travel

24 Hours in Brussels

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Back in September, Ian and I went on a week-long European trip to celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary.  Funny story, we’ve never had good luck on our anniversaries, on our first wedding anniversary, Ian ended up in the emergency room due to a case of viral vertigo.  On our second wedding anniversary, our dog got a stomachache … and you can figure out the rest.  So in March, when I was perusing Expedia to satiate my wanderlust, I saw cheap tickets to Paris (~$350 nonstop, round trip), and I immediately booked them.  I figured, hey, maybe escaping Philadelphia will break this anniversary curse.  I’m happy to report that on our anniversary this year, nobody got sick, nobody went to the ER.

So for this European trip, we decided to base it out of Paris and train to another city for a few days.  We picked Brussels because it was ~90 minutes by train.  A lot of our friends suggested we just go to Brussels for a day, because “there isn’t much there”.  I took their advice and we only had around 24 hours in Brussels.  In retrospect, I wish I had stayed longer.  It’s such a charming city, very walkable, not that much hustle-and-bustle going on, which makes it a perfect location to just chill out and relax.  Since we only had 24 hours, we based it around the city center area.

We landed in Paris CDG on the day of our anniversary.  We were super tired, and it didn’t help that we had to wait for 4 hours for our train.  We thought customs would take forever in Paris, it turns out it took 5 minutes.  Our train arrived in Brussels around 1:30 pm and we checked in to our hotel.  We stayed at Sandton Brussels Centre, due to its proximity to the train station and is within walking distance to everything we wanted to be at.  When we booked the hotel, there was some sort of discount, so we managed to get it for around $90, which I think is a steal for a 4-star hotel in the heart of the city.

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Our first stop was Parc de Bruxelles, or Brussels Park.  It’s the largest urban park in Brussels and it’s an absolute dream to walk through.  You’ll see a bunch of locals just hanging out, walking their dogs, or reading a good book.  It’s pretty well-shaded by the tall, mature trees.  Right by the entrance of the park is the Royal Palace.  My online research said that they have tours during the summer.  But the day we were there, the tours weren’t available, so we weren’t able to go inside.  But the outside is so grandiose and quite a sight to take in.

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Next, it was time to eat!  The five things to eat in Brussels are waffles, fries, chocolate, mussels, and beer.  We walked along Rue de l’Etuve, which had loads of souvenir shops and chocolate stores.  We were so surprised by how cheap the chocolate shops were.  I guess because there’s so much competition, you can’t really charge too highly.  But some deals were insane, one store had 5 small boxes of chocolates for €20.  We got a lot of souvenirs (chocolates) here. 

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We had waffles from the famous La Funambule (many waffles from other vendors were eating in the next 20 hours).  Belgium waffles are so different from what I thought Belgium waffles are supposed to be.  In America, if you go to a breakfast place that serve Belgium waffles, they are typically crispy on the outside, soft on the inside with deep pockets for syrup to lay in.  The Belgium waffles there taste almost cookie-like.  There’s definitely way more sugar in the batter, the waffles are more rigid and dense (to hold all the toppings).  I think it’s definitely a dessert thing rather than a breakfast thing.

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The main attraction to Brussels for many is the Mannekin Pis, which is SO SMALL in person.  It’s this iconic bronze statue from the 17th century of a boy peeing.  You see it everywhere on postcards and souvenirs.  I’m not sure how people in Brussels feel about the unofficial mascot.

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We then walked to my favorite place of the day – Grand Place/Grote Markt.  It’s this city square that is encompassed by ornate historical buildings dating back to the 14th century.  Some I believe are still used by the government, and others are used commercially.  It’s so beautiful, and even more beautiful in the morning when nobody is there.

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Around 5pm, we started chasing down the other “peeing statues” – Zinneke Pis (a dog peeing) and Jeanneke Pis (a girl peeing).

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We then strolled along the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert, which is a covered shopping strip with high-end retailers, restaurants, and cafes.

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In the morning, we visited St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, as it is a 1-minute walk from our hotel.  The interior was so beautiful, it’s built in the gothic style.  We then had brunch, got some food for the road, and headed back to Paris.  Brussels was truly so lovely, and we enjoyed every minute there.  Next time, we plan on staying a little bit longer, maybe explore a little bit more outside of Brussels and discover what Belgium has to offer.

