Saturday, June 23, 2018

6 Months in Europe: Brussels, Ghent, and Bruges

It has been a HOT minute since I've blogged. As much as I have wanted to share some of the places I've been while living in Europe, I've also been enjoying my time working during the week, traveling on the weekends, and not putting pressure on myself to do much else. But now it's time to actually write some of this out so I don't forget! First up: Belgium. One of my very favorite places of all the countries I have been so far.
I'm not sure if there was so much excitement since this was my first trip outside of Germany, or if I truly loved it that much, but Brussles has been one of my favorites. I decided to go spur of the moment because I learned that we had a 4-day weekend coming up for Easter and I did not want to sit in my apartment alone (having just moved to Germany 3 weeks prior and knowing that German cities shut down over the Easter holiday). It was a little last minute for train or plane tickets, so I looked on the map for cities driving distance from Wiesbaden. Brussels is about 4.5 hours from Frankfurt, perfect for a long weekend. Side note: do NOT be afraid to drive in Europe. Parking, driving, and dealing with a car is much easier than I expected (granted I've avoided very large metropolitan areas like Berlin or Paris), and is a great way to see a lot. But more on that in another post!
A few weeks prior to this trip, I also met my first friend in Wiesbaden, Mika. I was at a Thai restaurant having dinner, reading a book, and I heard a woman speaking to her young daughter in English. With no shame, I asked if they were from the states. Mika and her 5-year-old daughter, Aryanna, have been my LIFESAVERS. Mika is amazing and in the Air Force. Wiesbaden has a large army base nearby, so there are actually quite a few Americans living in the area. We exchanged numbers and after texting back and forth a bit in the weeks after, we discovered we were both planning to go to Belgium over Easter so we drove together. They have shown me around, brought me back things from the army base, and have quickly become my good friends. 
But back to Belgium...Once we arrived, we didn't have much of an itinerary planned. We spent the first afternoon just walking around, which I highly recommend. If you go to Brussels, you MUST spend some time in the Grand Place. It is stunning. There are also lots of cute shops and restaurants around the area. Be sure to stop in Elisabeth -- it is the cutest chocolate shop and has the BEST truffles I have ever had in my life. No joke. I'm debating driving back to Belgium just for the chocolate. 

The Grand Place during the day.
A view of the Grand Place at night.
 After walking around a bit, we did indulge in some Belgium beer. Delirium is the must-go. It's a huge bar and it's...a huge bar. I understand the appeal of trying Belgium beer and visiting Delirium, but it's not somewhere I would want to spend a ton of time. It's old, huge, hard to find a table, and smells like college. But it is fun. I recommend stopping in just to see it, having a beer, then moving on to a smaller restaurant on a side street to sit outside and actually enjoy the beer. Because all the bars and restaurants around the area sell Delirium beer.
After having maybe one too many beers, we went back to the hotel. I ended up staying down the street from Mika and Aryanna, at the Dominican. I HIGHLY recommend it. The location was great (walking distance to Delirium and the Grand Place) and was a beautiful hotel. Fun fact: Stassi Schroeder and her boyfriend recently stayed there on their Europe trip -- I recognized the fitness center from her snaps. (Not because I worked out when I was there, I just remember it from the pictures of the hotel when I booked). It has a lovely restaurant, lovely bar, and the rooms were modern, clean, and peaceful. 
The Dominican
The lobby of the Dominican
The bar at the Dominican
On Sunday, Mika and Aryanna stayed in Brussels while I took a tour out to Ghent and Bruges. Most people who go to Belgium consider also visiting Ghent and Bruges because they're so close. I booked a day trip through Viator that stopped in both cities.  They are both medieval cities and both have a lot to offer. I loved Bruges (it seemed right out of a fairy tale) but could have passed on Ghent. However, I have to admit I was a tiny bit hungover from the Belgium beer the night before (that alcohol content sneaks up on you!) and it was raining in Ghent (it cleared up by the time we got to Bruges). Mika traveled to Ghent at a later date and loved it. It's definitely worth seeing if you book a day tour that stops in both cities (which I did and recommend -- disclaimer below). Bruges was crowded (major tourist attraction) but lovely. It literally felt like I was living in a Disney movie. After the official "tour" we had some free time, so I sat with a girl I met from London and we had a latte and a beer and enjoyed people watching at a cafe in the city center. 
Disclaimer: it is a FULL day of sight-seeing and traveling. I took a day tour on a coach bus. It took us about 45 minutes to get from Brussels to Ghent, another 45 minutes from Ghent to Bruges, and probably an hour to an-hour-and-a-half to get back from Bruges to Brussels. The tour left around 8:30 or 9:00 in the morning and I got back around 6:00 at night. That being said, I still think it was worth it. If you have 2 full days in Belgium, I would spend one walking around and enjoying Brussels and another on the day trip to Bruges and Ghent. I personally recommend it because I enjoy seeing new cities, but you're also not totally missing out if you decide to just stay in Brussels.
When I got off of the bus, I had a few beers with another girl I met on the tour, Sarah. Sarah and I also exchanged numbers and Instagram accounts (because, duh, it's 2018) and we ended up going to Switzerland together a few weeks later! (Post to come). We stopped in A la Mort Subite, which was fun. It's a historic Belgian beer bar; worth stopping in if you're in the area. 
After that, I came home early, ordered some room service and went to bed. I woke up the next morning to meet Mika and Aryanna for breakfast before heading back to Germany. We ate at Peck 47, which was SO good. There was a line out of the door when we walked up, but it's a tiny place and they turn over the tables quickly. I definitely recommend waiting and having one of their eggs benedict dishes and a chai tea latte. 
Breakfast at Peck 47
On our way out of town (well it wasn't really on the way out, but not far), we drove past the Atomium. It is a building that looks like a huge atom and was constructed in 1958 for the Brussels World Fair (thanks, Wikipedia). It is cool to see -- it was larger than I expected -- but I wouldn't spend my time trying to go inside. Definitely worth a quick drive-by, if possible. Another bonus: it's close to the Royal Palace of Brussels and the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula. The Cathedral is also gorgeous and worth seeing. It is where all of the royalty of Belgium is buried...or entombed (or so my tour guide said. I forgot to mention that we passed by all of these landmarks -- the Atomium, Royal Palace and the Cathedral -- on the way back to Brussels from Bruges). So if you do the day trip, you may see them. They were cool enough, however, that I wanted to drive Mika and Aryanna by before we left the city. But I don't know that I would spend the bulk of my time out there, away from Brussels. 
The Atomium
I am SURE there are many more things to do in Brussels and Belgium (I skipped mannekim pis...). I would love to go back. But this was a solid weekend of sight-seeing, beer-tasting, and good breakfast-eating. Do NOT overlook Brussels next time you go to Europe!


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