Brussels: The Unofficial Capital of Europe

How does a teetotaler end up in Brussels during the Belgian Beer Weekend?

I have no clue, yet it was just one of the most memorable events to happened during my 2019 adventure in the city considered the “Capital of Europe,” (unofficially).

WHERE’S BAGGAGE CLAIM?

I’d decided to travel to Brussels because it is a city full of wonder, magic and intrigue, and I’m looking for enchantment and charm, and …

Okay, seriously, I decided on Brussels because I’d never been before (non-work related), and wanted to visited Brussels and the surrounding cities of Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent.

Following my adventures in Madrid and Toledo, Spain, I hopped aboard an Iberia Airlines flight to Brussels. I booked an early morning flight (per usual), thus I arrived at the Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suárez Airport around 4:30 a.m., for a 7:30 a.m. departure.

Being a Los Angeles native, I’m still amused by the fact that some airports actually close for the night. I can’t even imagine LAX closing for a few hours each night.

Despite my amusement, I find joy and peace walking around a near-empty airport before the daily hoards arrive. The quietness helps settles my mind and nerves, replenishing my patience-level, enabling me to calmly handle the Horrors of Travel.

It was cool finding a mini-black London cab in Madrid's airport.
It was cool finding a mini-black London cab in Madrid’s airport.

My first flight on Iberia Airlines was uneventful, though seats were a bit cramped for first-class, but customer service was good.

My flight arrived in Brussels about 20 minutes early and I was ready to explore.

And so began the long walk to baggage claim
And so began the long walk to baggage claim

I was also happy we arrived early, until I began walking toward the baggage claim.

OMGosh!

I walked … and walked … and walked.

I arrived at the baggage claim thirty minutes later. And no, I didn’t get lost or walk slower than normal, or stop to take selfies. It really did take thirty minutes to walk from the gate to the baggage claim. I noted this fact for future Belgium Adventures.

I retrieved my luggage, breezed through customs and immigration, and found my Welcome Pickups driver Georgios Vlachakis.

Off to City Centre!

Georgios was an excellent driver. As we made our way into the city, he took time to give a sightseeing tour, pointing out major landmarks like The Berlaymont, headquarters for the EU’s executive branch, Brussels Centre Station, and most importantly, Brussels-Midi/Zuid Station, where I would catch my EuroStar train to London. He also provided a very detailed map of the city and information on where to find the best seafood restaurants that wouldn’t leave me broke.

Finally, we arrived at Manos Stéphanie Hôtel, my lodgings for the next four nights.

MANOS STÉPHANIE HÔTEL

I booked this hotel via Interval International, Diamond Resorts exchange partner. Overall, my stay here was excellent. Customer service was great and the interior of the hotel was nice, unlike my Madrid hotel.

My room was a bit larger than expected, but it was nice. Though it did have some scuff marks and chipped paint, it was nothing to throw a hissy fit over.

  • Manos Stéphanie Hôtel entrance
  • Manos Stéphanie Hôtel front desk
  • Manos Stéphanie Hôtel interior
  • Superior Room Manos Stéphanie Hôtel
  • Superior Room - Manos Stéphanie Hôtel
  • An actual room key
  • Doorway Superior Room - Manos Stéphanie Hôtel
  • Bathroom - Superior Room Manos Stéphanie Hôtel
  • Bathtub - Manos Stéphanie Hôtel
  • Bathroom Sink Superior Room - Manos Stéphanie Hôtel
  • View from my room

Breakfast was included in the room rate. Standard continental fare, but it was good enough to get me going for the day. Plus the free apples in the lobby were a great snack to have when exploring the town.

The only issue I really had was with the lighting on my floor. It was really dark when exiting the elevator and very hard to see the door’s keyhole. Also, the elevator is very tiny, so if you bring large bags, expect to carry them up the stairs.

