We just returned from 10 days in Europe. From the title, you might be able to guess where we went. Today I should be doing laundry, the dishes, or catching up with work. But I’d rather get lost in the memories of the last 10 days!
Getting to Belgium from the US: First, after we had our trip all planned, Frank finds out he’s being transferred back to Maine! And although we are very excited about the move, it put a tiny little wrench into things. We had planned to fly to London and take the Eurostar to Belgium because its a shorter flight and WAY cheaper to fly to London. First lesson, learned the hard way, book Eurostar early!!! Unlike most train travel in Europe, if you need to take the Eurostar, the prices are much more like flying. The just continue to go up the closer you get to your date of travel. So all the money we saved by flying to London went right out the window when we didn’t book our train tickets right away. The same does not apply to local trains which you pretty much stroll right onto for a few euros 15 minutes before it departs. But I digress, we planned to fly to London. So when we found out Frank was moving back to Maine I had to change his plans. I could, for the same amount of money, change his ticket to meet us in Toronto from Boston and travel with us, or re-book him on a direct flight to London from Boston. So we now have an airline credit and he was on his own! We travel a lot, he was fine. He made it to Boston, then to London, and on to our VRBO rental to grab the keys before we even landed. I say that as if it was all easy breezy, but it was a little more complicated. It took forever for him to get from the airport to center city on the metro since he wasn’t exactly sure where he was going. And then, by pure luck, the apartment owner was walking out the door just as he got there. He almost missed her. Shortly after I rolled up with our two friends from NY in a cab (which seemed easier but cost a lot more). To which we attempted to go find dinner at 10 pm in London. Look at these happy faces! Oh, and this bar, no longer serving dinner!
We were tired, we were hungry, and we had no idea where to find anything. So yes…we ate McDonalds in London at 11pm after a long day of travel. Oops!
Day 2 started off a little better! Just down the street was a lovely coffee shop. We had poached eggs on toast and started what I referred to as “the forced march” through London. Not wanting to feel like we spent days traveling, we opted to stay an extra day in London and see a few key things. It went a little like this: Kensington Palace, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben (who is getting a facelift), The London Eye, Kings Cross Station + Platform 9 3/4, Lunch at one of the oldest pubs (located in kings cross station and complete with beer and fish & chips). The Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, St. Martins in the Fields (the crypt cafe – sadly so popular it no longer has the coolness from 15 years ago – it feels like a cafeteria and tourist destination now – you have to book tickets to the jazz performances so far in advance that we didn’t even get to enjoy it. That was one of my favorite memories from London years ago) Nothing ever stays the same. So then we opted for a beer in a pub nearby. I suppose we must have had dinner that night, probably somewhere near our flat, but it was so memorable that I don’t remember it at all.
Part of the reason we opted for landing in London (aside from the cost savings) was that our friends are so tall, and train travel in Europe is so much easier and more comfortable for them. So day 3 we packed it up and headed to Bruges! This is where I fell in love with Brussels! First, our VRBO had a keyless entry – travelers dream for the win right there. But, it’s owned and operated by an Architect who also owns a B&B. Double win! As an architect myself, I truly appreciate great space, and this place had great space, character, and a deadly staircase. But, the owner was AMAZING! He met us at the rental with a map and charted out all the best places in Bruges that he would recommend, some touristy must sees, but lots of locals places as well. like ‘t Zwart Huis (which my husband read on the map as “I like bugs” and that was how we referred to this restaurant, which we ate at twice, after attempting to find our own eats and failing miserably. Always listen to the locals!
The food was amazing at ‘t Zwart Huis, but the beer in Belgium is spectacular! Part of the reason we decided to go to Belgium is because they are a tiny country with 3000 breweries. And our friend, who was traveling with us, is a huge beer enthusiast and a very talented home brewer. He wanted to try the Belgian’s (I equate these to wheat bread with all the good fall spices – I absolutely love Belgians – my favorite – the Bruge Triple) and also to visit the places that make Lambic (he quite enjoyed these – they are just not my “cup of beer”) Oh yeah, and his wife doesn’t drink beer at all! So we made sure she had plenty of chocolate! How can you go wrong!! If anyone wants to know the ins and outs of every beer we tried – just comment below and we can see if we can get all of Greg’s notes. I love beer, but I’m not a connoisseur, so this is not a “beer tour of Belgium” post. The Belgians are very serious about their beer and they have a specific glass for each individual beer they brew! And to keep their brewery in the center of Bruges, but not incur the complications of trucking the beer to their bottling facility, De Halve Man literally put in a pipeline under the city that runs from their downtown brewery to their bottling facility on the outskirts of town. WHAT!?! Yeah, that’s really a thing.