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Things I ate in Brussels (not counting many street vendors for fries and waffles and chocolate shops):

My Little Cup (coffee shop)
Rue de la Croix de Fer 53
Ijzerenkruisstraat 53
Hours: 7:30 am – 4 pm
Notes: Coffee & pastries

La Funambule (waffles)
Rue de l’Etuve 42
Stoofstraat 42
Hours: 8 am – 10pm
Notes: Right next to Manneken Pis, dessert waffles with ice cream and fruit toppings

Maison Dandoy (waffles)
Located inside Royal Gallery of St. Hubert
Hours: 10 am – 9pm

Cafe Delirium (drinks)
Impasse de la Fidélité 4
Hours: 10 AM – 4 AM
Notes: 2000+ types of beer, next to Royal Gallery

Chez Leon (dinner)
Rue des Bouchers 18
Hours: 11:30 AM – 11:30 PM
Notes: Family-owned restaurant since 1893, known for regional cuisines of mussels & fries

Peck 47 (breakfast)
Rue Marche aux Poulets 47
Kiekenmarkt 47
Hours: 9 am – 10 pm
Notes: Really good egg benedict, savory waffles

Places I wish I had the time to visit:

  • Parc du Cinquantenaire (free) – beautifully landscaped park from the 19th century decked with floral gardens & fountains, home to art & military museums.
  • Atomium (€15) – Giant stainless steel atom, particles connected by escalators, with exhibitions & aerial views.
  • Mini Europe (€15,80) Miniature park with Europe’s landmarks created on a scale of 1:25, from Big Ben to the Eiffel Tower.
  • Musical Instruments Museum (€10) – Art nouveau museum with exhibits including traditional & mechanical instruments & a concert hall.

My Brussels travel tips:

  • Visit Grote Markt/Grand Place early in the morning (7am) for good photo opportunities
  • Everyone speaks English, but most signs will be in French/Dutch
  • Belgium delicacies: waffles, chocolates, fries, mussels, and beer!
  • Beware of pickpockets in bars/crowded restaurants
  • Some restaurants are cash only, check Yelp/Google prior to dining and make sure to carry some cash
  • Best places to get fries are just off of the street stands
  • There are chocolate shops around every corner, can’t go wrong with any.
travel

San Francisco in 24 Hours

Over President’s Day weekend, I took a solo trip back to the motherland – California.  The main purpose of this trip was to visit my siblings and my adorable nephews (whom I lovingly call my birth control).  But prior to meeting up with my family, I spent less than 24 hours with my friends from college.

One of my good friends from college has been living in San Francisco for the past 6 years.  I’d always crash with her when I’m in town.  Since I’ve been to all the touristy spots, I told her to take me to places that I wouldn’t normally go.  The following day was packed full of good food, plants, and activities.  Granted, it’s all a bit fuzzy to me now, since I was sleep deprived from staying up late.  But here are the highlights:

Mac Daddy – $$
1453 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94107

San Francisco Hometown Creamery – $$
1290 9th Ave
San Francisco, CA 94122

I arrived at SFO around 7:30 PM (which is 10:30 PM on EST), so I was ready for bed.  My friends and I visited Mac Daddy, which specializes in various mac and cheese.  Although I think the real standout was the ribs.  We finished the meal with ice cream at San Francisco Hometown Creamery.  They make everything in small batches and on site.  We arrived just shy of closing, so there weren’t a ton of flavors to choose from.  I believe I had the banana flavor, which was surprisingly very delicious.  But as you can tell from my bloodshot eyes, I’m ready for bed.

Neighbor Bakehouse – $$
2343 3rd St #100
San Francisco, CA 94107

My friend lives in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco, which I really like since it’s less developed for residential real estate and more for warehouses and businesses, so there’s less traffic, especially on weekends.  On Sunday morning, we visited one of my favorite bakeries in San Francisco – Neighbor Bakehouse.  It seems like most of their baked goods are viennoiseries, basically like croissants and puff pastries.  We got a variety of their pastries.  My favorites are the Guava & Cream Cheese Pastelito and the Ham & Cheese Morning Bun.

Philz Coffee – $
1258 Minnesota St
San Francisco, CA 94107

Ok.  I know that Philz is expanding and apparently it’s even in the east coast now.  But is any trip to SF complete without Mint Mojito?

Flora Grubb Gardens – $$
1634 Jerrold Ave
San Francisco, CA 94124

One symptom of your late 20s is without a doubt the love of plants and how a trip to a nursery can make you unbelievably happy.  We spent a good hour exploring the Flora Grubb Gardens, which is a decent-sized nursery with plenty of seating (and a coffee bar).

Lands End Lookout – free
680 Point Lobos Ave
San Francisco, CA 94121

My friend told me to prepare to hike, but really it was mostly walking on a wide, muddy trail.  I can’t believe in all my visits to San Francisco, I’ve never been to Lands End.  In my opinion, it has some of the best views of the city and Golden Gate Bridge.  Although it was so windy, so while we were on the trail, the trees blocked a significant part of the wind.

That’s wraps up my 22 hours in San Francisco!  What are some non-touristy spots in SF that you love?  Share in the comments below!