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Belgium - Trip update

I'll be in Brussels on Sunday and Monday. I'll update this with my experiences as I go along. Do chip in with hints and suggestions if you can, I'll be grateful :)

So far:

  • Landed at Hotel Midi Zuid. A botched booking by me or hotels.com or someone led me to believe that 3 people could fit in a double room. NOT the case, needed a triple room - luckily the hotel had a triple room empty. That's another 100 euros gone then. I wonder why hotels.com let me make the reservation in the first place. Weird.

  • The hotel's very close to Brussels Midi, the cab guy said I could walk it but it was 10 in the night and we had 6 (albeit small) pieces of luggage and Dad's bad knee. So we said it was fine and asked him to drop us there. 10 Euros more gone. That was expensive - aren't cabs in Belgium generally expensive?

  • Had dinner and a shower. It's a nice room.

  • Tomorrow plan to see as much of Brussels as I can. Here's a link to my sheet which has the places I plan to see. The rows in light blue are the ones I'll try and book tours for. The plan is to do as much as possible in the morning and head to Waterloo in the afternoon/evening if I can. All feedback is obviously most welcome.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AnrLPwp6tHypdDRLeWFsT1VmLU1QMFUxS0RQcWZ0SHc&usp=drive_web#gid=22

  • I need to figure out the train/tram/bus system here next so I can easily get from place to place. Maybe go over to Brussels Midi in the morning and sort that out.
Posted by
37 posts

I was in Belgium on Aug 1-3. Grand Place was very nice! I thought the Mannekin Pis was over-rated. Don't understand why this is a landmark in all the guidebooks. We bought a 24 hour metro card and used that to navigate the buses during our visit. Cash fare on the buses is higher than buying a ticket at the bus stop!

The best decision we made was to skip day 2 in Brussels and take a day trip to Bruges. We used City Tours which has an office in Grand Place. The guide was fabulous and spoke 6 languages. Bruges was amazing - best food, best chocolate, best sight-seeing. Loved the cherry beer! The canal trip for 6 euros was worth it!

My aunt lived in Antwerp for 4 years and says that city is amazing. We just didn't have time to visit.

On an unrelated note, I saw your itinerary for Paris, and I highly recommend the Musee d'Orsay. My favorite place, but I absolutely love impressionist art.

Posted by
27743 posts

Prepare to be let down about Waterloo. It is a very large place (Dad's knees), far out of town, and not easy by public transport. Have you got a car? Brussels traffic can very ... hmmm.... exciting.

You cab driver was trying to tell you he didn't want such a short fare. You insisted. He obliged and charged you what he considered a minimum fare. You didn't tip him, right?

I don't like to follow links so I haven't looked at your sheet.

Enjoy your stay in Brussels. I hope you aren't missing Brugge and Gent. Than you could practice your Flemish or Dutch instead of French.

Posted by
137 posts

Thanks Nancy. I did the "Jump card" too today and its 7 Euro for unlimited travel for 24 hours. It should kinda pay itself and be a little profitable too, depending on how things go tomorrow.

Nigel..yes, that's true, I just felt I didn't want to search for the place at 10:30 in the night with all that luggage and with Mom and Dad pretty tired. The minimum fare did show up as 4:50 Euros, so 10 Euros is probably .. I don't know a Euro or two more. And no I didn't tip :). I've also decided to dump Waterloo, so no worries there.

Posted by
137 posts

Day 1 - Belgium

  • Slept at 2 am the previous night and super tired. Got up at 8:30. Remember to set your clocks 1 hour forward once you travel from London to Europe.
  • Took an hour to plan all my routes and what I'd see during the day.
  • Mom and me went out and bought some vegetarian food, which is harder than London. Even bread is made in places that also process egg, so its a bit of a problem. We'll manage.
  • Walked to Gare Du Midi and bought 3 24 hour cards with the help of Mom's fairly good French. People in Belgium do speak English too, but French appears to be the main language in Brussels.
  • Went back to the hotel, picked Dad up and we then walked to Lemonnier (3 minutes). It was nearly noon at this point.
  • Metro towards Bourse and got off near Grand Place. Lots of cobble stone roads but I liked them, it had a feel of a city but still felt kind of rural. Old architecture, few cars , lots of walking trails...quite pretty really, and I don't say that too often. I liked the place as soon as I got in.
  • Saw the Grand Place, walked around a bit, parents went chocolate hunting .. store on every lane almost...it seemed like. But some really really nice chocolate - just melts in your mouth. They even had chocolate which didn't contain egg in it so I could eat it :). Sadly though I couldn't eat waffles - all of it contained egg. Does anyone know of a place that uses waffles that doesn't contain any egg?
  • We sat for the chocolate tour offered by Planet Du Chocolate.. very near Grand Place. 7 Euro per head - 1 hour session - with some delicious hot chocolate and 4 different chocolates to taste - delicious :). The session was very interesting too, he actually showed us how the chocolate was made.
  • Went and peeked at the overcrowded Mannekin Pis - I don't know why there's a fuss about it .. it's a cute little statue though. Maybe 2 minutes though, that's it.
  • Dad had a waffle with strawberries and cream and chocolate sauce - he could eta only half - we packed the other half up.
  • Walked slowly to Gare Du Central, which is a really nice walk.
  • Relaxed at a tiny garden next to Gare Du Central for a while which was very nice too. Again, it's really nice to lie on the grass, look up at the sky and some nice buildings - and with not many people around either, relatively speaking.
  • Walked up a number of steps towards an even nicer park, in the direction of the Saint Jacques Cathedral. The symmetry of that garden was quite quite cool. Some really colourful flowers and leaves and a great view from the top of the steps.
  • Caught a bus back to De Broggiere and the metro back to the hotel.

