Our trip through Western Europe took us to some interesting places and Brussels has to be one of my favorites. Brussels has about 19 Districts to it and each one has its own look and feel. In order to see and explore them all, you would probably need to stay at least two weeks. We did not have that kind of time, and as such, we drove directly through the European Quarter to the historic center where it all began.
In the center of Brussels you will find price worthy hotels of every nature. It is worth noting that in this area you probably should go with a place that has three or more stars just for safety reasons alone. In a city this size, like imagine the size of New York, if you pick the cheapest hotel you will probably wind up in an area where something bad could happen to you. I assume you would not go to New York and stay in the cheapest of places either, for similar concerns. We paid about $130.00 for the three of us to stay in a hotel in the historic district in the center of the city. They did not offer parking but, gave us a map to the best parking garage in the area where, upon our checkout we would have our parking ticket partially validated so, we would receive a discount on the parking fees. The price of the room did not include breakfast.
After we saw our room, we felt that it was possibly not the safest, and the building itself was done so strangely that we swore it could have possibly been an old brothel that was converted into a hotel. The room itself was clean, the beds were comfortable enough and the bathroom was quite large. Five main problems here were that: The windows looked out onto the dirty rooftop which, was a giant square completely surrounded by adjoining buildings. The windows were a bit on the broken side, it was hard to get them open and then they only opened on one side. After the rain stopped, it was hot and humid up there. There was no air conditioning at all, just two small portable fans that were already broken, stored in the room guest use. There was no minibar and as such, no place to put any kind of drinks, to get them cold, except the window ledge outside which, at the time, did not help us. The door to the room was thin, flimsy in nature and the lock was similar to what you would find on any inside door of the most cheaply made, basic house here in Europe. There was not any extra security features for the door on the inside of the room, just the key that fits into the lock that, you could only turn once. We decided to just hope for the best experience in this hotel and we left for the evening to go explore the area.
EATING IN THE CENTER
We stepped out onto the street in front of the hotel and were pleasantly surprised that the rain had gone from cats and dogs to a slow drizzle. We made a big circle around the area to see what we could film and to look for a place to have our dinner. We found a mall within a ten minute walk that was directly across the street from The Royal Theater. We went inside the mall to look around and found a grocery store with good prices where we bought some drinks to take back with us. We also found a very nice chocolate shop where we purchased a small box of specialty chocolates. We did spend a bit more on those than we would have liked, I believe they were about fifteen Euros so close to twenty US Dollars. As it was a trip about experiences and Belgium is famous for their chocolate, we decided to go ahead spend the money. I will say that we had that box of chocolates for many days afterwards and each time one of us ate one of them…we were again reminded how different the chocolate in Belgium really is. We left the mall with our purchases, headed back to the hotel to drop it all off.
After leaving our hotel again with just the essentials, our mission was to find a restaurant we could all agree upon for dinner. We found a place that is as American as it gets, Pizza Hut. Now imagine you were me; out of the U.S. for over ten years, someone who loves American style pizza but, has not seen it in all that time and you came across a Pizza Hut by accident. You know you would be going in there! So, oddly enough, I had told my son Adrian about Pizza Hut stuffed crust pizza, about two weeks before our trip and he did not forget that conversation. He was up to the challenge of trying out his first, real, American style pizza. He loved every bite of it and would rather eat that than; every other kind of Italian pizza that, he has tried so far here while, living with us in Italy. Our bill for dinner was about thirty Euros. I had a salad, we all had large drinks and had ordered the biggest stuffed crust pizza on the menu. Full and happy, we headed out into the wet atmosphere.
BRUSSELS AFTER DARK
Once the sun begins to set in Brussels you notice a completely different vibe in the center. It goes from being a place where the locals work and tourists shop and eat, to a place where they wander around looking for a party. There were many more street performers and musicians out at night than there were during the day but, I am sure that the rain and the fact that it was a weekday also played a part in that. While out wandering, we passed every kind of shop, cafe, restaurant and snack place that a tourist could possibly want or need. We finally found “The Grand Place” and decided to look around.
The Grand Place is in itself a treat for the eyes during the day and at night; with all of its lights and the fun ambience in full swing, it becomes a place that everyone seems to be drawn to, like moths to light. There was a troupe of street dancers performing for a very large crowd and how they were able to do their moves on the cobblestones is still a mystery to me. Their music and the noise from the crowd was loud enough to be heard two streets away. I am sure when they were done that, they left the area with their pockets lined in silver. We left the dancers, walked the square in the middle of The Grand Place, taking notes on what to check out in the morning.
On the way back to our hotel we found an Archeological Site that was partially obstructed by construction of a nearby building but, from what I could see it was called Bruxelle 1238 Museum. It was on a side street between a few restaurants and a church. It apparently can be visited during the day and is the site of a Franciscan Monastery that was founded in this area in the year 1238 as well as the tomb of Duke John the First of Brabant. It was rebuilt several times after being destroyed and then finally disappeared as the new modern era was built over the top of it. I thought it was interesting just because of the way it was situated in the middle of the street with reinforced glass over it and a door with steps leading down under the street. There are many, many, many things out of the pages of history to see and experience in Brussels. It is my opinion that, these historic sites and other museums are very well put together and should be seen by as many people as possible. These types of activities are a treat for the eye and the mind and the prices to get in can be very cheap if you do your research. In this case, you can buy a “Brussels Card” which gives you access to all of the museums and other sites around Brussels (over 40 museums alone) for the starting price of twenty-six Euros per person. You can purchase either 24-48 or 72 hour passes. These passes can also be purchased to include public transportation or the hop-on/hop-off tour bus rides to be included.
Brussels is a great city with many things to see and do and it can all be done on a budget. If you are planning a trip to Europe I would hope that, you would consider adding Brussels to your list of cities to visit. It has a fantastic and rich history. With the exception of the sketchy looking locals, the rest are a friendly lot who, for the most part, understand and and speak English. Plan wisely, read hotel reviews online, book all tickets online as it is always going to be cheaper that way and you too will have a great time in Brussels!