I decided to first explore the local area and do my photo safari. Plus, it was a great time to find the location where I was too meet my tour group the next day. After a quick snack and wash-up, off I went to discover Hidden Gems in this lovely city.

But first, I must visit Manneken Pis, the “pissing boy.”

MANNEKEN PIS

There are so many stories surrounding this famous statue. One story has the little guy as a spy; another as a lost son whose father gifted the statue to the city after the boy’s safe return. Yet another is the boy saved the city by peeing on a bomb that was set to destroy the city.

Whatever the real tale, Manneken Pis is an iconic attraction that embodies the Brussels people’s sense of humor and their independence of mind.

It was also fun meeting people from different countries who’d flocked to the statute. I spent a good twenty-five minutes taking photos and chatting with travelers from Japan, China, Ireland, and, yes, the United States (they were from Alaska, wow)!

Manneken Pis in action

PHOTO SAFARI

Walking around the city is a wonderful way to discover hidden gems and city quirks you may never discover if you stick with major tourist attractions. During my walk, I found a slew of wonderful buildings, restaurants, green spaces, and met wonderful people. Sometimes when you get “lost” you “find” a beautiful part of the city.

Dealing with hoards of people, hearing nonsense complaints, sitting in cramped airline seats, and all the other Horrors of Travel can take the fun out of traveling. A nice walk helps me recover the peace and tranquility I lose over the course of Travel Day.

My walks remind me of the reason why I travel — to have fun while learning more about the world.

  • King Albert I, who served as the King of the Belgians from 1909 to 1934.
  • Elisabeth of Bavaria, Queen consort of the Belgians as the spouse of King Albert I, and a Duchess in Bavaria by birth.
  • Brussels Central Station, the second busiest railway station in Belgium.
  • The Big Wheel (The View) rises to 55 meters, which totals a panorama of Brussels of more than 100 meters.
  • Palais de Justice de Bruxelles
  • The Anglo-Belgian War Memorial commemorates the support given by the Belgian People to British prisoners of war during the First World War.
  • Me at Hard Rock Cafe Brussels. I swear I wasn't looking for the HRC, but I found it anyway.
  • Me at Hard Rock Cafe Brussels. I swear I wasn't looking for the HRC, but I found it anyway.
  • Fountain of Counts Edgmont and Horne in Petit Sablon Square
  • The Petit Sablon
  • Yea, I was not impressed with the gentleman behind me. (Candy Knight's photo)

BELGIUM BEER WEEKEND

Grote Markt 

Now how does a teetotaler, who does her best to meticulously plan her adventures, end up in Brussels during the Belgian Beer Weekend?

Getting ready for Beer Weekend
Beer Weekend admission was free, but the beer was not.

Beats me, but it was fun seeing both small and big breweries presenting their beer at the Grote Markt.

The festival happens every year in Grote Markt, and features more than 400 different Belgian beers!

And although admission was free, the beer wasn’t. Prices began at €10 for two pints. With more than 400 different beers to try, you can imagine how costly Beer Weekend could be for attendees.

To answer your question, no, I didn’t try any of the alcoholic offerings, but the event was awesome, and I’m glad I was able to experience it in-person.

While I passed on the alcohol, I did gather as much SWAG as possible. Hey, it saves on buying souvenirs and gifts for the folks back home. My sister-in-law, Denise, loves her Brussels shot glass. I love that it was free SWAG.

The only infuriating experience was dodging all the “tour representatives” trying to distract you so their partners can pickpocket you. I think I dodge three “representatives.”

I actually watch a couple fall for the scam and get robbed. I quickly informed them what just happened and pointed the person out to the police. Not sure if the person was arrested or if the couple got their belongings back. I hope they’ll be more observant and careful on future travels.

MUSEUM VAN DE STAD BRUSSEL

The Museum van de Stad Brussel is a must, especially when it’s located on the Grote Markt. Dedicated to the history and lore of Stad Brussel, I took advantage to learn more about how Brussels became the Crossroads of Europe.

Brussels City Museum circa 1960s
Brussels City Museum circa 1960s

My favorite exhibit was “The Grand Place to Be,” a room dedicated to the Grote Markt’s history and heritage. I enjoyed the “behind-the-scenes” of the Markt.

  • Before the Museum
  • 1695 fire
  • Museum Building 1860
  • Black and white photo of Brussels. Photo hangs in Brussels City Museum
  • Brussels mid-20th century.

Another favorite was seeing the original Manneken-Pis statue and replicas of the statue in different costumes.

MUSÉE DES ÉGOUTS BRUXELLES

A sewer museum? Really?

Visiting a sewer museum isn’t high on many people’s attractions list, but my adventures aren’t simply about visiting top tourist attractions. I do my best to find Hidden Gems, and the Musée des Égouts is certainly a Hidden Gem. And if I learn a little history along the way, even better!

The museum tells the story of when, why, and how the Brussels sewers were built, including describing the sewer workers’ jobs, while explaining the city’s water cycle.

The tour actually took you into a real sewer, and was led by actual ex-workers. Of course, my nose took a while to recover from the smell, but this experience made me appreciate the people who work hard keeping sewers functioning.

The museum starts with three rooms of history before heading underground to see the sewers. Afterward, the tour returns to the ground level and another room of history.

The tour lasted about 30 to 40 minutes, but I spent a little longer because the museum was very interesting. The majority of the exhibits were in Dutch or French. Luckily, the museum provides a handbook in different languages, including in English.

An unusual place to visit, but worthwhile and very fun. Definitely worth adding to your list of places to visit in Brussels.

BRUSSELS ON A BUDGET? GOOD LUCK!

Wow, Brussels was more exciting than expected.

And it was more expensive than I estimated.

I’m not a true low-cost budget traveler, and I love to splurge every now and again. On this adventure, I felt I was splurging every day. On average, I spend between €15 to €30 daily during my European adventures.

In Brussels, I spent an average of €60 to €100 a day, mostly on food.

Yes, food!

I mean €40 for a set menu of rice and seafood medley, which had no flavor, and a chocolate dessert masquerading as mousse?

Grade: “B+” for effort; “C-” for customer service; “D-” for food.

Restaurant Premier Comptoir Thai wasn’t up to the task on this day. Overall, not my scene, and I didn’t return for another meal.

I came across Dam Sam when searching for the seafood restaurant my Welcome Pickups driver Georgios suggested. I found the seafood restaurant, but their menu didn’t pique my interest. And neither did their prices. Really, €65 for shrimp cocktail? Uhmm, I’ll pass.

Dam Sam was reasonably priced (€25) and not very busy. I was glad I stopped by because I had a very good meal.

Grade: “A-” for effort; “A+” for customer service; “A” for food

The Kastaletta Grilled lamb with fries and a salad I had at Le Prince Restaurant Lounge on my final night in Brussels was the food highlight of my adventure. Excellent customer service, delicious food, and decently priced (€30).

Kastaletta, Grilled lamb with fries and a salad at Le Prince Restaurant Lounge.
Kastaletta, Grilled lamb with fries and a salad at Le Prince Restaurant Lounge.

Grade: “A+” all the way!

Of course, no one leaves Brussels without sampling a Belgian Waffle. The true dilemma is choosing a flavor.

Belgian waffles
Belgian Waffles

My Brussels adventure eventually came to an end and I returned to London via Eurostar. Yes, the train takes four hours while a flight is only ninety minutes. Yet, my train ticket was on €15 versus €70 for a flight. Yep, I’ll take the train.

  • Me on the train
  • Brussels-Midi/Zuid Station
  • Brussels-Midi/Zuid Station First-Class Lounge
  • The English Side of the Channel
  • Welcome to St. Pancras

My adventure in Brussels has placed this city on my Top 10 Favorite Adventure Cities list and I plan to visit again.

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