Importantly, I felt that people here were very very considerate towards Mom and Dad and helped Dad up many times, by hand. Most countries we've been to - they've always been nice, but this I feel was the best so far, and to get that an impression in 1 day - was nice.

Tomorrow, we'll head off to the Atomium early in the morning, try and visit the Palais Royal which looks to be close to that. We'll head back to Brussels and try and do the Cantolion brewery tour. Lastly, if we have time - we'll head to Antwerp - yes the train ride is fine .. even if its a little long.

Is there some kind of tour in Antwerp which shows us how diamonds are made/processed? I couldn't find one online. That'll be it for Brussels - can't do Brugges/Ghent this time Nigel.. sorry .. maybe next time :)

Will update everyone tomorrow. All in all a really really good day - probably the best of my little tour so far.

Posted by
8405 posts

Lovely report Arvind. We look forward to more.

Posted by
670 posts

Arvind, thanks for taking the time to write these reports. I'm really enjoying following you and your parents on your European adventure!!

Posted by
137 posts

You are most welcome Bets and Dawn :). I enjoy writing them too.

Day 2:
The day started pretty badly to be honest. Dad's knee gave him a lot of trouble in the night and the morning wasn't much better either. He could barely get out of bed in the morning. We all got dressed, and I told Dad to head out after giving him directions, so that we had a bit of a start, but when Mom and I went down - he was still sitting in the hotel lobby. He'd wanted badly to see the Atomium though, so Mom and I helped him to the station and the Metro (luckily there were escalators). A 5 minute walk took almost 20 minutes. The same story at the Atomium - 5 minute walk took 20 minutes. I stood in the queue and bought him tickets, he went up and enjoyed himself up there - so it was all worth it.

Mom and me wandered around the surrounding area - there's some really really gorgeous foliage in the area around the Atomium - a huge amount of greenery and flowers and a shape changing water fountain. It's very close to where the Atomium is - so if you go there, make sure you definitely spend an hour just roaming around the area.

By the time we managed to transport Dad back to the hotel :) it was almost 3:30pm. We had a quick lunch and Mom and I decided to go to Antwerp, but the next train was at 5:20pm and we decided nothing would be open. The only thing we could have potentially done was walk through St. Anna's tunnel. That would have been nice - but not really worth travelling an hour in each direction and spending upto 30 Euros overall.

So we just walked around Brussels instead and explored a few side lanes for about 30-45 minutes. The streets are part stone, part concrete and the houses are similar too - each house is very different. We were very close to the Gare Du Midi station - but there was hardly anyone on the street even at 5 in the evening - maybe it was because it was slightly drizzling. The flowers in one of the yards were really nice and there seem to be so many squares everywhere and a lot of benches where people can sit if they'd like to.

So in the end, we probably covered only 50% of Belgium, but that's a risk you run when you spend only 2 days in a place. It makes a lot of sense to spend at least 3 if you can. Or skip the country all together, and spend more time elsewhere. Obviously, this time Mom and Dad wanted to see as much of Europe as possible in this trip - I doubt they'll come back alone, but if you can - spend a little extra time, or trim your trip.

Off to Netherlands by the 6:18am Thalys tomorrow morning. Will spend a couple of days there before heading off to Paris. I'll open a new thread there tomorrow - do keep reading :)

Posted by
11613 posts

Arvind, it's great to hear that all your research and planning is paying off for your parents. Looking forward to the next installment.

Posted by
137 posts

Thanks Zoe. It has gone well so far and I hope it continues to pay off. While we haven't done as much as we could have, had Dad been fully mobile - we've done quite a bit.

Posted by
11613 posts

I recently traveled with a friend I hadn't seen in several years and she left the planning to me; turned out she had a few more limitations, so we also did about half of what I had planned, but not a problem since I go back to Italy frequently. She enjoyed what we did see, so it was a good trip.