Chocolate and waffles, chocolate waffles! That was the extent of my understanding and expectations for Brussels. How could a city disappoint with such simple standards! Well it did, at least for the first 24hrs. But don’t dismay Belgian enthusiasts; it had a quick recovery with some of the most beautiful unexpected experiences too.
2 hours is all it took to get to the Belgian capital and in case you didn’t realize it is also the headquarters of the European Union so this city is kind of a big deal, kind of a snooze fest by the sounds of it but nevertheless important. Here is the 24hr shock and disappointment of Brussels. I thought it was dirty and this coming from a girl who loves filthy Paris! I did however enjoy the French influences in the city to include the language. We stayed at another AirBnB close to the train station which fell into the weird, uncomfortable category of accommodations. The host was chatty and relatively friendly on initial contact. She toured the apartment with us pointing out all the details and work she had done in renovating the flat. This included using reclaimed golden tin foil type substance stuck to the courtyard walls. Her intent was to reflect more light into the bathroom basement which didn’t have a curtain across the full length glass wall….this apparently is a popular design in Brussels as I’ll point out in a few minutes. Luckily the courtyard was tiny and didn’t have much viewing capability from above into the bathroom. We progressively became more uncomfortable as the tour went on, there was just something off about the whole thing. We were about to set off to a recommended local restaurant for dinner. As we turned the key in the door it was violently yanked open from inside! The host had not only returned to the flat after we left through an adjoining door but began to scold us for leaving the lights on! Blaming it on our ungrateful American ways instead of our distraction from discomfort by her constant presence listening through the walls! I cannot begin to convey how weird the atmosphere actually was. I’m just thankful we weren’t robbed by her with her secretive tunnels and listening devices that I’m certain she had! Needless to say I couldn’t sleep for fear of her creeping around in the darkness of the night.
We promptly left once the sun was up. We relocated to a trendy hotel, Be Manos, closer to the downtown area. Upon check-in I noticed a man acting shady around the elevator. I am still convinced that he was following us as he only disappeared once we had reached our room at the end of a maze of hallways. The room was roomy which was only amplified by a lack of proper walls. There was a full length, I’m talking floor to ceiling, wall to wall, glass wall for the shower area. Apparently they don’t believe in privacy in Brussels with transparent walls and stalkers galore! I can’t say I share the sentiment particularly when it comes to my grooming habits! The hotel did have a friendly bar staff and some pretty delicious room service, although the success of the bar may contribute to such a positive view of that food!
Accommodation experiences aside the city held a few more exciting and positive surprises for us. If you’re looking for chocolate and waffles like I was you can find an abundance of both around the main tourist area. From small boutique to cheap chains you can’t stumble across a cobblestone without one catching your fall. Be sure to reserve waffles for one of the small street side services. They are much less expensive and just as bit delicious as that $10 one you’ll order at the restaurant. We wandered around the ornate Grand-Place with its intricate gothic architecture. During warmer weather this is where you will find enormous floral displays in elaborate patterns, pictures are impressive so I can only imagine the effects in real life. A much smaller display but equally as famous is the Manneken-Pis. It’s fairly close to the Grand-Place and some delicious waffle shops so it’s worth the short walk. If it wasn’t around the corner I’d say don’t go. It’s a small statue of a naked boy taking a leak in the fountain. Apparently other nations have gifted outfits to clothe the boy on special occasions and there’s a girl version across the city too! It’s amusing but I’d rather spend my time having an extra beer at Delirium Café than peak over a crowd at a boy relieving himself.
We wove our way to a back alley to find the Delirium Café thanks to a recommendation from my friend Jason. It boasts more than 3000 beers and may have become a tourist haven but it’s still awesome and with 3000 beers you can’t not go! After sampling our fair share we stumbled back through the alleys into the Grand-Place. In the spirit of the holiday season the whole place was lit up! The lights danced across the Town Hall perfectly choreographed to enchanting music. It was a beautiful display that was able to erase Brussels past lodging transgressions from my mind, I instantly loved the city! Maybe the beer influenced that admiration a bit too but I really like pretty lights!
On our way back to the hotel we passed by a few more bars some bustling and others sparsely filled with people. One such sparse bar had booming Latin music pouring out its doors. Intrigued we ducked our heads inside. It was at this point that I realized the husband could salsa. I had heard whispers of this from talking to his friends but had yet to witness said skills. Never having danced the salsa before in my life I tried to scoot into a corner and sip on my rum and coke. That didn’t last long. The husband eagerly pulled me onto the floor and patiently waited for me to catch on at the detriment of his toes! His poor toes! Eventually I loosened up and we were dancing our little white butts off! The peppy Latin instructor loved us! His energy and affection towards our efforts (really my efforts since the husband is pretty decent already) helped fuel my ambition for the dance! It was amazing fun and it reinforced my love for Brussels. Salsa dancing in Belgium was not on my to-do list but it should be on yours! It was perfectly unexpected and a wonderful way to end the trip.
We left Brussels a little more cultured, thank you awkward AirBnB lady, and a bit plumper than we came, thank you Nutella drenched waffles. It lived up to my simple expectations, threw a few curve balls and pleasantly surprised. It might be the most dynamic trip we’ve had so far in terms of balancing the good and uncomfortable. This is a perfect example of learning to travel better. I’m looking forward to returning to Belgium again but I might opt for Bruges next time. So here’s to the unexpected experience, being the salt of travel and pushing us out of our comfort zones.
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Find out more about the city and resources to help avoid crazy hosts here