Fred was going to London for 2 days. The rest of us had this romantic idea of going to the wine country in France. We wanted somewhere close and easy. What the four of us were really fantasized about it going somewhere where we could stay in a 5 star highly luxurious hotel. Watch a movie in the room with a big comfy plush bed and a wet bar. Something over the top. Then we’d take in the place and have dinner at a magnificent place and return to Paris after just one night. Doesn’t that sound good?
I did not want to go somewhere that really should be taken in for a few days, such as Amsterdam. So, in the end, we found nothing worth staying that had a room at in the wine country so we decided on Brussels. After all, it is the supposed capital of the EU.
The highlight is that you can get on a high speed train at the train station in Paris and be in Brussels in an
hour and 15. It is pretty sweet. The train is comfortable and the speed is awesome. Brussels, is a strange place. Cold, damp and gritty. On one hand, the 10th century architecture is interesting but the city is far from magical. It is kind of like a dump. There are a few areas that are of interest but in general, a big thumbs down.
We got there and couldn’t check in until 3pm. We were staying at the Hotel Metropole. Again, it was what I was able to get into with 2 days notice but I thought it looked beautiful and old school. Old school, yes but far far far from luxurious. The elevator, although small and open and old fashioned, just kept going up and down instead of letting us out on our floor. Comical on one hand but more annoying. The rooms were like a nice Holiday Inn. Ugh.
By the time we got going, it wasn’t time for lunch quite yet so we did decided to hit up the Chocolate Museum. It wasn’t open yet so we took in the chocolate shops. Brussels is big into chocolate. There is a chocolate store on every corner. We tasted all the good ones. Wittamater, Leonidas, Neuhaus to name a few. We literally went into every one and would just buy one thing. After awhile, we were all a little chocolated out.
The museum finally opened and so we went. It was semi-interesting and fun to watch the elderly guy in the back show us how chocolates were made. His family was fourth generation chocolatiers in Brussels. Although we asked him how did chocolate come to Brussels and become so big here, he was unable to answer that. The cocoa beans are imported so it isn’t like the beans are grown there. He says that the technology is the best in Brussels. So, who the hell knows. Regardless, it is sort of funny to see all the chocolate stores. Like a deli on every corner in NYC, there is a chocolate corner on every corner in Brussels.
After all that chocolate, we headed to a hole in the wall that supposedly has good fries. They only serve fries. Not that good. The Belgium fries place in the East Village blows these fries out of the water. But, it was something we had to do. We thought about going to some of the local waffle places, like the crepe places are around Paris, waffles are in Brussels. Between the fries and chocolates, we though that the waffles would make us sick.
Figured we should go to lunch at Pain Quotidien, at the original, that begun in Brussels. Pain Quotidiens have become like delis in NYC…they are opening a new one on every corner every week. Lunch was ok just like
the restaurant in NYC. Alas. I think breakfast is their best thing not lunch. Totally unsatisfied, we stopped in a few chocolate shops for more tastes on the way back to the hotel.
We walked back to the hotel and checked in. We went to see Wanted at the movies across the street later in the afternoon. A magnificent movie theater with perhaps the largest screen I have ever seen. After, we went back to get ready for dinner and all came to the conclusion that we had enough. Let’s get the hell out of here and back to Paris. It was almost dinner time and I knew that if Josh didn’t eat, it would be a very unhappy evening for all of us, so we went to dinner first.
Dinner was around the corner at Belga Queen. A very cool spot. A rounded long ceiling that was filled with colored glass. Who knows what it was years and years ago. Now it is a restaurant and jazz club. We started with a huge bucket of mussels and ok fries. The main courses were quite good. Jessica had a fish dish. A piece of fish, crispy skin, served over sliced carrot with a sauce. Interesting taste. Josh went for the meatballs that came in a iron pot. They were sweet like Swedish meatballs. Em and I had the chicken. A piece of ballotine chicken (de-boned) rolled up and stuffed with mushrooms and then roasted. Crispy skin and baked apricots on the side with a sauce. All good and a tad heavy but tasty. I know I should have had a beer, cheers to Budweiser right?, but opted for a bottle of white wine.
We raced back to the hotel to see if the concierge could tell us when the next train left. We were screwed, no more trains that evening. So, we went to bed, bummed. We all decided to get up early and get the hell out of town.
We got up and checked out in the morning and took a cab to somewhere for breakfast near the train station. The place we had thought of going was closed so we just walked up the street and found somewhere else. There are many streets there that have stores looking at each other with no car entrance. It is a nice design. We had breakfast at a very cute clean restaurant that had coffee and breads. Perfect.
After eating, we literally raced to get a cab to get to the train station. We had to exchange our tickets to get on an earlier train. The woman who helped us was incredibly unpleasant. She basically said, tough shit, you can’t change these. You will have to wait. I said, how much to change? I am sure I can pay for it, right? Oh yes, that I can do. More than I would have liked to but at this point, I needed to get back to Paris now. So, we paid. It is so dismal in Brussels, the weather, the place, she was obviously an unhappy chick.
Got on the train, played a good game of celebrity and got home. Romantic notions don’t always pan out. There is something magical about being able to get on a train and get to another city, another country and a completely different culture in less than 2 hours. Also, because of the EU, you don’t need a passport when you travel to another country by train. Nobody ever asked to see our passport. I also think getting out of town and coming back in a little more than 24 hours, made us all realize how much we love Paris and feel at home here. That was the only thing that came out of the trip. Then of course blogging about it and perhaps steering other people clear of Brussels. There has to be a silver lining in every cloud.
I actually just returned from staying with friends in Brussels, and had a lovely time. Don’t discount an entire city because you stayed in a crappy hotel, went to the wrong french fry spot, and had a bad lunch. There’s lots to be discovered there, if you give it some time.
Tenth century architecture not magical? Quelle dommage!
You can “do” a city like Amsterdam in a few days? Voor schande!
Oh well, at least you got to see a movie on a rilly big screen.
I love Amsterdam. Could spend 5-6 days there or even 2 weeks or more. Have done enough traveling to assess a city. Brussels….boring! I believe if you check out some websites, Brussels is actually rated the top boring city in Europe. So sorry we didn’t see that before boarding the train.
Eh, I’m kinda with GG – I lived and worked in Brussels for about 18 months in the 1990s – beer and food are great, but otherwise the place is dullsville.
Had I known you were going to Brussels, I could have helped you have a stunningly different experience. I lived there for two and a half years.
While Brussels isn’t known for its weather, the restaurants and architecture are magnificent. One of the common expressions was that the French invented fine cuisine and the Belgians perfected it.
In fact, my favorite restaurant of ANY in the WORLD is in Brussels. It’s called Chez Maria’s Steak House. 400 grams of chateaubriand with frites (french fries), some fine red wine and a dessert of profiteroles. Amazing!
It’s also too bad you didn’t meet some of the Belgians. During my 2.5 years in Brussels, I met many wonderful Belgians — some I’m still in touch with. In fact, one woman introduced me to a Canadian who is now my wife and our daughter is named after this fine Belgian woman, Nicole.
I hope if you ever return to Belgium, you’ll contact me. I will help you make it a place you will want to return to time and time again.