For two weeks in the middle of August, my mom and sister stayed with us for a visit. In addition to day trips to several cities in the region (Cologne, Aachen, Sittard), we also spent a long weekend in Brussels.
While Brussels, in theory, should have only been a couple of hours away by train, our route seemed to take quite a bit longer with several stops and train changes. I’m willing to bet that a more direct route exists, but with no internet at the time, I never had the opportunity to do any research, and we simply showed up at the Sittard station and hoped for the best. Despite a few confused and hectic moments, we still managed to get into the Brussels Centrale station mid afternoon on a Friday, and we easily hoofed it on over to our B&B in the fish restaurant neighborhood.
Even though it only took us about 15 minutes to walk to the Grand Place, we definitely felt like we were a bit removed from all of the tourist cacophony just a few streets away. After dropping our bags and getting a map from one of the B&B owners, we headed out to do a walk about and scope out as many of the outdoor sites as possible while the sunshine and warm weather remained. (Honestly, we lucked out during my mom and sister’s visit as a whole. I don’t think it rained for the entire two weeks that they were here, and much of our Brussels weekend felt downright toasty.)
The shift in tone as we approached the Grand Place became increasingly apparent. For example:
And then this…
Despite the crowds, the Grand Place was beautiful in the afternoon light. While J tried to dodge the packs of tourists for the sake of good photography opportunities, my sister did her civic duty. As the only gluten eater of our little group, she took one for the team and sampled her very first Belgian waffle.
After orienting ourselves (i.e. pinpointing the location of the chocolate museum for the next day and then seeking out ice cream), we finished off our evening with dinner at a recommended fish restaurant close to our B&B.
Since the earliest opportunity for breakfast the next morning wasn’t until 8am, J and I decided to take advantage of the early hours, by getting out and using some of that prime crowd-free time for picture taking.
After breakfast, we made it to the chocolate museum. The actual museum section reminded me of my hometown’s local science museum in its very earliest incarnations (pre-funding). We saw a pretty collection of historic hot chocolate pots and china sets, but much of the scientific/historical information about chocolate and chocolate production looked like little more than a middle-schooler’s science fair project with labels typed on printer paper and pasted onto colorful poster board. BUT, you could find little bowls of free chocolate scattered throughout the exhibit, and a little cocoa buzz and sugar haze made all the difference. The museum experience culminated in a demonstration of how to make the outer shells for truffles which ended with another tasting opportunity. Not too bad for 5 Euro.
We walked off that chocolate on our way to our next museum destination. We had read and heard many great things about the relatively new Magritte Museum, and it definitely lived up to its reputation. Organized in such a way that takes the visitor chronologically through Rene Magritte’s life and work as you move from the top floor back down to the entrance level (conveniently, the museum shop is right there, wouldn’t you know!). The work was beautifully displayed and the museum had an easy flow that accommodated a high volume of visitors. It also had great views of the city from its hilltop vantage point in the Upper Town are.
After a late lunch at the museum cafe, we walked by the palace where they were also doing a sound check for a weekend music festival. It just happened to be some sort of modern folk Irish group, so we listened in sunshine for a little while before making our way through a park full of tongue-in-cheek sculpture art.
We visited the cathedral on our way back to the city center and then eventually back to the B&B to rest our feet a bit before dinner.
Upon the recommendation of a friend of our B&B owners (they were having a little birthday gathering on the patio, and guests were welcome to stop by), we had a delicious outdoor dinner at a casual bistro around the corner. J and I had been drooling all day over the pots of steamed mussels we saw diners enjoying all over town and we decided to share an order. With frites and white wine, it was just about a perfect meal.
On Sunday morning we made a last few stops to pick up some street sketches we had been eying the day before and to seek out the slightly less famous of Brussels’ famous peeing statues. There’s a boy, a girl, and a dog. The dog is my favorite. After lunch we headed back to the train station and said goodbye to Brussels. Or, so we thought. A minor adventure ensued involving left-behind car keys, Brussels revisited–briefly (for J and myself), and my sister possibly saving a woman’s life in Liege. But, that’s a whole different story for a different time and place.
Instead, I’ll leave you all with this: