Booking a vacation across the Pond is a sure incentive to get your money’s worth out of a trip. When we first decided to travel to Europe in August the intention was to only go to the Netherlands for a bike/boat tour with friends. But when we studied the map of the Netherlands, we saw how close other cities were that held interest for us.
“Hey, here’s Belgium! Let’s drop in on Brussels and check out how our sister-church is doing.”
“And Hamburg is just north. Let’s go visit Marion.”
“And shoot, as long as we’re at it, Berlin is just a short train ride from there.”
And so the beast is released. Untamable, uncontrollable, wander-lust. Our 10-day trip just morphed into three weeks. But hey, if you’re going to go that far, best to stay awhile or at least until the money runs out.
When our boat pulled into Amsterdam harbor at the end of the biking week, we lingered on deck a while saying our goodbyes to other guests and crew (who quickly became friends) with whom we shared some sweet memories. Afterwards, we walked the short walk to the train station from the dock and boarded a train headed for Brussels.
The main reason we wanted to spend a weekend in Brussels was to attend a service at the sister church of Red Rocks Church in Denver, and pass greetings and encouragement to our family of believers there. On Sunday morning we took a train to Waterloo about a half hour south of Brussels. Attending the worship service was soul satisfying and we savored the time spent with new friends.
Speaking of savoring, we did plenty of that in Brussels.
I don’t normally do “foodie” writing but our short stay in Brussels warrants it. Fair warning – If you’re not hungry now, you will be when you’re done reading this.
It all started out with our train ride from Amsterdam. We usually opt for 2nd class train travel in Europe because there’s not much difference on the ICE trains. (And anything beats air travel.) But this time, 2nd class was full so we upped to 1st class for slightly more money on the ICE train. Good move. A white coated waiter brought a cart to our table with wine, beer, coffee and fresh pastries – all complimentary.
We settled into our Airbnb apartment and then set off to explore a little of the city on a free walking tour. Travel hint: These tours are available in most large popular cities in Europe. They are free but you are expected to tip the guide who is usually a student, generously (10-20 Euros per person.) Somehow, we just couldn’t squeeze Paris into our itinerary on this trip, but Brussels was a good way to get a little French fix. The architecture was a comfortable mix of Dutch and French and French is the preferred language.
Breakfast was almost always the same. Crisp, tender, flaky croissants, fresh squeezed OJ and a deep espresso with lots of creamy white foam. I could never get tired of that kind of morning jolt.
We usually seek out a local street market whenever we travel to new parts and this time was no different. A morning spent in an outdoor market is always a good lesson in local culture. The flea market offered everything from tacky trash to antique treasures but the farmer’s market was a feast for the eyes – and bellies.
For lunch we were on the hunt for a good plate of Brussel’s mussels. We scored at Jardin Van Gogh in St. Catherine’s square. A giant pot of perfectly steamed mussels in white wine and herbs arrived at our table along with the customary French fries. How are we ever going to eat all of that?! But paired with a dark Dunkel beer and a side salad, the mussels were heaven on the palate and we ate Every. Single. One.
Which brings me to the food of choice in Brussels. Chocolate! Belgium chocolate has a reputation for being the best chocolate in the world – for good reason. We nibbled and sampled our way through at least five chocolate shops before making the choice to purchase heavenly truffles at the most famous shop in Belgium – Mary’s. This chocolate has been the official chocolate of kings and queens of Belgium for decades. We figured if it was good enough for royalty, it was good enough for us.
And what’s the best chaser for chocolate? Why, espresso of course! The Aksum coffee company pulled a perfect shot and had a not-so-shabby ambience in the Galeries, too. So we settled down to digest and savor and people watch. We lingered over coffee perhaps longer than we should have – or perhaps not long enough. Either way, we loved the idea of taking the pressure off to sightsee and instead savored the moments in between.