08 – 10 JANUARY 2016:
To celebrate the end of my twenties, my sister planned a surprise weekend trip! I’d known that we were going somewhere for the weekend of my birthday, months ago. Although I had no idea where, besides knowing I would need Euros and it would be a similar temperature to the UK. I was tempted to log in to her email account to find out to end the suspense. (We’re far too trusting with each other’s login credentials!) However I decided that would be wrong and I should just wait in anticipation.
The night before our trip, not knowing which country I would be sleeping in the next evening, we had a family birthday meal and my sister gave me a few little gifts. I opened three gifts – Belgian Biscuits, Belgian Chocolates and Belgian Florentines. Obviously I liked them very much but did wonder why my sister seemed so intent on making me fat (or one might say fat-ter!). It hadn’t occurred to me that they were clues as to our destination. So yes, you’ve probably guessed it even though I didn’t…….. Destination = Belgium.
Only a few weeks beforehand did I have a conversation with my sister about the Paris attacks and how the news had reported that Belgium was likely to next be targeted. I remember saying ‘Hope that’s not where we are going for my birthday surprise, haha!’ Whoops!
My Sister lied to me – She said it would be just the two of us! So imagine my surprise when my cousin and 2 close friends jumped out of my bush and hopped in to the taxi with us!
So off we went to Brussels….
CROWN PLAZA HOTEL
This hotel was very nice, clean, spacious etc. It had some interesting patterned carpets that actually made me a little dizzy whilst walking to my room. Breakfast was a buffet and was pretty average but sufficient. The location was ideal as it was just a short walk from Rue Neuve where all of the shops seem to be located and is about 15 minutes’ walk from Grand Place square.
SHOPPING (RUE NEUVE)
Rue Neuve is the main strip of shops and also has a large shopping centre. Luckily we did our shopping on the Saturday as most of the shops seemed to be closed on the Sunday.
Never have I seen so many H&Ms on one street. I think I counted 6 of them! There’s a good range of clothes shops, jewellery stores and confectionary shops. Lots of UK and American brand shops including a large Primark with a queue just to get in to the store!
They had a beautiful Swarovski store and I decided to treat myself to a little birthday gift. I chose a small necklace and earrings with the Swarovski swan as a pendant. On my way to the shop to purchase it, my sister and friends were already there and had bought it for me. Another surprise! I am very luckily to have such thoughtful friends and family.
Grand Place is the central square of Brussels. It’s surrounded by some extraordinary architecture – the City’s Town Hall and the Breadhouse which contains the Museum of the City of Brussels.
Not too far away from the square is a small bronze sculpture of Manneken Pis, a little naked boy urinating in to a fountain’s basin. The statue is very iconic as it can be seen all over the place in tourist souvenirs – keyrings, shot glasses etc. There seems to be many legends about this statue, one of which was that the boy went missing and was eventually found naked peeing in to a fountain’s basin. Another famous legend is that in 1142, the troops of this 2 year old Lord were battling against troops of the Berthouts. The troops put the infant Lord in a basket in a tree to encourage them. The boy then urinated on the troops of the Berthoots, who eventually lost the battle.
The statue is small at only 61cm tall and is located on the corner of Rue de l’Etuve and Rue des Grands Carmes and was originally made in 1619 although it was been repeatedly stolen, so the current statue only dates from 1965.
Like any other central square, you can expect overpriced food and probably not the best quality of food but you often pay for convenience, atmosphere and a nice view. We decided to walk a little bit away from the square and find somewhere a little more reasonably priced to eat that evening.
Interesting architecture…still not entirely sure what it is though….
The Atomium is a building in Brussels originally constructed for Expo 58, the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. Designed by the engineer Andre Waterkeyn and architects André and Jean Polak. It stands 102 m (335 ft) tall. Its nine 18 m (59 ft) diameter stainless steel clad spheres are connected so that the whole forms the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. The top sphere includes a restaurant which has a panoramic view of Brussels. CNN named it Europe’s most bizarre building.
Belgium is pretty small and having done absolutely no research of what tourist areas we should visit, we jumped in a taxi and somehow ended up at Atomium. We didn’t pay to enter the museum as we were limited with time, however we took lots of selfies outside and then headed up to the restaurant at the top and enjoyed a Belgium waffle overlooking the city. The restaurant was somewhat pricey but you pay for the view! The waffles weren’t bad either!
Whilst at Atomium, we went in to the information centre and saw some tourist leaflets. I was particularly interested in an attraction called Caves of Han. Apparently discovered 200 years ago and extending for around 8km, the caves are a series of limestone galleries, carved out by the River Lesse millions of years ago. Shame it was quite a drive away from Brussels centre as I would have loved to go there. If we had an extra day then we would have definitely attempted a trip there! Next time!
During our time in Brussels, we went to two restaurants – two very different types of restaurant. Night 1 we ended up in an All You Can Eat Rib restaurant called Amadeus.
They had a large stuffed cow outside and as we took photos of it we realised how busy the restaurant was which is always a good sign. We were lucky to get a table as it was seriously heaving in there. Whilst the menu was somewhat limited, the concept was pretty good if you decided to go for the all you can eat rib option. They provide little bins on the table for the bones and the waiters come round every 10 minutes with a tray of ribs and you can just keep eating and eating! The two men on the table next to us were definitely getting their money’s worth as I could see their belly’s expand significantly over the course of their dinner.
All in all the food was pretty decent, good value and the restaurant had quite a bit of atmosphere – I would recommend!
My family is from the Philippines, one friend is from Vietnam and one from Thailand so the next night we fancied something a little closer to our ethnic roots. We opted for a good old Chinese restaurant called Dam Sum (Parvis de la Trinité 11, 1060 Ixelles, Belgium). Very busy place and they don’t usually allow you to book but made an exception for us as we were tourists. The place is known for their Dim Sum and is somewhat manic and disorganised as we had to ask several times where some of our dishes were. My favourite dish, Pork Soumai finally arrived when I was already full so that was a bit annoying. However the atmosphere was buzzing and the food was good and averagely priced.
BYE BYE BRUSSELS
Belgium was a lovely place to go for the weekend, however 2/3 days was enough unless you plan to venture out further e.g. Bruges. Thank you so much to my sister for treating me, organising everything and doing so well to keep it a secret. Thank you to my cousin and two other friends who joined us and made my birthday very special.
After three fun filled girly days away, off back home we went. We encountered a 5 hour delay at the airport as the plane we were meant to take was struck by lightning on the way there! However eventually we got home and a few mere hours later it was Monday morning and back to work! 😦