Back to the land of beers and waffles

In January 2018 me and some friends from work decided to go on a weekend trip to Brussels. The four of us came from such different countries, but we all enjoy the same things: belgium beer, chocolates and waffles.

Facts about the city:

About 27 percent of the residents in Brussels are not Belgium citizens.

Chips, also commonly known as French Fries were invented in Brussels. In fact, in almost all the eateries in the city, you will find a variation of French Fries being served.

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It was my third time in Brussels. Me and some colleagues from work – Rina (from Japan), Florian (from France) and Sherif (from Egypt) – decided to buy a cheap weekend trip together with Ryanair. We left work on a Friday to go straight to the airport, to come back on a Sunday night, ready to work again the next day. We stayed for two nights in a nice hostel called Brxxl 5, located in Rue de Woeringen 5, 10 minutes away from the Grand-Place.

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We arrived at night. We left our stuff at the hostel and went for a walk to see the Grand-Place at night. This is the central square of Brussels. It is surrounded by opulent guildhalls and two larger edifices, the city’s Town Hall, and the King’s House or Breadhouse, a building containing the Museum of the City of Brussels. The square is the most memorable landmark in Brussels and it’s considered one of the most beautiful squares in Europe.

After that, we went for some typical frites (french fries, that were invented in Brussels) and for some beers in a nice pub. Brussels is a major trader of beer, waffles and chocolate. There are more than 800 brands of beer on sale in Brussels. We passed many walls on houses in Brussels that are covered with comic book references.

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The next day we woke up early in the morning and had breakfast in a nice coffee place. At 10.30 am we started a free walking tour around Brussels, that started in Grand-Place, organized by Bravo Discovery.

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The tour took us to many places like the Galleries Royales Saint-Hubert (Europe’s oldest shopping arcade), the Manneken Pis and the Jeanneke Pis, among others.  The Manneken Pis is a landmark small bronze sculpture with 61 cm, depicting a naked little boy urinating into a fountain’s basin. It was designed by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy and put in place in 1618. The statue embodies the sense of humor of people from Brussels and their independence of mind.

The Jeanneke Pis is similar, but it’s the statue of a girl peeing. They say that if you throw a coin there, she will make your partner be faithful to you. The guide also showed us a nice place to eat waffles, from 1829. After the tour, we went to have lunch at Quick and then we spent the afternoon shopping at Primark, Sports Direct, etc.

At night we went to have dinner in a really nice restaurant called Chez Leon, where we tried the famous mussels. After dinner, we tried to go to Delirium bar but it was packed so we ended up in two other pubs, once called Brasserie Lombard and the other one I don’t remember the name but it was amazing because the music selection was awesome (class rock hits). After that, we went to a famous chocolate shop to buy some famous Belgian chocolates for ourselves.

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The next day we woke up went to take a look at a flea market close to our hostel and had an amazing breakfast there. For this last day we decided to have lunch in a Thai restaurant where the food was delicious.

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In the afternoon we went to see Manneken Pis again and then we walked to the Petit Sablon garden (very beautifully decorated with some nice statues) and to Mont des Arts. This area, situated between the Royal Palace and the Grand Place, offers one of Brussels’ finest views. After that, we had some rest in a cosy coffee place called Les gens que j’aime.

We visited the Chocolate Museum, where a man explained us how they make the real Belgian chocolate. The chocolate demonstration is quite satisfactory as you watch the chocolate go from liquid to hard shell and then taste the result. It lasts for about 15 minutes and you are offered chocolate to taste throughout the routine – he speaks English and French throughout the demonstration.

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After a last walk in the center, we went back to the airport. It was a nice weekend trip that allowed us to have a break from the routine and to get to know each other better.

BUDGET:

  • Flights: 49€
  • Accommodation: 50€
  • Chocolate Museum: 6€
  • Dinner at Chez Leon: 20€

 

Exploring Belgium alone

In September 2016 I decided to travel alone for the first time ever, in a safe familiar country that I have visited before. I re visited Brussels like a local and discover new cities like Ghent and Antwerp.

 

BRUSSELS

Facts about the city:

Brussels sprouts have been grown in Belgium for over 700 years.

Brussels is a major trader of beer, waffles and chocolate. There are more than 800 brands of beer on sale in Brussels. Also French Fries were invented in Brussels.

