Indulging in Belgium's Finest Beer, Chocolate, and Frites - Brussels, Belgium
We jumped on a high speed train early in the morning from Amsterdam. A quick hour and a half later, we pulled into Brussels.
I had heard there isn't a whole lot to do in Brussels, so we decided to just stay two nights. Waiting to check into our Airbnb, we enjoyed a late breakfast of pastries and hot chocolate in the Grand Place.
This UNESCO heritage site is the city's biggest tourist hub. It's a good gathering place and is just stunning. Original construction dates back to the 14th century. Most of the structures pictured here were rebuilt in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries after various fires.
We hadn't done much research beforehand, and decided to again join a free walking tour to get the local flavor. Our lovely guide, Celine, led us around with a handful of others - first stop: Everard t'Serclaes monument. It's said that if you rub the arm of this famous Belgian, you'll return to Brussels one day. It you rub the statue from head to toe, you'll have good luck. Hey, worth a shot!
This next statue is the city's true icon - Manneken Pis. I have to say that I was a bit let down. This little guy is just 61 centimeters tall, and this isn't even the original one. That version from 1618 is protected in the Museum of the City of Brussels. Having been stolen 7 times, the city had another bronze version placed here in 1965.
And yep, he's peeing! There's not really a confirmed story behind the figure, but the most popular theory involves a 2 year old Duke who peed on some invading troops. Fun fact: he's dressed in costumes several times each week to celebrate occasions/notable events from around the world.
This is Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. Lined with luxury jewelers and chocolatiers. Our tour guide gave us some advice to not buy any chocolate from these shops, but to instead just buy from the grocery store like all locals do. Much cheaper.
A neat bit of history we learned is that after the Belgian revolution (the country earned its freedom from Austria), the French flag was flown to celebrate. Some citizens said "Hey, we just earned our freedom. Why should we fall under another country's rule again?" Others agreed and a woman quickly stitched together a flag with horizontal stripes from whatever fabric was on hand. A man ran to the top of a building (currently the sandwich shop you see below) and hoisted the flag high for everyone to see! The country's constitution was written with this flag description and that was that. Until some complained that the flag looked too similar to Germany's. Not a problem! The citizens just decided to swap it around. And today we have the Belgian flag with vertical black, yellow, and red stripes, not the original you see painted here.
This is the Royal Palace of Brussels - they have a King and Queen too! It's often compared to Buckingham Palace because of the similar facades.
Passing the headquarters of the European Union, we hit Cinquantenaire. A huge urban park with a massive arch. There's a military museum tucked inside, but we never went in.
Lunch with a view! We refueled at the top of the (really incredible) Musical Instrument Museum.
Our tour ended at the Mont des Arts where we climbed up the steps for an overlook.
Now left on our own, we wandered unsupervised...
All that walking worked up an appetite for some of Belgian's finest frites.
And a visit to the city's chocolate museum. Very low budget, but there's a wonderful little demonstration and free samples!
I'm definitely glad we saw Brussels (seeing the Grand Place at night is the highlight), but I don't think I would need to go back. If you're considering a trip, I would suggest you spend no more than 2 nights in town. And nearby Bruges would be a great side trip!
One more country to go! You don't want to miss seeing our hike to a German, medieval castle.