We have been back for almost two weeks now and our magical European vacation seems like a dream. Since we touched down around midnight that Saturday, we’ve had to throw ourselves back into reality, leaving little room to sit back and absorb all the things our eyes have seen and all the places our feet have roamed. Hence why I find my mind going there in the quiet moments of my day, like when I cross over Congress bridge (this is so different than the Charles Bridge in Prague!), walk around downtown at lunch (where are all of the bustling Parisian cafes?), make breakfast/lunch/dinner (remember the cheese? the croissants? the waffles?! Maybe you should have a salad…) and close my eyes at night (I dream about Giverny…and crepes) and open them in the morning (Where am I going to explore today?!! Oh yea…work.)
When we boarded the flight from Austin almost a month ago (!!!), my mind was still swirling with things I left behind at work and in our apartment (did I send that email? Did I turn the stove off after I never turned it on? What if I needed to bring those extra three tops? Do we have time to go back if I forgot my passport?!). I couldn’t believe that we were ACTUALLY going to Europe! While we have certainly made a lot of moves here in the States (literally and figuratively), when I left Italy after studying abroad in college, I never imagined I would have hit “pause” on my international travels for such a long time. And yes, while there was that time I traveled to CHINA, I had been dreaming about the day I could hit “play” again on my European explorations.
It wasn’t until we touched down in Brussels that I could feel the weight of the experience shift onto my head, heart and stomach. I was about to learn, love and eat ALL THE THINGS. It took all of my energy (which, after a nine-hour flight, was an annoying amount) not to prancerize through customs.
Before going to Europe, everyone we talked to was pretty neutral about Brussels. We sensed that while it was a cool European city, it was not an overwhelming one that needed a lot of time or energy to experience. Which made it the very perfect place for us to begin our trip, seeing as the side effects of jet lag and being lost in translation were able to slowly fade away without much stress. Plus…those waffles.
Our first day in Brussels was spent doing what Matt and I love to do most together: walking, talking and eating. I have never met anyone who loves to walk as much as me, and because of it we logged an average of 18-20 miles every day of our trip! Which…meant more waffles.
We knew there was a “Grand Place” somewhere, but rather than mapping out our route there from the hotel we decided to just go where the streets took us, walking down larger cobblestone walkways and through tiny, crowded alleyways. When we finally turned the right corner and stepped into the Grand Place, I had to catch my breath and squint my eyes, as the sun was just hitting the gold-laced buildings and the entire square seem to glow. It was indeed grand, and I tried through tired eyes to note every tiny statue that adorned every exterior, observe every cafe that spilled into the wide space and, through stupid amounts of selfie sticks, watch every tour group wind their way through the square. The excitement I had built up for the past year in planning this trip went straight to my head: I was dizzy with energy, and this was our first day in our first city! LET’S GO GET ANOTHER WAFFLE. And some chocolate. And pomme frites. And of course, for Matt’s sake, a large Belgian beer.
We spent the rest of the day walking the entire city and filling up on our fair share of Leffe beers, cheese, pommel frites and nutella (this would become a theme of the trip). We found the Mannekin Pis/Petit Julien statue of course, and had two delicious Trappist beers outside of the cafe directly across from the statue, making for some pretty great people watching. We stumbled upon Chocolatier Mary, a major pinpoint on my itinerary, and I spent a good 20 minutes drooling (and sampling!) the plethora of chocolate goodness splayed around the entire shop. Chocolate in tow, we continued our trek around town, walking away from the tourist scene and into the areas where old men sit outside of cafes smoking cigars and reading papers. I loved it.
We later had our first “meat scare,” as we started to jokingly call them, when a waiter who obviously didn’t speak English in a restaurant we obviously shouldn’t have been in told me that the minestrone soup was vegetarian, only to have it come out with chunks of bacon floating throughout the bowl. We also had our first experience with jet lag, as we awoke at 2 a.m. that first night with the energy of toddlers and decided to read, eat the hummus and pretzels I smuggled from the plane and plan our trip to Bruges while just laying in bed. We also had our first experience with the train system, which proved to be the lifeline of our entire trip; rude French people, which prepared us well for our jaunt in Paris; and the effects of being lactose intolerant while gorging on cheese and yogurt at 7 a.m.
Along with its charms and unbeatable beers, Brussels allowed us to slowly break in our European boots and prepare us for the long, beautiful, exhilarating, delicious ride we were embarking on for the following two weeks. The next day we were off to Bruges, but spent the morning after that strolling back through Brussels, stopping at street markets and in and out of cafes and of course, having one last waffle before heading off to Amsterdam.
While we were only there for one and a half days, here were our favorite sights/bites/sips:
Favorite Brussels Sights:
- Grand Place
- Mannekin Pis/Petit Julien
- Rue Charles Buls (the tourist street with a lot of waffle shops…meaning you have an excuse to stop every 10 minutes for one)
- Comic Book Route (there is street comic book art/murals all around the city)
Favorite Brussels Eats/Drinks:
- Delirium Cafe (more than 3,000 beers!)
- Chocolatier Mary (I spent a lot of time in there and bought a lot of chocolate…but looking back, I wish I would have spent more time/money!)
- Poechenellekelder (the bar directly across from the Mannekin Pis statue! Great people watching accompanied by even greater Trappist beers.
- Street waffles (duh)
- Pomme frites! (double duh)