried fries) with a Coke classic. 
Happy food!

Apparently, opposites do attract.

We were now faced with a dilemma: With only half a day in Brussels, and with our main activities (museums) now out of reach, we needed WiFi to allow us to brainstorm our alternatives. But finding free WiFi in Brussels was proving to be a challenge. How to deal with the stress?! More food. And this time, with chocolate.

Belgian waffle

To be honest, I wasn't all that impressed. Maybe we should have opted for one that was more than €1. Maybe we should have requested that they not drench it in chocolate sauce. Maybe this is why the locals don't eat the waffles. But anyway. We've done it once.

Nearby the waffle place, we found the fountain that Brussels is famous for: The Peeing Boy. I took the following photo because N wouldn't have let me continue to exist if I hadn't.

Classic, but not classy.
So, after a somewhat disappointing waffle and a less-than-impressive fountain (for me; not for the many tourists gathered around), we were desperate for free internet to help us scheme our way through the rest of the afternoon. What happens to desperate people? They do things they wouldn't normally do. Like go to McDonalds. And buy a milkshake that they didn't need. All in the name of WiFi.

Fortunately, visiting a McDonalds in Europe is a far cry from visiting one in the States. If nothing else, the interior decorating far exceeds my U.S. experiences.

Quite the internationally-influenced fast food restaurant.

N used the iPad to do his research (he's the official trip planner), while I used his iPhone to net surf. It didn't occur to me at the time, but he spent quite a while looking for activities, even using a pay phone at one point. I was absorbed in getting caught up on world news (okay, fine, I was on Facebook), and nursing my headcold.

When we finally set out, I thought we were headed straight to a park (Parc de Bruxelles Warandepark), but instead, my guy surprised me with a stop at a posh spa in town. (My face was suffering from the worst breakouts of my life. No idea why my skin decided to wait 27 years to act 13.) I was super excited for all of 30 seconds, until we were told by spa personnel that they were temporarily closed due to a block-wide power outage. Brussels was out to foil every plan! Poor N had no other aces up his sleeve. I suggested we head to the park for some R&R. It was a sunny afternoon, after all.

N snoozed in the sun while I read The Pioneer Woman: From Black Heels to Tractor Wheels on the iPad. Quite a pleasant way to pass an afternoon, I'd say, even if it wasn't Plan A, B, or C!

We made our way back to Grand Place to find dinner. I shot the architecture of Cathedrale des Saints Michel on the way. So interesting, with all those flying buttresses! (At least, I hope that's what they are. Readers??)

Back near Grand Place, we found a street that had a high concentration of Greek food - always a favorite of ours. We had two things on the brain: Free WiFi, and proper gyros. We found both at Mykonos Pitta Gyros - can't go wrong with a name like that.

Notice N's gyro has those famous "frites" inside. Mine is in salad form.
We try to be predictable.
After waiting until an appropriate hour to descend upon another couch surfer host's household, we took the train to our hosts' quiet neighborhood in Zone 2. The roundabouts and diagonal streets made it challenging for us to orient ourselves, and we must have looked as puzzled as we felt with our printed Google map in hand, because a gentleman stopped - in the middle of a small roundabout - to ask us if we needed help. Although he barely spoke English, after we showed him where we needed to be, he punched the address into the GPS of his Audi A4 and pointed us in the right direction. We were amazed at such willingness to help strangers!

Before long, we were on the doorstep of our newly-found accommodations, courtesy of W&T. One major hitch in our planning though: We'd failed to communicate regarding the subject of dinner, as was evidenced by the delicious aroma coming from the kitchen the moment we entered. T had prepared a traditional Finnish meal of sausage and stoemp (mashed potatoes mixed with a mashed vegetable - in this case, broccoli.) Rather than refuse her generosity, we chose to keep Dinner #1 between the two of us, and were soon enjoying tasty (albeit heavy) Dinner #2. What else is vacation for is not a bit of overeating?!

W&T were both down-to-earth, friendly, and Flemish (remember, Belgium has both French and Dutch roots.) The conversation revolved around travel, lifestyle, and American football. Who knew that we would find avid Packers fans in Brussels?! Even T could carry on about football stats. W noted that T was probably one of the most knowledgeable women in Flanders on the subject. Anyway, she had me beat.

Thankfully, our Brussels hosts were early-to-bed people. I couldn't have been more pleased! We took over on their super-comfy IKEA futon-type bed (it seems like everyone in Europe decorates with IKEA) in their greenhouse-style living room and were soon in dreamland. Another train ride awaited us in the morning.


  1. :) Yes, flying buttresses!


  2. Okay, so the blurb about your lunch differences and the pictures were a RIOT. I would totally have been with you on that one, Jenn. :) And the fountain? Unreal - haha. That is almost disturbing! It stinks that you guys' plans didn't work out, several times! But that name - Brussels - is so cool! Haha. What matters, right? :) I am totally with you on the acne/age thing - ugh! And that stinks about your cold! But you guys were going strong on very little sleep there for a while - understandable. Hopefully it didn't put a damper on your vaca......So enjoying the posts! Keep 'em coming!

  3. Sounds like another fun city. Love the international clock wall and the chocolate elephant!!!