With our April trip to Paris in mind, we were thinking of other easy long weekends we could do by train from London. While Eurostar’s direct service to Paris is its most popular and well-known international train route, it’s also incredibly easy to get to Brussels (in fact the train ride is even shorter than to Paris)! We grabbed our train at St. Pancras in the morning and were in Brussels before noon.
Our June four-day weekend would take us to three cities in Belgium’s Flanders region, where the Dutch language, fries (don’t call them French!) and picturesque medieval towns reign supreme. Our first stop was the capital city Brussels where we spent one day and night. After checking into our Airbnb apartment we wandered toward the Grand Place for lunch and to appreciate the square’s awe-inspiring beauty. Though Brussels deservedly does not have a reputation for being an attractive city, its main square—also deservedly—consistently ranks as one of the most stunning in Europe.
As is required of every visitor to the city, we set off on a hunt for the aptly named sculpture Manneken Pis. Even already having set low expectations we were still unimpressed. Unfortunately it wasn’t donning one of its many costumes—perhaps reason to go back sometime! Not stopping for more than a moment, we continued on to Place du Grand Sablon where we peered into the windows of the many chocolatiers. One in particular (Pierre Marcolini) especially caught our eyes and within minutes we were walking out of the door with a small box of macarons across all ranges of the flavor spectrum. We went back to the Grand Place, took a seat in the shade of city hall’s spire and indulged ourselves in some of the best macarons we’ve ever had!
Rico is a musician, so one of the items on his list was the Musical Instrument Museum, one of the best of its kind in the world. The museum provides headphones which wirelessly pick up where you are in the museum and play sample music showcasing each instrument which was especially helpful and interesting for the older or more esoteric instruments. We caught ourselves dancing to the music most of the time which in turn inspired others around us to loosen up a bit and enjoy the tunes! It was certainly a unique experience that had us leaving in a good mood. We stumbled on the Kunstberg on our way back toward to the city center which hosts a colorful array of flowers and offers a view of city hall’s spire from afar.
At this point dinner was calling so we headed to Fork, a small restaurant with a cute atmosphere serving a short and ever-changing menu of fresh foods. We could see the cooks working on our meal in the open kitchen and it wasn’t long before the penne with tomato and mozzarella made its way to our table. This was followed shortly thereafter by rhubarb pie that we could not not order after seeing it was being served for dessert! Fork lived up to the hype and we would go back in a heartbeat if we were back in Brussels. On our way out we spotted a small alleyway (Rue de la Cigogne) right by the restaurant and wandered down to see its vine-covered walls and doors—it’s always nice finding these kinds of surprises.
It felt right to end the day on the Grand Place. At this point the sun had set, the sky had darkened and it seemed that everyone in the city had grabbed a beer and scouted out a spot to hang out in the square. Seeing people drink alcohol in public is one of the more clear cultural differences from the US, but it was such a convivial atmosphere with groups of friends talking about nothing, tired parents relaxing with their hyper young children and satisfied travelers like ourselves soaking in the moment.
Now was time for rest as we had to catch a train the next morning to the fairytale town of Bruges where we would be spending two days!