Doing Brussels in style

Trip Start Jun 23, 2007
Trip End Jun 25, 2007

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

The itch:
A little while ago, we went down to visit Karli and Richard, some expat kiwi friends in Newbury, about 1 hour east of London. We stayed the night, went out to dinner, exchanged travel stories, and basically got to feeling that yes, it was time we actually did one of the European city breaks one weekend. After all, that was the reason we came to live in merry old England, and we'd now sufficiently settled here that it was time to leave - temporarily.

The scratch:
Well, no sooner had we decided that than Karli remembered that they had a voucher for 2 nights' accommodation in Brussels sitting in the drawer. They went on to explain that about a year ago, they went to Brussels and their hotel had overbooked, so had booked them into another hotel and given them a voucher. Which was going to expire soon, did we want it? It might have been thirty seconds later we were on the Ryanair website looking for our flight.

When we got to Brussels, it was the first time we'd flown without lugging a twenty-kilo backpack each, which was itself a sort of holiday. After catching the bus into the city, we strolled easily (no backpack, I love this) to The Marriott - when our friends travel, they do it in style. They warned us that we could get used to this. We arrived at about 7am, and we must have looked like we'd just rolled out of bed because the hotel receptionist invited us in to have breakfast - on the house. I had expected that a 5-star hotel might have been a little snobby to a couple of un-moneyed voucherlings like us, but there was none of that. A little later, we checked into the finest room I'd ever seen, and reluctantly headed out to see the best of Brussels.

The Grand Plaza of Brussels is touted as one of the prettiest in Europe, and justifiably so. You are surrounded on all sides by towering stone buildings, each trying to be more ornate than the one next to it. The city hall is the largest and most lavish of them all, with an enormous central tower that dominates the surrounding blocks. And yet for all their gothic grandoise, you can't escape the feeling that they all seem a little... cold. But all of that is quickly forgotten when you step inside one of the many bars, where we tried a selection of beers, moving from blonde to fruity to blonde to nutty to licorice. I remembered a Stella Artois ad boasting that it was the reason why Belgium was invaded seven times in the last however-many years, and there might be a kernel of truth to that. This town can certainly turn out a fabulous beer. (Sorry Stella, Leffe gets my vote)

A little later, we head to one of the more unusual attractions in Brussels - the Toone Theatre. This puppetteering group has been run continuously by a family for the last 150+ years, and put on everything from kiddy theatre to mannekin-based opera performances (they were plugging their upcoming performance of Faust before the show). To top off the experience, we had a mulled wine (out of season, but who cares) downstairs to pass the time before the theatre. Our host looked like he was born inside a theatre, he looked exactly like what I'd always imagined Pinnochio's maker looked like. Judge for yourself.

We watched, captivated, to a performance of Alexander Dumas' classic The Three Musketeers. This is where I confess that I knew absolutely nothing of the story, except for a regrettable Leo Di Caprio movie that's best not mentioned. Fortunately, Clem's French skills were more than enough for me to get the gist of the storyline, and the swordfights and English-accented French were pretty much self-explanatory. There were even a few jokes thrown in about the quality of English food when one of the musketeers had to go there.

After a finest night's sleep I've had in the finest room I've ever been in, I was halfway tempted to buy the bed, which you can do for an outrageous price. I don't think it would have fit in the hand luggage. It was so comfortable that we almost missed the breakfast which finished at noon! But after flittering the previous night away on something cultural, it was time to get to the real attraction of Brussels. Chocolate.

The chocolate shops of Brussels are truly amazing. We soon discovered that if you just stare, non-commital, at their displays, then they usually let you pick a free sample each. After abusing this privelege half a dozen times, we did eventually get a few small boxes for various friends here in
Cambridge. Later that day, we found our way out to the Mannekin Pis and to the Cafe Delirium, which boasted over 3000 varieties of beer. Electing to stay in theme, we ordered a chocolate-flavoured beer. Now this may sound like one of those products which can't possibly taste as good as it sounds, but let me assure you that they pulled it off. Amazing. I'm not a beer afficionado at all, but staying in this city for long enough will turn anybody into one.

On our final morning in Brussels, we tossed up between walking a long way out to the EU parliament, and walking a short way to the brewery with guided tour, before we had to make our way to the airport. After careful consideration, and with fresh memories of the wonderful beers from last night, and the night before, the brewery won out. 

We spent two and a half days in Brussels, and it might have occurred to you that most of our photos show us eating, drinking or staring at chocolates, and that this blog talks about little else. This is not a coincidence - that's basically all we did in Brussels. And we loved it.
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dreamscope on

Beer and Chocolate!!
You guys sure are quick learners - you pick up on culture pretty darn fast!! Sounds like an awesome weekend, maybe I will have to divert there as well - I wouldn't get any argument from Ian!!
It's a great descriptive travelogue and so much fun to read - Thanks for taking the effort....

Crowne Plaza on

I have a hotel room available for anyone travelling to Brussels the weekend of May 13th-15th, 2011. I accidentally booked 2 rooms on Priceline and can't cancel it. The room is at Crown Plaza Hotel - Brussels Europa, close to Grand Place downtown Brussels and the price is $150US for the 2 nights. If you're interested, please e-mail me at Thanks.

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