On our second full day away, we made an amazing day trip to Brussels. In keeping with our goal to visit as many destinations as possible, it was important for us to make a side trip. Just a two-hour train ride away, Brussels was a perfect spot!
Having scoped out the train station, and picked up our tickets the day before, we were able to relax a bit in the morning, and grab some breakfast before our early morning train. We took the extra time to explore the train station a bit while waiting for our train- Amsterdam Centraal Station is beautiful. High ceilings of glass and open air made it far more enjoyable than the train stations I am used to in the Northeast, and it was a gorgeous place in its own right.
The train was immaculate, comfortable, and very relaxing. (So much so that I was lulled to sleep, and admittedly missed most of the ride).
Two hours later, we arrived in a station that felt quite different. Still open and simple, it felt more city-like and more utilitarian. After finding our way to the bathroom for a quick pit stop (remember to have change or small bills to pay for the toilet!!) We were on our way to explore the city.
Unsure about how easy it would be to find our way, and how long it would take to see and taste all that was on our list, we scheduled ourselves for a pretty late train back to Amsterdam, leaving us a whole 9 hours in Brussels. Admittedly, we did not see an extensive portion of the city, but thoroughly enjoyed our experience.
On our list of sights were the Grand Place and the Manneken de Pis – both within walking distance of each other and the train station, allowing us to set off in one general direction to see what we could see. I had not done any advance planning for the day, and left the agenda to Rabbit, who had wanted to visit Brussels during a prior trip but was unable to get a train ticket! (Tip: reserve Thalys or other train tickets in advance, as soon as you can because they do sell out!) The goal was not to pack the day, but more to experience it, take in what we could, and enjoy. Given that we were visiting in March, we were unable to see the beautiful flowers and related warm-weather sights, but knew that we would still find the beauty of the city.
Not really knowing what to expect (other than the statue of the little boy peeing…), it was a really beautiful surprise. On our way to the area surrounding the Grand Place, you could feel the history, life, and age of the city- it really filled me with awe to take it in and realize that the city had been around in some form for over 1400 years, (settled in 580) and there we were. I felt connected to the city somehow, and very comfortable as we strolled along. Given that Brussels is the capital city of Belgium, it is somewhat what you would expect from a major city, similar in tempo to Philadelphia, I think…
Faithfully following Google maps, we made our way towards the Grand Place, and after turning the corner from a rather unsuspecting side street, we were welcomed into the most incredibly stunning and beautiful square I have ever set foot in.
Destroyed by fire in 1695, and rebuilt during the following four years, the square is absolutely captivating… gold-leafed buildings, imposing facades, ornate details, and a sense of mystery surrounded us, and I was left speechless.
After taking our picture from as many angles as we could think of, and staring at the buildings for a solid 10 minutes – which seemed to be about the average amongst the other tourists as well – we explored the Town Hall (which is the one remaining medieval building in the square.. and my favorite).
Next, we found ourselves a spot at one of the outdoor cafes, and enjoyed some lunch – the mussels were delicious!! Here, we found the most intimate shared mens/women’s room in all of what we have seen of Europe, and attempted to stay warm while dodging the raindrops.
After lunch, we strolled to some of the other buildings in the square, finding several chocolate shops (Neuhaus and Mary’s being our favorites), and an indoor mall area (Galleries Royal Saint-Hubert) with some interesting shops – including a great bookstore! – before making our way to see the Manneken de Pis and grab our first Belgian waffle! I could have happily eaten waffles all day! The yeast dough, and bits of caramelized sugar baked right in… perfection. I am determined to find some appropriate sugar so that I can attempt to recreate them here at home. (Though I have found a restaurant who serves authentic waffles nearby!).
We strolled the city a bit more before making our way (gravitating back) to the Grand Place to spend some time in Rabbit’s favorite building – the King’s House, which is now the Museum of the City of Brussels. I would highly recommend including the museum as part of your visit to the city- beautiful paintings, artifacts, the city’s story, and an exhibit dedicated to the Manneken and his many costumes – added to the incredible sight and experience of the building itself.
Next, we made our way to another cafe in the square for some dinner and to experience the Grand Place through sunset, soaking in the beauty of the buildings in the evening glow, and watching it transform as the nighttime lights came on… the Grand Place is one of the most beautiful places I have been – and certainly the most romantic. It was such a great trip, and a welcoming city! I hope to make it back to see more of Belgium someday.
After more pictures (its hard to say goodbye to a perfect view!), and gaining our energy for the walk back to the train, we made it back to the station in time to grab a light second dinner, and climb aboard our train back to Amsterdam, and another full day just around the corner!