It would have been far more convenient to have Friday’s free in order to have three days in a row to travel, but instead I have Wednesdays off. C’est la vie, right? This is how I ended up with only one full day in Brussels, and depending on what you want to see, it works. I took an evening eurostar train to Brussels-midi, pulled out my map and began my trek to the hotel. I chose a hotel close to the station since I was arriving late, and in the dark. I have to say, it has been fine traveling on my own in Europe, though it’s not for everyone, especially women.
Brussels is interesting for many reasons; the main one is the fact that the city has three official languages because of its territorial history: Dutch, French and German. French is what you should know as a tourist. Many shops in the Grand Place have at least one person that speaks some English, but I found Brussels far more challenging than Paris from the perspective that I needed to speak far more French. Ultimately that was good for me, it pushed me out of my comfort zone and gave me a chance to have conversations in French, which does not happen nearly enough for a person attempting to become fluent or passable.
It was about a twenty-minute walk from my hotel to the Grand Place, where almost everything one would want to see is located. On the way, I passed through several great neighborhoods with funky stores and fabulous old architecture with tons of iron balconies that had a similar feel to Paris. By the time I arrived, I needed coffee. After a few photos, I stopped at La Rose Blanche for an espresso at the outdoor patio. It was so cold out I kept the coat and gloves on. It is a great place to people watch and Brussels is gearing up for the Holidays. As I drank my coffee workers were putting up a massive tree and Christmas display. I walked around, shopped, and walked some more. I wouldn’t bother with a metro card for Brussels; everything is basically in a circle in the center of town. I plotted out what I wanted to see before hand and just went from point to point. Next, I went to the Palais de Justice, then the Palais Royal and across the street to the Brussels Park. With only one day, I skipped the museums, but there are sculptures and statues everywhere, including the famous Manneke Pis (the little boy peeing), and stores full of cool artwork.
By this point, I was in need of some food. I wandered back down passed the Grand Place and over to Jules Van Praet Street, which I highly recommend because there are options for everyone, and it is quieter than the square. It is where the business people go for lunch. On the corner facing the main street, there is an Iris Pub, a Golden Arches and a Burger King, but when you walk down Jules Van Praet there is an Indian restaurant and three Thai/Vietnamese restaurants. I went to Reves D’Asie (Thai-Viet) and it ranks as one of the top five meals of my travels since August. The décor is a fabulous mix of traditional Asian Buddha’s and vintage furniture embedded in the walls and one minute a traditional Thai song played, followed by Belgian dance/rap music. The food – amazing.
I went back out into the cold and headed for Place du Grand Sablon, basically – shopping and churches. I wandered through the surrounding areas, including the Grand Place to make a final pass for Belgian chocolate and then I headed off to a pub for a dark Belgian beer.
Finally, I made my back to the train station. I grabbed food at the station for the train ride home and within two hours, I was back in London. Brussels is a place I could spend far more time in. For me, it had a similar feel to Budapest, where I felt very at home.