About a month ago, Mr Man told me he was going on yet another business trip. I was getting a little frustrated about always being left behind and so I decided to opportunistically (read: stalkerishly) invite myself along. Because he was there for work, I spent most of my time exploring the trendy city of Brussels on my own. Here’s my travel diary for the 40ish hours I was there. Sit tight, buckle in, and enjoy the picture heavy post ahead…
I hopped on the Eurostar after work, armed with my camera, kindle and a guidebook and before I knew it, the train was pulling up into Brussels-Midi/Zuid where Mr Man stood waiting for me. (He’d arrived the day before…)
We jumped into a cab and headed on over to a little place called L’Amour Fou which I’d picked out in advance for dinner, based on Mr Man’s eternal love of burgers. The place had a really cool vibe, staff were friendly, although, there was a little bit of a language barrier. I liked how they actually had lit candles on the table too. I can’t count how many times I’ve been to a restaurant where they have candles on the table which have never seen a flame.
I opted for a mezcal chicken burger which arrived with a serving of fries and a generous salad. The presentation was great, and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in! I admire that the bread rolls are made in house, although, I did find them a little dense for my liking. The slice of chicken nestled within was quite thin meaning the chicken-to-bread ratio was off. But, the hand cut fries were pretty much perfection… And please, someone send me the recipe for the salad dressing they use!
Mr Man, on the other hand, (disappointingly) went for a mixed Mexican platter, named sombrero. It consisted of:
- Mushroom and cheese quesadillas – so simple but, oh, so good! (I think I ate at least half of his serving…)
- Individually prepared nachos – no need to worry about the equal distribution of toppings!
- Salad – mixed leaves topped with their great dressing, topped with a chicken breast. This was slightly dry and overcooked but had perfect grill lines.
- A trio of dips – cool soured cream, fresh salsa and creamy guacamole.
In terms of drinks, I chose a “Papa Douala,” a blend of hibiscus juice, lime, sugar cane, basil and sparkling water. I found the taste a bit bland, almost like it was too watered down and devoid of sugar. Mr Man’s drink, on the other hand, Mojito Mejico, in which they used ginger ale for an interesting twist, was really, really enjoyable.
As the night wore on, the place emptied out pretty quickly, it was a Tuesday evening after all.
We settled our bill and headed towards our hotel, The Hotel. It was a pretty plush hotel, loads of perfume sprayed in the corridors and lifts (personally, I prefer subtlety), stylish modern decor and overall an elegant feel to the place. Here are some pics (notably, not taken on the night that I arrived!):
The next morning, we rose nice and early and headed out to find some breakfast. We didn’t have to go too far before we stumbled upon the Workshop Cafe, and in the POURING RAIN, it was pretty ideal not to have to walk any further. It’s a cute little place with minimal decor and a friendly barista.
We both selected a pot of plain yoghurt with a sprinkling of crumbly biscuit on top. Whilst mine had a buttery taste, Mr Man’s had a lovely brown sugar flavour. Yum! His chai latte was great, creamy, smooth and infused with the typical spices. Whilst it’s not really my thing (I hate cardamom…), it was a damn good drink. I opted for fresh apple juice as they were out of orange. Light and just what I needed.
As it was drawing close to 9 am, Mr Man hopped in a cab to work whilst I braced myself for the torrential downpour outside. I decided that I’d brave it. I hadn’t come to another country to let a little bit of water get the best of me.
Love cobbled streets, even when they’re wet and slippery.
As I got to the main square, I decided to pop into a few shops to get away from the rain. I had a little peruse and ended up in this magical chocolate shop (it’s called Gourmet Chocolaterie Belge, but I couldn’t find it online to link back to) where I picked up a selection of gift boxes for friends, family and for me (and Mr Man!):
Next stop was Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, an old mall / corridor of high-end shops and cafes.
After having a little bumble around, I took a little peek outside, hoping that the rain had subsided. No luck. But I whipped out my umbrella and kept walking anyway.
I saw this guy, soaking wet with his collar up to trying to shield himself from the cold, pretty much captured exactly how I felt:
Pretty soon I got tired and decided to hop on the metro.
However, the ticket machines got the best of me. They only accept coins and I didn’t have enough to pay for a day pass. And as aaaall the shops were closed in the station, I headed back up to street level to find some change.
Luckily, by the time I resurfaced, the rain had finally come to an end! I decided to make the most of it and keep walking instead.
Made my way to Cinquantenaire, absolutely amazing architecture going on!
There are actually a couple of museums here, but I didn’t particularly fancy learning about the military or old cars so I decided to take a rain check, (ha, I make myself laugh sometimes!) and find some food instead. I stopped at a little place called Mamma Roma for lunch and opted for the lunch menu where you get two types of pizza and a drink for €8.90. Cheap and cheerful. They have all the options on display and once I placed my order, I watched the guy snip off a generous serving with some scissors before offering me a third option because they were low on one of my selections. He popped it in the oven to heat up whilst I jumped on a stool, plugged my phone in to charge, and got comfortable.
A few minutes later my lunch arrived on a wooden board. The melanzane was my favourite, with roasted aubergines and a generous drizzle of pesto, but, of course, it was a tiny slice. I also had some bufala (plain, simple and really good) and a variation with courgettes and feta (perfect balance of flavour with the sweet and tanginess). A lot better than I’d anticipated. The pizzas had a great base, crisp with a bit of chew. Simple, quality ingredients, and done right. Pretty much sums up Italian cuisine in a nutshell.
When both myself and my phone had recharged, I set off again.
I walked and walked and walked some more before I found a little farmer’s market.