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I had visited Belgium before. Back then I visited Brussels and Brugge. I didn’t enjoy Brussels a lot during my first visit because it was raining a lot and we didn’t stay in the city for a long time. This time my experience in Brussels was quite different.

Before the trip I had met an Italian guy here in Porto, Fabio, though Couchsurfing. He lives in Brussels. Since we got along, he invited me to visit him in Brussels and that’s how the idea for trip came up. It was my first trip alone. But the truth is that I didn’t spend a lot of time alone in Brussels because I was almost always with him.

I went to revisit some of the main monuments (Grand PlaceJardin du Petit Sablon and Mont des Arts) and got to know Parc du Cinquentenaire, that I haven’t visited before.

Most buildings of the U-shaped complex which dominate the park were commissioned by the Belgian government for the 1880 National Exhibition commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Belgian independence. The centerpiece triumphal arch was erected in 1905. The Royal Military Museum has been the sole tenant of the northern half of the complex since 1880. The southern half is occupied by the Cinquantenaire Museum and the Auto World Museum. The Temple of Human Passions, a remainder from 1886, and the Great Mosque of Brussels from 1978 are located in the north-western corner.

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We also went to Musée Magritte, to see the work of the surrealist artist René Magritte. The Magritte Museum opened to the public on 30 May 2009. It displays some 200 original Magritte paintings, drawings and sculptures including The ReturnScheherazade and The Empire of Lights.

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We went to a coffee place in the rooftop of a building – Musée des Instruments de Musique de Bruxelles, close to Mont des Arts, that has an amazing view to the city. The museum itself is internationally renowned for its collection of over 8,000 instruments.

We were also in a big park close to St. Gilles, where Fabio lives. The weather was good and the park was full of people enjoying the sun. There we took a boat to an island in the middle of the park, where there’s a coffee place that is really nice.

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In one of the nights we went to have dinner in a restaurant with almondegas with different sauces. We also took breakfast in a place where we ate Moroccan crepes. Once Fabio organized a dinner at his place so I could meet his friends, all from different nationalities. It was very nice.

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We also went out together. We went to a square with a lot of bars and pubs to drink belgium beer in a bar called Maison du Peuple. We even took pictures together in a vintage machine there. I had a lot of fun!


 

GHENT

Facts about the city:

Ghent promotes a meat-free day every Thursday called Donderdag Veggiedag. Vegetarian food is promoted in dining rooms and public schools. Ghent is said to have the world’s largest number of vegetarian restaurants per capita.

Ghent is known for purple cone-shaped, jelly-filled candies called cuberdons or neuzekes (‘noses’). You can buy Ghent noses at street stalls that specialize in these overly-sweet candies.

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Even though in Brussels I was always with my friend, in Ghent and Antwerp that didn’t happen. I took the train in the morning to St. Pieters station. The ticket is 9€ and it takes about half an hour. The station is a bit far from the center: you can walk, but I don’t recommend it because it’s not beautiful. I recommend taking the tram number 1 and get off in Korenmarkt. The ticket is 1,20€.

Ghent is a beautiful medieval town, very similar to Brugge, but smaller. In the map below you can see the route I did, that allowed me to see the main places and monuments in the city. It’s 1,3 km and just 16 minutes walking. That’s why I chose to visit Ghent and Antwerp in the same day, because you can see both really fast.

I really enjoyed sitting there next to the Graslei and Korenlei ports. Graslei is a quay located on the right bank of the Leie river. The quay opposite of the Graslei is called Korenlei. Both quays were part of the medieval port and are now a cultural and touristic hotspot of the city, with a high concentration of cafe patios. Today these ports are surrounded by historical buildings and they are the heart of the city.

I went to a small wooden bridge called Grasbrug, as well as St. Michels bridge, and from Koranlei I enjoyed the view to Graslei.

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I visited St. Bavo Cathedral, from 1559. The masterpiece inside this church is the painting “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” from Jan van Eyck, 1432. I didn’t go inside to see it unfortunately.

I also went to see the Belfry and St. Nicholas church. Belfry is the symbol of independence. It was built in 1313 and it’s 91m tall. The panoramic view from the top is higher than the one from Gravensteen, but less central. St. Nicholas church is next to Belfry. Despite being older than St. Bavo’s, it’s more preserved. The sculptures are really nice.

