Europe 2013 #3 – Brussels & Brugge

Many people have the misconception that there’s nothing to do in Belgium but I’m going to show you it’s all wrong. Actually, I didn’t know what to expect from Belgium either. I only decided to go there because it was notably cheaper than England and France. For instance, I got to stay at Pullman Hotel Brussels Midi for S$96 a night and the hotel was way better than what I had in London and Paris. This hotel is extremely convenient, being located at the train station, if you intend to take day trips to various Belgian cities. It is also recommended by the Michelin guide for hotels.

Belgium is also notably less crowded, which is a good thing because who likes crowds? The thing about Belgium is you probably need to get out of Brussels in order to see the beauty. In Belgium, they speak French and Dutch. In Brussels both languages are used officially and it’s a bilingual city, but in all other areas, they either use French (Walloon) or Dutch (Flemish). In this trip, I only explored the Flemish region.

The first meal at Brussels was at Les Brassins.

I went for the lunch which cost €14.50. It comes with calamari as starter, grilled pork and frites. The frites were amazing.

The location of this place was not anywhere near a main street or crowded place. In fact the neighbourhood looked pretty run down. The food served here was non-pretentious and seemed traditional to me (disclaimer: I do not really know what traditional Belgian food is like, so I’m just guessing). I doubt this is a tourist trap because no English menu was provided.

Les Brassins

36 Rue Keyenveld

1050 Ixelles

After lunch, we made our way to the Grand Place on foot.

Grand Place

1000 Brussels, Belgium

I wanted to check out the Floralientime, a flower exhibition inside the Grand Place, but there was a long queue. It was the opening day and the flowers are freshest.

First thing to do in Brussels is to eat waffles. This was at Maison Dandoy, which I later figured was a tourist trap.

They have Liege or Brussels waffles. The kind we call Belgian Waffle in Singapore was actually the Liege waffle.

The service here was extremely slow and all patrons were tourists. The waffles here were quite exorbitantly priced. However, I must admit that the waffles here were slightly better than others I’ve had in Belgium. Actually, it’s pretty obvious it’s a tourist trap because anything around the Grand Place is.

Maison Dandoy

Rue Charles Buls 14

Brussels 1000

Belgium

Häagen-Dazs is everywhere and their ice cream is unbeatably the best. However, the Liege waffle they had was only so-so and way too sweet. I had this at Brussels Midi Station, before embarking on my trip to Brugge.

I bought the Eurostar Any Belgian Station ticket, and it can be used to travel to any Belgian Station from Brussels within 24h of arriving. This is more economical than buying a separate 1 way ticket.

The ride to Brugge took about 1h. It is a highly popular and commercialised tourist city, I feel.

Burg

Belfry Tower

Historic Centre of Brugge

Lunch was at Gingerbread Tea Room. The options they have are limited and simple but surprisingly it was good. The greens were the freshest ever and the portion was very big. It’s not easy to find healthy and clean food in Europe.

Sint Amandsstraat 29

8000 Brugge

Belgium

Minnewater Lake

Brugge is a small city and you can get to everywhere scenic by foot. It didn’t take an entire day to do so. The whole place was full of tourists and I think everywhere is a tourist trip. It is beautiful, but a bit too touristy for my liking.

So, back to Brussels it was.

Dinner was at Au vieux Bruxelles, another restaurant I found out about online when I was searching for good mussels. The frites were good and honestly ever since I returned to Singapore all the fries here suddenly tasted inferior. For the mussels, I suggest not getting the one cooked in white wine (Vin blanc ) as it wasn’t very special. Their signature « Au Vieux Bruxelles » method was much better. To eat this, you are supposed to use an empty shell as forceps to extract next mussel.

The escargots for starter were really good too. Note that there’s no English menu here.

Au Vieux Bruxelles

35, rue Saint-Boniface

1050 Bruxelles

The following morning was a Sunday and I planned to visit the Sunday Market at Brussels Midi Station, but it was cancelled due to bad weather. It was the last day of Floralientime so I headed to Grand Place again. Floralientime displays works of art using flowers, placed all over Grand Place. I’m not sure whether Grand Place is normally open to the public but the normal exhibits inside are pretty good too. Entry fee is €5, which is reasonable.

After Floralientime, we headed to Place Jourdan to have the famous frites from Maison Antoine. Sadly, it was disappointing and I had better frites at the restaurants. However, I didn’t expect Place Jourdan to be having a Sunday market too and it was an accidental find.

This stall was exceptionally appealing. It served fresh Oysters and wine.

The oysters were so fresh and possibly one of the best I ever eaten! It was from France. The escargots were pretty good too. The broth was slightly spicy and felt comforting to have on a rainy day. White wine was perfect to go along.

Place Jourdan Market

Place Jourdan

Etterbeek

Bruxelles

The next thing to do was to visit Autoworld, a vintage car museum. It was walkable from Place Jourdan. Entrance fee is 9€ for adults and 7€ for students. A Lamborghini exhibition was going on during the time I visited.

A typical 1950s American car. I’ve seen something like this in Universal Studios.

I liked how it wasn’t crowded.

AUTOWORLD

Parc du Cinquantenaire 11

1000 Brussels

I didn’t do my research about Brussels and did not know that Autoworld was actually located at this landmark, Parc du Cinquantenaire. The triumphal arch was planned for the National Exhibition of 1880 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the independent state of Belgium. It looked really magnificent in real life. The entire park was very big and would make a great place for simply lazing the day away. What’s better was that it was not crowded at all.

Häagen-Dazs waffles and ice cream again, this time with molten chocolate and almond flakes.

For the sake of it, I tried a street stall waffle but it wasn’t good.

For dinner it was Chez Leon, a very large restaurant claiming to have the best mussels. I was sceptical because this was obviously a tourist trap, but I just went ahead anyway. They have more outlets in France and it was actually cheaper there. I wonder why.

I had the set menu (formule) which comes with their signature flavour (celery, onion, butter) of mussels (500g), frites and Mae beer. This was the most disappointing frites I had in Belgium. The oil tasted unfresh and it wasn’t well fried. The mussels however, did not disappoint. The mussels in Belgium are generally really good.

Chez Léon

Beenhouwersstraat 18

1000 Brussels

Belgium

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