Belgium

Belgium: Wrap Up

After deciding to visit Amsterdam in April 2016 to see the tulips in bloom, we debated whether to spend the entire week of vacation in The Netherlands or add a second country. After weighing the pros and cons of each, we decided the pull to experience Belgium was greater than seeing more of The Netherlands. However, I absolutely loved Amsterdam and have no doubt that we will be going back to see more of The Netherlands in the future. I enjoyed our time in Brussels and Bruges, but I didn’t feel that pull and love I felt in Amsterdam. Brian enjoyed Belgium more than I did, but he loves beer more than I do so I’m not sure if that factored in at all. That’s not to say I wouldn’t want to re-visit Belgium, I would, it’s just not at the top of my re-visit list.

We also debated quite a bit on where to base ourselves. The most popular cities in Belgium to base yourself in seem to be Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, or Bruges. Granted there is plenty more to the country than those four cities, but knowing we wanted to branch out and visit more than one city, we wanted to base ourselves in one with easy connections. Originally that was going to be Bruges, but after deciding to make a day trip to Paris, we changed to Brussels as it was an easier connection both from Amsterdam and to Paris. Belgium has a lot to offer and you can make so many different things a focus when traveling there from food to beer to World War history to art. We chose the food and beer angle to our trip, as neither of us are huge war history buffs and we had made art a focus in Amsterdam so we wanted something different for the second half of our trip. Therefore in this guide, I won’t be giving much information on war history so if you are looking for advice on the battlefield sights, you will have to look elsewhere. Sorry!

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Belgian Cuisine

Like I stated in my Amsterdam/Dutch food wrap up, I didn’t know much about Belgian cuisine other than it featuring beer and chocolate to some extent. Spending a few days in Belgium isn’t enough to learn all there is to know about the food scene, we did learn it’s a unique mix of food culture. We didn’t get to try many of the more popular traditional Belgian main courses due to a variety of other choices we made which I will explain as I go. This just gives us a better reason to come back and try those traditional dishes.

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Bruges Other Sights (EuroTrip Day 7)

I finally have reached the end of our April 2016 trip to Amsterdam and Belgium. I will have two more posts wrapping up the Belgian food scene and a wrap up post of other tips, but this is the final activities post. This post details how we spent the rest of our day after our morning visiting the Markt Square and a taking canal cruise.

After our canal cruise, we were a bit chilled from the wind so we headed to the famous Old Chocolate House to warm up with cups of hot chocolate. They have a shop on the ground floor, but the real attraction is visiting their second floor tea room for the hot chocolate. Reviews also mention they serve tasty waffles, but we just opted for the hot chocolate. When you order hot chocolate, they bring out a bring cup of steaming milk with cups of whichever type of chocolate you ordered. You can add as much of the chocolate to the cup of milk as you like. We both dumped in the whole cup of chocolate into the milk. It’s simply perfection. I went with the white chocolate option, while Brian chose the Ecuadorian Dark Chocolate option.

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Bruges Canal Cruise (EuroTrip Day 7)

We had taken a canal cruise while in Amsterdam, but we weren’t going to miss taking a second canal cruise while in Bruges. A Bruges canal cruise is a more simple affair than in Amsterdam. You don’t have the options of pizza cruises and booze cruises, or at least that we found. But we enjoyed our small boat canal cruise through Bruges. There are several tour start and end locations, so basically chose whichever one is most convenient for you. During peak season and times, there can be a wait for a cruise. We did ours fairly early in the morning when we noticed the sun was starting to peak out. There wasn’t a long line and while we had to wait a little bit before the next cruise left, we got on the first one that left after we paid.

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Bruges Markt Square Area (EuroTrip 2016 Day 7)

For our final day in Belgium, we took a day trip to Bruges (or Brugge) from Brussels. Originally we had planned on basing ourselves in Bruges over Brussels, but the easier connections to various cities made Brussels a more logistical choice. We made visiting Bruges on a day trip a priority however. Bruges is a popular day trip choice from multiple cities throughout Europe and therefore tends to be very crowded in the middle of the day between 10am-4pm. I would love to come back here and be able to stay overnight and experience a completely different city. However, we did make a very early train from Brussels to Bruges and arrived before 9am.

Domestic train travel within Belgium is incredibly easy and all you have to do is buy a ticket for your destination and you can take any train that day. It provides nice flexibility on when to arrive and depart from a city and allowed us freedom once in Bruges without having to worry about making a certain train on the way back. Upon arriving in Bruges, you can easily take a bus into the city center but it’s not a very far walk and thus that was our choice. As a nice bonus, the city was fairly empty and quiet still and we enjoyed walking the streets and having them mostly to ourselves. This changed quickly and by the time we walked back to the train station at the end of the day, there were plenty of people everywhere.

