Brussel’n it up

( Skip to the itinerary )

Cody and I were touring fiends on this trip. Going into this we were like, hey, don’t know anything about your country outside of that movie and that the EU is sorta ran here. Please show us around, Belgium. And Belgium was like, SURE HERE’S ALL OUR STUFF.

Pff.

Pfff.

There was no way we could accomplish all that over three and a half days. So we stuck to a tiny slice of Belgium up near Brussels and toured away.

First, we took a guided daytrip from Brussels to Ghent and Bruges.

Then we took a guided beer and chocolate tour through Brussels.

Then, we took a self-guided tour from our hotel to the Tongeren flea market and didn’t buy a thing once we got there. Nope, we saved all of our money for the beer, the chocolate, waffles, and the commercial tourist stores for things like bottle openers and steins, because once you start these traditions, you can’t stop.

The newest tradition to grace our traveling check list? Buy a teeny tiny landmark to put upon what will be a giant map of all the countries we visit over the next 3 years. What inspired this new tradition? The peeing boy, which is all the talk of Brussels. I suggest you take a tour to really figure him out.

Ghent

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As I said, we saw only a small bit of Belgium, taking a direct southwest route from Brussels to Ghent where we strolled along chilly cobble stone streets, took in magnificent river views, ate violet flavored candies, and had our first experience ever at Primark hunting for gloves. My favorite newly acquired knowledge about Ghent was this building. The tour guide sort of laughingly pointed the motif out on top of the old jail, like, please don’t judge, but is anyone else strongly reminded of Grapes of Wrath??

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By William Helsen from Antwerp, Belgium (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The final scene was so incredible from my 11th grade lit teacher’s recounting that I had to go back and actually read the final chapter for myself. I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone who also didn’t Sparknote the ending, but I don’t think the daughter in Grapes of Wrath is breastfeeding her imprisoned father like the woman here is. Does anyone know if Steinbeck knew about this? Tell me tell me tell me please.

Bruges

Bruges from the river 1

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Bruges was every bit as lovely as we had imagined, although a bit busier than the infamous movie makes it appear, perhaps due to the encroaching Christmas season.  It was mid November and Christmas decorations were starting to go up in the shops. We ate rabbit and duck for lunch, took a river cruise with twenty of our new best friends, looked at THE TREE from the movie, and ate waffles and bought lacy knick knacks because Rick Steves informed me that Bruges used to be known for its lace making.

Bruges from the river 2

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Brussels

Brussels was for us a little bit of a harder nut to crack. It was cold and imposing with gray skies and damp stone walls, looking pretty metropolitan like any other European city. BUT, where we really began to fall in love was on on our chocolate and beer tour. If you’re ever struggling to make a personal connection with a city, I really suggest taking whatever interesting sounding food tour that you can afford. The smaller the group, the better.

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I don’t think of tour guides as information givers so much as information connectors. Without them, sometimes your appreciation of a place can be harder won (although sometimes that makes it even more enjoyable once you’ve found it).

If you can, I highly recommend the tour we took. Our very nice and knowledgeable guide took us to three different chocolateries where we were told to sample this truffle and let this dark chocolate melt on your tongue for notes of lemongrass, etc. Then she balanced the itinerary out with three stops at three different pubs, including one at an old puppet theatre hall with a friendly resident cat, for many different sips of beer, pairing meat and cheese at one of the stops. We had a great group too, with fun people from Britain and Norway to get to know over the pints.

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My last thoughts on this, in case you’re in the market for recommendations, are that I think Bruges or Ghent could easily be made into nice weekend destinations at any time of year while Brussels would be a fantastic place to explore in the spring or summer. We could definitely recommend our hotel, too, which we found out is actually a Norwegian chain from our fellow chocolate and beer tour member. We felt like kings even though we couldn’t figure how to turn on the lights (spoiler: this is a very standard practice in European hotel. You just put your keycard in the slot in the wall by the door)

Itinerary Details:

Mode To and from Overnights Accommodation
Air Round trip Sevilla (SVQ) to Brussels (BRU) Brussels Thon Hotel Bristol Stephanie

Day 1: Explore our hotel’s neighborhood

Day 2:  All day trip to Ghent and Bruges with Brussels City Tours

Day 3: Tongeren Flea Market, Beer and Chocolate walking tour with The Brussels Journey

Day 4: Return to Grand-Place square for final shopping, hurry home

Things to consider buying: antique cigarette cases at the antique market (to replace your regular wallet!), lace glass ornaments in Bruges, violet candies in Ghent, chocolate (soooo much chocolate) in Bruges

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