In addition to exploring London, one of our big priorities is to do a lot of traveling while living abroad. Mike and I have always loved visiting new places: experiencing the culture, seeing the sights and of course sampling the food! We know things will be quiet for a while after the baby comes; therefore we wanted to get one small trip in before he arrives. The opportunity arose to go to Belgium for the weekend, so we took it.
We decided to stay in Brussels and do a few day trips to surrounding towns. Normally for close destinations we prefer to travel by train because you avoid the hassle of line-ups at the airport and it is convenient to travel to and from the city centre instead of going to the airports. However it seems that cheap train fares are usually found if you can book in advance and it was more cost effective for us to fly. For a few years now our go to accommodation has been apartment/flat rentals. We find it is a great way to feel like a local. You can immerse yourself in a quaint, trendy neighbourhood, have way more space than a hotel room and self cater some simple breakfasts or lunches with all the wonderful things you find at the markets. I’ve noticed a lot of rentals seem to be baby friendly offering pack and plays/travel cots and highchairs, so it’s good to know we can continue to do this once the baby arrives.
It was a bit of a cold, drizzly weekend, but it didn’t stop us from exploring! In fact, the weather provided a lot of opportunities to warm up with all the delicious Belgian food I was hoping to eat! I told Mike he could have the beer and I would handle the rest. We enjoyed warm waffles drizzled with caramel sauce or dusted with sugar served with hot chocolate as well as paper cones of steaming frites doused in mayo. Our top choices for these must-have Belgian indulgences were:
- Maison Dandoy for artisan waffles
- The 1€ waffle stand beside Manneken Pis for a cheap treat on the go
- Any of the fancy chocolate shops in the Grand Sablon area for hot chocolate (Pierre Marcolini, Neuhaus or Wittamer to name a few)
- Maison Antoine in Place Jourdan for frites
We stayed very close to Grand Place, the central square of the city. It has some stunning architecture, especially when lit up at night. Nearby is the famous landmark, Manneken Pis. It is a small bronze statue depicting a naked boy urinating into a fountain and is a symbol of the rebellious spirit of the city. It has become a bit of a tradition for famous visitors and political guests of the city to honor him with a suit or costume when they visit. He now has over 800 outfits, which are kept on display at the Museum of the City of Brussels. It’s funny to see how big the hype is for such a little guy!
We had a Sunday to spend in Brussels on the day we left and knew a lot of things would be closed. The Marolles is one of Brussels’ main working class neighborhoods and shops often stay open on Sunday. It also has one of Brussels’ biggest flea markets on Place du Jeu de Balle. We enjoyed rummaging through the antique ornaments, jewelry and paintings, but did not find any hidden treasures. We also visited one of Brussels’ main multicultural markets, which is by the Brussels midi station. Perhaps all the wonderful markets we have seen in France and even London have spoiled us, but we weren’t that impressed by this one. It had a lot of repetitive stalls and also a lot of knick-knacks that we weren’t interested in. Both of these markets are only open on Sunday.
When looking up some places to eat ahead of time, we knew we wanted to have some seafood. We were not disappointed with the famous Noordzee – Mer du Nord in beautiful Place Sainte Catherine. It is a fish stall on one side and a huge counter on the other serving up fresh seafood to the many fans. You can eat standing up at the bar or at any high top table or bench in the square. One thing is for sure; it is always packed with locals and tourists enjoying a glass of crisp white wine and some unbelievably fresh seafood! We enjoyed a few meals here, even when we had to huddle under the canopy because it had started to rain. We tried their delicious seafood soup, razor clams, fried haddock, grilled shrimp and mackerel.
I’ll share our day trips to Antwerp and Bruges next time!