44 hours in Brussels
Brussels was not part of the plan. Upon receiving our approved Schengen Visas, we went a bit gaga deciding on which city to visit aside from Copenhagen. Paris was non-negotiable. Rome was second on our list and it would be cool to see the pope celebrate the Easter Mass at the Vatican. But a Paris-Rome trip on an Easter week would definitely damage our pockets and I don't want that.
The 3-hour bus ride from Amsterdam took us to Brussels North Station. As we get ready to alight, we were reminded by the bus conductor to secure our personal belongings as there were many cases of theft in the area. I kept my camera in my backpack and made sure my small purse was safely hidden under my coat as we walked inside the train station.
and what exactly are you doing, Sir?
Belgium has 3 official languages being Dutch, French, and German which was in no way helpful to us, who can only understand English. The words Uitgang and Sortie in the signage by the turnstiles I guessed, probably mean "Exit".
Since it was a random destination we picked 2 weeks before our trip, I wasn't able to do an extensive research about Brussels except for Belgian waffles, Chez Leon's mussels and the Manneken Pis. And I wasn't aware that Belgium is pretty diverse when it comes to ethnicity. Having been to Copenhagen and Amsterdam whose people we've seen are mostly white, we were surprised to see a lot of Africans and Middle Easterners at the station. I later learned from a quick research that those people were mostly from Morocco, Turkey and DR Congo who migrated to Belgium in the recent years.
We were clueless at first on how to buy train tickets. Well at least we knew the station nearest to our booked accommodations so we started by looking at the train map. Glad we were still with Barbs on this trip as the pocket WIFI she lent us still wasn't working (well really she couldn't remember the right username and password combination). Barbs, by the way is my former schoolmate-turned-boss-turned-friend and currently Dell's boss under a new company who now goes by the name Madi, but I still prefer to call Barbs. She's meeting Erik (Dell's other boss) and his family who we were arriving from Germany by midnight so we got to spend the rest of our first day in Brussels with her.
We purchased our tickets at the kiosk. And as we expected, they are expensive. A STIB-MIVB Single fare costs €2.10 but if you plan on station hopping for 24hrs, you can purchase the STIB-MIVB 24 h for €7.50. Actually, 4 single trips would already cost you €8.40 so the 24h card is a pretty good deal.
We booked a room at Max Hotel, located near Rogier station— one stop from Brussels North via Line 3 while Barbs got an airBnb near Bourse/Beurs— another 2 stops away. Since her apartment shares the same metro station as the Grand Place (our main agenda that afternoon), we decided that she goes with us to our hotel first then we accompany her to her airbnb.
Of course we encountered problems during check-in. First, Max Hotel's self check in service. Check-in kiosk wasn't accepting our credit card and since we can't check in, we cannot get the keycard which is also used to open the hotel's main door. Uggghhh. But thankfully, there was a phone by the kiosk and we were able to call the hotel staff and he let us in. We just did the manual swiping from his terminal.
Second, at the AirBnb apartment, Barbs was having problems with the host because the host only spoke French or Dutch. I was relieved at that moment that I decided against booking an AirBnb. Bwahahaha. We had a hard time figuring out which numbers to punch in the main door's security lock and there was another one on the door inside leading to the apartment floor. I'm not sure if we used a key to the apartment unit's door or it was another set of numbers. I couldn't recall that part anymore.
Brussels Stock Exchange
But after all those check in hiccups, we happily headed to Grand Place passing by rows of chocolate and waffle shops. I fought the urge to buy as we were set to have dinner at Chez Leon. Chez Leon is famous for their "moules frites" where in the mussels are cooked in white wine and butter and served with a side of fries. We just had to try them. Mussels in Brussels!
Whipped Cream overload
A photo with the Mannekin Pis was a given when going to Grand Place. And funny how uninteresting it is in person but still many tourists (yep, including us) would patiently wait for their turn to take an unobstructed shot of that tiny pissing boy.
Tourists at Grand Place
The mixed stoemp didn't disappoint either. Stoemp is actually a dish made of mashed potato mixed with other veggies like carrots and onions. In Netherlands, it's called Stamppot. We tried it at one of the restaurants in Amsterdam. This one was served with sausage and bacon.