Organic honey. Picked up a jar native to Brussels for Mr Man’s mum. It’s become a little tradition where ever we go!
Of course, fruit and veg!
Such pretty colours.
Aaaaaall the mushrooms.
At this point, I decided to head back to the hotel for a pit stop. My feet were pretty sore after all the walking.
Mr Man soon showed up and we decided to head back out for another stroll to find some dinner. A few blocks behind the hotel, we discovered a magnificent building, called the Palais de Justice. Can we just take a second to appreciate how beautiful this is?! It’s also HUGE.
It’s a shame that it’s currently under construction, but it’s still really impressive.
This is a side view without all the scaffolding.
There’s a point a few meters away from here, at which you can see a panoramic view of the roof tops of Brussels (Ascenseur des Marolles):
There’s a free lift which you can take down to the lower street level. We found ourselves walking towards the main square, but en route bumped into this famous little guy (Manneken Pis):
Did you know this little boy was stolen multiple times?!
We popped into the famous Maison Dandoy shop where they make amazing biscuits…
Saw a few lace and tapestry shops which Brussels is famous for:
Another thing Brussels is famous for is French fries. You can’t go many blocks in the centre of town without seeing places serving the delicacy that is twice fried chips with tonnes of different sauces. We stopped at a little place called Tabora Friterie for dinner. It’s a tiny little joint but was very, very busy (always a good sign!). There are no seats indoors, but there were a few stools outside.
We got a large portion to share and Mr Man opted for a some wings too. Traditionally, the sauce of choice is mayonnaise, but plain mayo doesn’t really do it for me, so I asked for some of the garlic variety instead. Coming from a chip lover, they were nearly perfect. Crisp exterior, fluffy pillowy centres; I only wish they were a bit chunkier, but, that’s probably the Brit in me and I suppose they are called fries and not chips… (I was too busy wolfing down the fries to remember to take a pic of the aforementioned wings, but let me be frank, don’t trouble yourself. Just order the fries.)
Continuing on with the street food theme we stopped at The Waffle Factory for some Belgian waffles, smothered in both milk and dark chocolate, the former for Mr Man, and the latter for me. These were slightly crisp and almost tender in the centre with a slight chew. I think they use yeast in the batter which makes them really light and fluffy.
Stomachs satisfied, we kept walking and met Manneken Pis’ lesser known, counterpart, Jeanneke Pis, hiding on a little side street…
I was pretty exhausted at this point. My pedometer said I’d walked 25km, so we started heading back to the hotel but decided to stop for a cheeky hot chocolate to share on the way. Unfortunately, this was not everything I’d hoped and dreamed it would be. n my mind I imaged a magical molten chocolate drink like the ones we’d had in Venice a few years back, but this was just a powder mix:
Just playing around with the focus:
The next morning, we woke bright and early once again. We went in the opposite direction for breakfast and opted for a little place called Bocca Moka. We were served still warm pastries and generous cups of coffee, which whilst nice, was a tad underwhelming. I dunno, I just have great expectations for my hot drinks from independent coffee shops.
As Mr Man headed back to work, I, armed with coins galore, hit the metro.
Half an hour or so later I arrived at Heysel station. The journey was pretty uneventful / uncomplicated. On the whole, if you can use a train in one European country, it’s more or less the same elsewhere. From the station, it’s a short walk to the Atomium.
I purchased my ticket and headed inside.
There are all sorts of exhibitions inside, covering everything from the conception of the Atomium to how humans / animals see!
Hand drawn sketches! No CAD here!
A mini theatre playing videos:
And of course, the view from the top!
You can also see a bird’s eye view of mini Europe. I checked out something similar in Istanbul called Miniaturk so I didn’t bother here. However, you can get combo tickets and save a few bob if you want to do both.
After a few hours of exploring, I made my way out and headed towards the tram stop. This is a bit of a longer walk than the metro, but still fairly close, about 15-20mins away. Weirdly, didn’t see a single person the whole way!
I headed towards the city centre where I was scheduled to meet Mr Man who had a half day.
Whilst I waited for his arrival, I popped into Pierre Marcolini and grabbed us a few little treats for later.
We met at the bustling Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert before heading towards an interesting Ethiopian restaurant that I’d found online. (Brussels has a large African population so I figured we should give it a go). Unfortunately, my research wasn’t thorough enough, because the restaurant only opened in the evening! Hungry and unimpressed, we hopped in the nearest open shop, Centrum of Kebab. Turkish it would have to be.
Here, Mr Man opted for a doner sandwich, and I a chicken shawarma wrap meal. What actually arrived was a doner sandwich and a doner wrap meal, but, not wanting to cause a fuss, I tucked in. It ended up being really enjoyable lunch. Good doner kebab, fresh salad and pretty decent chips (served with mayo).
With just a few hours to go before our train home, we went on a long walk back to the hotel. We saw a lot of street art on the way (some snaps are from the day before too). Comics and graffiti go way back in Brussels, they even have a museum dedicated to it! I believe Tintin can be attributed back to the city.
^ Yup, and that’s my favourite building in the background! I did some research over night and it turns out that you can actually go inside. Obviously, we just had to take a quick detour… These pictures do the place no justice. I was in awe.
- Wish we’d had more than just a quick 10mins to check the place out. I could have happily spent a few hours exploring! (And / or moved in…)
- Wish I had a wider angle lens to capture better pictures of the place.
Anyway, regrets aside, our time in Brussels had come to an end. We rushed back to the hotel before grabbing our bags and hopping in a cab to the train station. A few hours later, we had arrived back at King’s Cross and back to reality, with work the very next day!
But on the bright side, we had a small collection of sugary goodies to tuck into…