Gravensteen is a medieval castle in the middle of the city. The present castle was built in 1180 by count Philip of Alsace. The castle served as the seat of the Counts of Flanders until they abandoned it in the 14th century. The castle was then used as a courthouse, a prison and eventually decayed. Houses were built against the walls and even on the courtyard. They wanted to demolish it but in 1885 the city bought it and started the renovation project. The newly built houses were removed and the walls and keep were restored to their original condition.

The castle has been repaired enough to allow people to travel through it and climb on top. It has a nice view from the top. Inside is a museum with various torture devices (and a guillotine) that were historically used in Ghent. Getting out of the castle, we see a nice square with historic buildings. The Sint Veerleplein is today one of the most touristic squares, with several bars.

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It was a shame that there was a lot of restoration works going on and a lot of the monuments were covered. I stopped in a coffee place for a bit and I spoke on the phone with my best friend for a long time, it felt nice. Finally, I went to McDonalds to eat and then went back to the train station, to continue my trip in Antwerp.


 

ANTWERP

Facts about the city:

While the country of Belgium has three different official languages including Dutch, French and German, the official language of the Antwerp province is Dutch, as in all Flemish provinces.

Between 80 and 90 percent of the world’s rough diamonds, and 50 percent of its cut diamonds are traded in Antwerp each year, earning the city the “The World’s Capital of Diamonds” moniker

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Even though Antwerp is not so beautiful, I preferred the vibe of this city. Or maybe it’s just because I got more comfortable traveling alone. So comfortable I even had people asking me for information on the streets, thinking I was a local. Like Ghent, you can visit this city really fast.

I arrived at the train station, Antwerpen-Centraal, considered in 2014 the most beautiful one in the world. The ticket from Brussels is 7€ and it takes about 50 minutes.

To get to the city center, I walked along Meir, one of the main commercial streets in the country. The street is huge and you can find all the famous brands and a lot of coffee places and restaurants.

 

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I visited the Cathedral of Our Lady, with its giant towers. It took them 170 years to build it and it was finished in 1521. The project for the second tower, however, mas never finished and they don’t have the same size today. It contains a number of significant works by the painter Rubens.

I continued in the direction of the Grote Markt, the colorful main square, with a lot of flags from different countries. You can see the Town Hall there, built in 1565 and the Brabo statue. He was a mythical Roman soldier who is said to have killed a giant who asked money from people who wanted to pass the bridge over the river Scheldt. When they didn’t want to or couldn’t pay, he cut off their hand and threw it in the river.

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I went for a walk close to the sea and the castle. The Castle of Het Steen is a medieval fortress built in 1200. It used to be a prison and now is a memorial of the II World War. In front of the castle is Lange Wapper, a statue of a guy who people say used to chase the drunk men in the city. It was a busy but cool day. This trip was very important to me, because it made me think about everything in my life.

 

Bruges, the fairy tale city

In the summer of 2014 I went to two Belgium cities: Bruges and Brussels. Without a doubt I preferred Bruges, a medieval town very charming and beautiful. It reminded me of fairy tales and great love stories!

 

BRUGES

Facts about the city:

The history of the swans dates back to the middle ages. People from Bruges were unhappy with Emperor Maximilian of Austria and his adviser Pieter Lanckhals. The two were captured and Lanckhals was executed in front of Maximilian. He escaped and punished the people from Bruges decreeing that they would have to keep swans on the canals and lakes forever to remember what they did. Swans have long necks, which in Dutch means lanckhals, the last name of his executed adviser.

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I loved Bruges! It is undoubtedly on my top favorite cute places in Europe. Bruges is an old medieval town, full of cute waterways. Ricardo and I stayed at the Hostel Bruges Inn Center (now called Hostel 28) on Dweersstraat 28. We paid €104 for two nights, so €26 a night each.

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I loved the Burg or Markt, which is the main square of the city, which also has the Town Hall and the Belfry. In the center of the market stands the statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck.

The Belfry is a medieval bell tower and one of the city’s most prominent symbols. A narrow, steep staircase of 366 steps leads to the top of the 83 m high building. The building is a central feature of the 2008 film In Bruges and is also mentioned in the novel Cloud Atlas.

 

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I loved the other square where there is the Basilica of the Sacred Blood. Originally built in the 12th century as the chapel of the residence of the Count of Flanders, the church houses a venerated relic of the Holy Blood of Christ.