But as a I mentioned above, our friend Betsy does not drink beer. And this trip wasn’t all about the beer! Europe is filled with culture from the architecture and the art to the street performers and the history. And Bruges did not disappoint. We saw the only Michaelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime, we saw a crazy art exhibit in a church contemplating art, science, and the human psychology. We saw the old windmills up close, and a giant whale jumping out of the canal sculpted entirely of plastic waste fished out of the ocean. We climbed something, as we always do. And we walked everywhere. This is what I loved most about Bruges. I think at least half of my instagram posts used the hashtag #walkeverywhere
And walk everywhere also means (to Frank and I) Walk down this crazy alley, you never know what you may find. And find indeed. We found what they believe to be one of the oldest operating pubs. I know I said this whole post wouldn’t be about beer, but hey, this family owned and operated pub had a great house beer and a really fun atmosphere. And we literally wandered aimlessly down this street in our attempt to make it to the windmills on the canal – so Frank for the win on this one!
I’ll leave you in Bruges with this: the liege waffle…more on that in Brussels
After a brilliant couple of days in Bruges we made our way on the local train to Brussels. By now we have been in Europe for 6 of our 10 days, and we have walked everywhere. I think we have mostly killed our friends, so it was nice to finish in Brussels where public transportation is more widely available, if not easier to use. Trams, buses, underground oh my! In Brussels we visited a Lambic brewery which is one of the only Lambic breweries who still make Lambic the old fashioned way with a natural population of yeast and no added sugar. Needless to say, Greg found this fascinating, and I wondered why exactly I was drinking something that looks like it needed dust, dirt, mold, bacteria and dead bugs to be considered “authentic”. (Says the girl who loves kombucha ;p
I said I would talk more about waffles, and so I will. Belgium is knows for Beer. Chocolate. Waffles. And the Belgian waffle isn’t exactly like we have in the US. They do make them like that, but the more common version is the liege waffle. It’s not typically eaten as breakfast food (although we did attempt to do that every day) and traditionally it is not eaten with toppings. However, in touristy fashion, you can get it with a load of different things on top, even as a lunch waffle with all kinds of goodness in the middle. Traditionally though, they have a layer of sugar in the center of the waffle dough, so when it is pressed (think bread dough not batter) into the waffle maker it melts into a sweet thin layer in the middle. And this is exactly why I wanted to go back to Belgium. I’ve been dreaming of these waffles for 15 years, and nothing does compare.
Yes, that is Frank standing next to a faux chocolate version of the peeing boy (mannequin di pis) which is about 100x larger than the actual statue. You guys, the statue is from the 1500’s, it’s a major tourist attraction, and seriously he is no bigger than a doll. You would walk right past it if there weren’t 1000 tourists stopping to take a picture. There is now a little girl statue (she is hard to find) and a dog too. Neither of them are really that popular, but while our friends were resting and Frank and I were restless, we went in search of her and stumbled upon the Delirium Bar. This complex includes 4 or 5 bars and takes up a whole block (it seems) so we sat down and tried a few! Who doesn’t love tiny pink elephants!
I had already been to Brussels, so there were a few places I wanted to see (oh, and more chocolate shopping – I think I brought back 10lbs of chocolate and I don’t even eat it). First we went to the square to see it in the day and night time. It’s just a cool place to stand and look at the architecture and the people. I wanted to see the orangery at the palace, sadly you can only go in maybe once a year, but we saw the palace from outside the gates. I wanted to see the gate, and we got to see the cadets practicing for what looked like a ceremony of some sort. And lastly, I wanted to see the Atomium which is one of the only buildings left from the worlds fair. And I love to climb stuff, but my vertigo really got me in the Atomium. I was green till we exited and I laid on the concrete slab bench to regain my equilibrium while the rest of them just chuckled at my need to do this! Afterwards we walked through what is now a park. It was really cool inside the Atomium where they had pictures of how the park looked during the fair. So crazy how different the landscape is after they pack it all up and take it away. We took it a little easier in Brussels. Less forced marching, more public transportation, and some slower paces including breaks to rest and eating dinner at the Drug Opera which was only around the corner from our rental. ( I’m not going to lament too much on the rental, but it was way harder to get into this apartment in Brussels through a major rental corporation then it was to get keys from the woman in London or access to the apartment in Bruges).
And then we made our way back to London to catch our flight home. But first, we find out that our rental apartment had a flood from the apartment above, had no electricity, and we can’t stay there. Oh yeah, fun. Nope! But we were able to secure a last minute hotel close enough to the airport to take the metro. There was nothing around there, so we had a great diner at a little Chinese restaurant and went to bed early and exhausted. Overall, the trip was wonderful! I don’t think I’ve seen enough of Belgium yet. I’d go back to Bruges in a heartbeat, skip Brussels since I’ve been there twice and it was almost a letdown after Bruges, and check out more of the countryside!