After dinner, they (because I was on meds at that time) had a few drinks at Le Roy d'Espagne as we continued to reminisce our younger years in Manila. It was the first time we went on a trip with Barbs since she moved to Denmark several years ago.
We walked Barbs to her AirBnb then headed back to our hotel. On our way to the train station, there were Middle Eastern looking men in black leather jackets hiding behind the posts. That's when our paranoia went on high alert. We walked as fast as we could as we pass through those men praying nothing bad would happen to us that night. Well, we got to the station fine. Maybe those men where just trying to find a shelter from the cold wind. Guess we've seen the movie Taken too many times. Lol.
Outside Max Hotel
Brussels Stock Exchange all mine =)
Comic books and posters at Brüsel.
We also tried to locate as many comic-strip murals as we can and secretly joined a tour group and went inside one of the churches in the area.
We found ourselves back at the waffle alley and finally indulged on Belgian waffles. Too bad Maison Dandoy won't accept big bills so I had to settle for a less popular shop who accepted my money without question. And they were cheaper too!
The face of the person who just had her breakfast but is so ready to devour the waffle
Brussels Waffle at Maison Dandoy
We originally planned to visit the comic museum but my stubborn self opted to waste the entire day looking for a Starbucks branch that has a city tumbler in stock. We actually went to 3 branches and walked up to Mont des Arts but we didn't find any. At least someone got his Hard Rock shirt.
The very cold weather made us crave for hot soup or just anything with rice. I know, I know we were in Belgium and frites (fries) rule! We even tried our luck on these Greek restaurants but they only got pita... and fries!!! Unbelievable.
Meet Charles Buls, the Mayor of Brussels in the 1800s.
We were supposed to eat at this restaurant across Charles Buls fountain but the €18 meal without rice screams injustice. Haha. And so we went on the rice hunt again but after going around the Grand Place area for a couple of times, we eventually conceded to ordering fries at Belgian Frit'n Toast. Bwahahahahahaha.
We passed by this shop several times and kept on ignoring it but I guess we were destined to eat more potatoes. Lol.
Belgian Frites with ketchup, mayo and pickles
Bought a few assorted chocolates to snack on while walking. They were the cheapest ones we found but still goooooood.
That afternoon we went back to Rogier station but I just had to check one last Starbucks shop at the mall nearby our hotel and guess what, no Belgium or Brussels tumbler. On the way back, we passed by Rue Neuve which turned out to be a shopping street and literally is at the back of our hotel. (I told you I didn't do my research. ) There's a big Nike Store, Footlocker, etc. We got some pairs at JD Sports. Most shops closed by 730pm and thank God we arrived in the area around 6 o'clock or we might end up buying more shoes.
For dinner, we just bought food at the Kebap Center and ate them at the hotel. We were still a bit paranoid to stay outside because of what happened the other night. The meals were a bit pricey but servings are generous and there's rice too. Hohoho. We had some leftovers and just ate them the following morning before leaving the hotel.
We didn't make anymore plans on our last day in Brussels instead we left the hotel early for Gare du Midi and waited for our bus to Paris. Guess we were a little too early as we were the only ones at the bus stop.
Brrrrr. I should've brought a blanket
A few minutes on our supposed departure, and still there were no other passengers in sight. We were starting to worry that we might be on the wrong bus stop. That's when I decided to walk to the Eurolines ticket office across the street while Dell stayed behind to look out for our stuff. After a short conversation with the staff in broken English, I was a bit relaxed knowing that the bus was just arriving late. We also met a French lady who was headed to her hometown via Paris who thankfully will be taking the same bus. She works for an NGO and goes home to France every few months. She assured as that the bus is arriving and that delays are normal. Guess we overestimated the bus companies in Europe as the bus was late for 30 minutes.
The bus was almost full (bus picked up some passengers from another station I wasn't aware of) so Dell and I weren't seated next to each other. I sat beside an old man who was asleep most of the time. The trip was generally comfortable except for our growling stomachs. Had we known that the trip would be delayed, we would have bought our lunch. But it was still okay anyway as I was then excited to finally be seeing Paris. We just bought some snacks during stopover.