With a few days left of the European portion of our family sabbatical we decided to make a short visit to Brussels before departing out of Paris.
Since we were now without a car, we rode the rails from Paris to Brussels Midi. Train travel in Western Europe is quite comfortable and easy.
After arriving in Brussels we took in the main sights. The UNESCO listed Grand Place is the central square of the city and is regarded as one of the most beautiful in all of Europe. Surrounding the square are buildings that used to house various guilds.
Next we had to visit the statue that is the symbol of the city, the Mannekin Pis. Yes, it is smaller than one would expect given how famous it is. The statue is often clothed in different kinds of costumes but we got to see it in all its glory.
As several groups of tourists elbowed each other for a prime viewing spot of the statue we had to sit back and appreciate the Belgian sense of humor.
Next up in our obligatory Brussels things to do and see (and eat) tour was waffles. We enjoyed some topped with Nutella, cookie butter, and strawberries and whipped cream.
Particularly in the older parts of town, the symbol of the city is prominently represented.
Something is Brewing in Brussels…
After getting our fill of waffles we had to move on to another of Belgium’s famous exports: beer! We got an up-close introduction to the brewing traditions of the country during our self-guided tour of Cantillion, a brewery that has been operating in Belgium since 1900.
Cantillion is unique in that their beers are produced using spontaneous fermentation. They do not use added yeast in their process; instead, they let whatever wild yeast that is floating around the brewhouse ferment the beer.
Cantillion beers are bottle-aged in the cellars. Bottles were stacked everywhere up to the ceiling! These beers are highly sought after across the world; a few breweries in the US get a small allotment each year on “Zwanze Day.”
We expanded our beer tasting horizons with a visit to Mort Subite, a traditional beer hall that was once popular as a lunch break spot for stock traders. We tried the traditional Gueuze beer along with the fruited varieties; peach was our favorite.
Another Christmas Market
One of our favorite things about being in Europe this time of year are all of the Christmas markets. The one in Brussels did not disappoint. They had a great variety of food and shops – plenty of crepes and waffles but also pho and empanadas.
Ever since we spotted ice skating in Zagreb, our daughter has been asking to hit the rink. Less than a block away from our apartment, we were able to fulfill her wish.
We continued exploring the market into the evening, having dinner at the various food stands.
In addition to the normal Christmas lights, there were several art installations. We enjoyed watching a church covered in modern lights set to music in one of the squares.
Our youngest was so worn out by the end that he took a nap on the way back to our place. It is a good thing he is still pretty portable.
Tastes of Home?
We really enjoyed grocery shopping in Brussels, mainly because the beer and chocolate aisles cannot be rivaled back home. One thing we have noticed across Europe is that we were pretty much always able to find ingredients to make tacos or other Tex-Mex favorites that remind us of home. This is a pretty welcome change from when we traveled Europe in college so long ago and such things were much more challenging to find.
Of course, Playgrounds
One of the things we are always on the look out for as we explore a new place is a playground. We have found a wide variety in frequency and quality across the various countries we have visited. Luckily, Brussels had some good choices so we were able to let the kids play in several places around town.
Belgium is one of our favorite countries to visit and we have no doubt that we will be seeing Brussels again in the not-too-distant future. It is a great combination of good food, interesting culture and relaxed vibe that makes it a joy to visit. It was a great way to finish up our European tour.
It is hard to believe that we’ve already hit the halfway point of our family sabbatical. In 2019 we’ll be traveling to Central and South America, Australia, New Zealand and SE Asia. Check back soon! 🙂