Bruges

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Brussels Upper Town (EuroTrip Day 6)

Our last day in Brussels was spent visiting a variety of sights around the city. We had started our morning at Atomium, but were slightly underwhelmed by the attraction. Upon returning to the main tourists part of Brussels, we spent some time wandering around Lower Town again where we got to witness the Manneken Pis costume revealing ceremony. We had lunch reservations at a Michelin starred restaurant, Sea Grill, for lunch. I will detail that more in my food wrap up of Brussels. That took up most of our last day in Brussels, but we did have a little time left before attractions closed so we headed to the Upper Town area.

This will be a relatively short post as we didn’t have the opportunity to spend a lot of time in Upper Town. The Upper Town in Brussels surrounds the Royal Palace and is characterized by marble buildings and broader boulevards when compared to Lower Town. The majority of the city’s main museums are located here, though there are a few in Lower Town and a few even further away from the main districts.

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Atomium (EuroTrip Day 6)

After a day trip to Paris on Thursday, we spent Friday back in Brussels. To start the morning, we planned to head to the famous attraction, Atomium. It’s located a bit outside of town so it does involve more than walking to get there. We ended up arriving about 30 minutes before it opened by accident. I had written the opening time down wrong and it was an absolutely brutally windy, rainy morning. Unfortunately, there is absolutely nothing around there in regards to coffee shops or places to go inside. We ended up finding a bench sheltered by some trees to kill time until it opened. There is a coffee shop and café on sight, but it didn’t open until the same time as Atomium itself.

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The Brussels Journey: Chocolate and Beer Tour (EuroTrip Day 4)

How can you go to Brussels and not partake in a chocolate and beer tasting tour? I had stumbled across a chocolate only tasting tour on another travel blog and upon looking more into it more, I came across the Brussels Journey chocolate and beer tasting tour. After reading the glowing reviews on Trip Advisor and browsing the website, we booked the tour for our first afternoon in Brussels. It was an incredibly informative and fun afternoon spent sampling chocolate and beer. You also get a mini walking tour of the city between the tasting places and our guide pointed out a lot of things we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. He also pointed out decent places to eat amidst the more touristy geared restaurants.

We especially liked that the tour focused solely on the lesser known chocolatiers in Brussels. We didn’t visit the household names of Godiva and Neuhaus, but the smaller shops that are still primarily located in Brussels. Our first stop was Chocopolis. The Chocopolis store location was very near our hotel and close to the Galeries Royales St. Hubert. The store opened in 2006 and is unique in that they produce their chocolates inside their store location eliminating transportation of the produced chocolates. Unfortunately when we were there, they weren’t actively producing any chocolates. It was still neat however to see the set up of how they make the chocolates. At Chocopolis, we tried just one chocolate truffle (or praline as they are known in Belgium), a 66% dark chocolate with chili flavor inside. While it wasn’t my favorite chocolate of the tour as I’m not a big chili fan, it was a good introduction to Belgian chocolate and Brian especially enjoyed this one.

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Christmas Ornaments 2016

I meant to have this post come out yesterday on Christmas, but I totally forgot all about finishing it until this morning. Anyways as we have a tradition of buying an ornament from each of our trips (or each country if we visit more than one on a vacation), here is our round up of 2016 Christmas ornaments.

EuroTrip 2016: Klomp shoes from Amsterdam, Beer mug from Belgium, and an Eiffel Tower from Paris

EuroTrip 2016 ornaments

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Brussels Lower Town (EuroTrip Day 4 & 6)

After spending three days in Amsterdam, we took an early train from Amsterdam to Brussels. We visited Brussels in mid April 2016, relatively soon after the Brussels terrorist attacks. We had many questions from family and friends before leaving if we should continue to visit Brussels, but we brushed them off. Anything could happen anywhere, anytime. Heck, we could have gotten in a car accident on our way to the airport in Ohio. While it did change some of the atmosphere in Brussels and led to a complication regarding flights home when a flight was canceled a few days before we were due to fly home; I am so incredibly happy we didn’t change our plans. We noticed more security at the train station than normal probably and we passed several armed military personal throughout the city. But honestly, it was probably the safest time to be in Brussels.

After checking into our hotel, Hotel le Dixseptieme, we headed out for the rest of the morning. The hotel was in an excellent location, just a few minutes walk to both the train station and Grand Place. It was a nice hotel and we had an incredibly nice and large hotel room on the top floor. The staff was also very helpful in guiding us on the best way to get to the airport with several means of transportation closed due to the Brussels attacks. We did not have breakfast included in our stay, but there are plenty of places to eat breakfast around the hotel.

Lower Town in Brussels in the primary tourist district and surrounds the Grand Place (or Grote Markt). Brussels is both French and Dutch speaking so all sights and names will have translations in both languages. Also due to the European Union headquarters, English is also highly common here. Our first stop was to step briefly into the Galeries Royales St. Hubert. Construction on the complex was completed in 1847 and is Europe’s oldest still operating shopping mall. This complex was actually the inspiration for Paris’s many famous shopping galleries. It’s a gorgeous shopping gallery and also has restaurants in addition to shopping boutiques. We walked through here several times while in Brussels at various times of day. The first time was early in the morning and was the only time it was fairly empty.

Galleries Royales St. Hubert

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