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I really liked the area of Beginhof, which is a collection of houses surrounded by beautiful water channels with ducklings. The entrance bridge is from 1776. The beguinage used to be like a small city. The women had everything they needed in there, such as plantations and church. The place had its own rules, the women living in there were protected within the beguinage in case they committed anything illegal outside of its walls.

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I really liked this area too, Quay of the Rosary (Rozenhoedkaai). Being one of the most photographed sites throughout the city of Bruges, the Quay of the Rosary is one of the most beautiful sights of this Belgian city with its canals and classic buildings.

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The Onze Lieve Vrowekerk (Church of our Lady) is also beautiful. I took pictures of a bridge with this church in the background that look amazing. Its tower, at 115 m, remains the tallest structure in the city and the second tallest brickwork tower in the world.

 

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I enjoyed the walks we did to the Jan Van Eyck Square area. Here we had dinner at an Italian restaurant and also went to some bars to drink some typical Belgian beers, with red fruits. The square is named for noted Northern Renaissance painter Jan van Eyck.

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In Simon Stevin Square we also drank some beers. As we went there during the World Cup 2014 games, we went to a square to watch the game Belgium vs. Germany and it was crazy. We ordered the most expensive beers, all fancy, and then we ran away without paying in the middle of the crowd.

We then saw the second part of the game for some sort of giant outdoor pavilion with giant screens. Belgium lost and was eliminated but even so it was super fun. Another typical thing we did there was eating chips with a special sauce. And waffles, of course.

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I loved the fact that we rented bicycles and rode all over the city like that, past all the canals, parks, lakes and picturesque mills.

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BRUSSELS

Facts about the city:

The city is home to 40,000 EU employees, 4,000 NATO employees and hosts about 300 permanent representations: lobby groups, embassies and press corporations.

Many walls on houses in Brussels are covered with comic book references – so look up when you walk the city.

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After Bruges, we went to Brussels for two days. The trains in Belgium are really modern, with two floors and everything. I liked Bruges much more than Brussels. We were not lucky in Brussels because it was raining a lot. In addition, in Brussels, Ricardo and I had some fights. The city is nothing special. We stayed at Hotel Sabina. We paid € 47 for one night in a double room, so we paid €23.50 each. It is on Rue du Nord 78.

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I liked the Grand-Place, with its nice buildings. We had dinner in a Greek restaurant close to this square.

This is the central square of Brussels. It is surrounded by opulent guildhalls and two larger edifices, the city’s Town Hall, and the King’s House or Breadhouse, a building containing the Museum of the City of Brussels.  The square is the most memorable landmark in Brussels. It is also considered as one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998.

We visited the Manneken Pis. This is a landmark small bronze sculpture with 61 cmdepicting a naked little boy urinating into a fountain’s basin. It was designed by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy and put in place in 1618. The statue embodies the sense of humour of people from Brussels and their independence of mind.

We went to the Cathedral of St. Michael and Sta. Gudula and the Galleries Royales Saint-Hubert. The Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert is Europe’s oldest shopping arcade.

We visited the church of Notre Dame du Sablon. Close to the church, there’s the Petit Sablon square and garden, very beautiful decorated with some nice statues.

In this trip we also went to the Palais Royal, which is the official palace of the King and Queen of the Belgians. However it is not used as a royal residence, as the king and his family live in the Royal Palace of Laeken on the outskirts of Brussels. The palace is situated in front of Parc de Bruxelles.

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Close to the Royal Palace, you have the Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg church. In front of this church, you have Mont des Arts. I really liked Mont des Arts. We sat there watching the sunset, with the silhouette at the bottom of the buildings of the Grand-Place.

To give the area, situated between the Royal Palace and the Grand Place, a better look during the Universal Exposition held in Brussels in 1910, the king ordered the landscape architect Pierre Vacherot to design a ‘temporary’ garden on the hill. The Mont des Arts offers one of Brussels’ finest views.

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Finally, we visited the Parlamentarium, very interesting and interactive. The Parlamentarium is the visitors’ centre of the European Parliament The official opening was in 2011. The permanent exhibition contains hundreds of multimedia components, explaining the European Parliament and other European Union institutions. All content in the Parlamentarium is available in the 24 official EU languages.

The European Parliament has three places of work – Brussels (Belgium), the city of Luxembourg (Luxembourg) and Strasbourg (France). Luxembourg is home to the administrative offices (the “General Secretariat”). Meetings of the whole Parliament (“plenary sessions”) take place in Strasbourg and in Brussels. Committee meetings are held in Brussels.