You heard me right...Belgium! We had a 3-day weekend and wanted to take a quick trip. As it turns out, Brussels is only a 2-hour train ride from London, so we said \what the hell"! We hopped on the train, went through the Chunnel, took a left turn at Lille, and there we were standing in the Belgium sunshine!
In most big cities they don't put the train stations in the nice part of town, and Brussels is no exception. So our first impressions weren't completely favorable. Had we taken the time to figure out the Brussels subway system, we could have been to our hotel (and a much nicer part of town) in 20 minutes ...but we didn't, so we walked for over an hour. On the map, our hotel looks pretty close to the train station..and it is, if you walk a straight line right through buildings. Unfortunately, roads go in all sorts of different direction in Brussels (I hear other cities are like this, too), and it also doesn't help when we walk in completely the wrong direction a few times.
Finally, we made it to our hotel and immediately set out to explore Brussels. My 2nd impression of Brussels was that it was very "French"...most people spoke French and the architecture, shops, and cafes all had a French feel to them. We walked down to the World War monument which looked out over the city, and then took a weird elevator down to the older part of town. We stopped to get some frites at a roadside stand, and they had about 20 different sauces to choose from to dip our fries in! We chose Bearnaise sauce, and we chose well. Yum! We then walked over to see the Manneken Pis, which is the famous "little boy peeing" statue. Also, even though I have no evidence to this fact, this little statue might be where the word "piss" comes from. From there, we walked down a touristy shopping street with bizarre street performers, until we reached the oldest part of Brussels and it's main square - Grand Place.
The Grand Place - holy cow! Brussels didn't feel like France anymore...in fact, it didn't feel like any place we've ever been before! The architecture was simply awe-inspiring! We've never seen anything like it, and standing in the middle of the square we were completely surrounded by it! There's just no way I can think of to put it into words, and there's no way to capture all of it's stunning beauty in pictures, but check out the Photo Gallery anyway for just a glimpse of what it is like. After that, it was time for a lunch of escargot (1st time we've had them...pretty good!), mussels (from Brussels), more frites, and Belgian beer. More walking around the city, saw some churches and parks, then back to our hotel's neighborhood for dinner (we were basically still pretty full from lunch, but the food was so good we ate anyway...this would become a theme throughout our Belgium trip!).
The next day, we took a 1-hour train ride to Bruges. If you've seen the movie In Bruges, you've heard Bruges described as a fairytale town (and "how is a fairytale town not someone's f-ing thing?\")...and that hits the nail on the head. We've never seen a more quaint, fairytale place in our lives! It's a fairly small town with cute amazing ancient architecture, wonderful churches, horse-drawn carriages, canals...there's even a chocolate museum!
We walked through the cute side-streets and reached St. Saviour's Cathedral, which was very cool but we got kicked out because there was a service a noon. Walked down more cute, touristy shopping streets and reached Markt Square. More very cool architecture, and lots of horse-drawn carriages here (I checked the prices on the carriage rides, but they were a little steep for us). We had lunch al fresco at a cafe on the square. More walking, more cool and unique architecture, more fairytale quaintness! We decided to skip the Friet Museum (a museum dedicated to the history of French fries), but we went for the Chocolate Museum. It was pretty interesting learning about the history of Belgian chocolate, but I think Simone was hoping to be able to eat more of the displays...so we bought some yummy Belgian chocolates at one of the many, many chocolate shops that were everywhere.
We then made our way to Burg Square...more fairytale architecture! One building caught my eye as being out of place, though...it was very Gothic and kind of creepy looking. It turned out to be the Basilica of the Holy Blood, where the Relic of the Precious Blood resides. The story goes like this: after Jesus was taken down from the cross, Joseph of Arimathea washed the blood from Christ's body with a cloth and then preserved it. It was then brought to Bruges after the 4th Crusade against Constantinople in 1203. The gold and glass cylinder containing the relic dates from the year 1388. Honestly, there's no real hard evidence that the Relic of the Precious Blood is genuine, but if it is...words can't really describe how important this relic is. On the day we were there, the Relic was available for veneration. I've never really venerated anything before...I was a "veneration virgin", so to speak...but I walked up to the alter, placed a shaky hand on top of the Relic of the Precious Blood, closed my eyes, and simply asked Jesus to watch over my family. As I said before, no one can really say for sure if the relic in genuine, but it was an unnerving experience for me and I was left a bit shaken up by it. I'll just leave it at that.
More walking through fairytale town, and we ended our journey at The Church of Our Lady. There are some very cool works of art here, the most famous of which is Michelangelo's "Madonna and Child" sculpture. Not only is this a gorgeous work or art, it has survived for over 500 years, been stolen and returned twice, and still looks like Michelangelo finished it yesterday. Amazing.
On the train back to Brussels, we got kicked out of the practically empty 1st class section (we didn't know it was 1st class...and it was empty!) and were forced to pay extra because it was a "fast" train (it took about an hour to get to Brussels...um, that's not any faster). Nice. Oh, well...the next day we were back home in London, and we realized that we hadn't eaten 1 waffle while we were there. Oops...and that concludes our Belgium adventure!
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