During the fall of 2016, I had a long layover in Brussels, en route from Scotland to Israel. I took the time to head into the city and do a bit of exploring.
Unfortunately, this was in the midst of getting ready to present my research at a conference, trying to prepare my master’s thesis for defending, and meeting my boyfriend’s family for the first time. So although I am normally an avid planner, I arrived in Brussels not knowing how to get into the city or where to go once in the city. Some people can travel like that, but it makes me very anxious!
I’m somewhat decent with French, so I managed to figure out how to get on a train to Gare Centrale and store my bags in a locker once there. (However, if you open the locker they assume you are finished with it and that’s that. Don’t do what I did and check to make sure you can open it 30 seconds after you close it, or you will end up paying twice, and possibly running around the train station begging someone to make change for you.)
While most people probably head straight toward Grand Place, Brussels’ central city square, I ended up walking toward Place Poelaert, the Justice Court (apparently it is the largest courthouse in the world)! This actually turned out to be a wonderful viewpoint looking over the city, and allowed me to stroll down a bunch of small side streets as I worked my way back to the central train station. On the way I passed a lot of gorgeous architecture, in particular the Église Notre-Dame du Sablon.
Eventually, I managed to figure out where I needed to be to take in the touristy sites of Brussels, and I made my way to Grand Place.
During my visit, my boyfriend insisted I try a Belgian waffle. I wasn’t too enthused about the idea, because how good can a waffle be, right? WRONG. See my serious food face in the pictures below. I didn’t realize the famous Belgian waffles were supposed to be a street food, but at any rate, I was having a difficult time finding street waffles. I snuck into a Starbucks for some free WiFi and found a cute little cafe, Maison Dandoy, that specialized in waffles. Once I found it, I played it safe with some vanilla ice cream and a chocolate drizzle, but the waffle was amazing even without. Five months later and I still can’t forget how delicious it was. Just thinking about it is making me hungry. I’m not sure what the Belgians put in their waffles but we desperately need some of that here in the states.
Check out this article to learn a LOT more about the history of Belgian waffles.
After my life-changing waffle experience, I went in search of some of that famous Belgian beer. I had been trying out an iPhone app for this trip called “Like a Local,” where locals list their favorite off-the-beaten-track places to visit. It includes all sorts of categories, for food, entertainment, culture, etc. The app pointed me to Moeder Lambic, which was a bit removed from the central square. It was still pretty touristy, but also cheaper than the options in Grand Place. I sat down for a couple of excellent beers before heading out in search of that famous statue, the Manneken Pis.
Now, as exciting as this was to see in real life, the best part was seeing an actual little boy, pissing in the street, not even a block away from the statue. His father did not seem to appreciate the coincidence.
Making my way back to the train station, I stopped to look at a couple of cute shops selling all sorts of Belgian chocolates, gelato, and cheese. If only there was time to try it all!
That concludes the story of my little ramble around Brussels. I do hope to return one day, in particular with a more exciting plan. I have also had several people tell me they prefer Bruges, so there’s plenty left to explore in Belgium.
If anyone reading this visits Brussels for a long layover, I would recommend trying a free walking tour. They are offered in most major cities now, and they are a great way to see the major sites in just a few hours. I was going to join one in Brussels but my phone clock did not reset properly and I missed the starting time (note I didn’t actually try the one I linked to, but that company is pretty popular across Europe).
As always, stay tuned for future updates!