As I was in the UK for Christmas it seemed like a good idea to hop across the channel for some European adventures. We decided on Brussels as a base allowing us to spend a day in Bruges, Antwerp and Brussels itself. Yes a day in three separate cities might have been ambitious but we wanted to try to cram a lot in.
First we had to get there and by far the easiest way in Eurostar from London St Pancras to Brussels which is a direct train and very relaxing. A few glasses of champagne on the way and we were there before we knew it.
We had a small apartment booked through AirBnB which was close to the station and after dragging our cases (I mean dragging, more about that later) a short distance we collapsed into the bed as it was quite late. I probably should have mentioned that before getting on the train we had driven from the New Forest in Hampshire to Reading to drop of the hire car, sort out luggage and feed a friends cat, take train to a baby’s first birthday party (with station and tube closures in place) before joining the train to Brussels; so we were quite tired 🙂
Next morning we were up early and ready for a good breakfast before getting on the train to Bruges. Our apartment was close to Place du Jue de Belle which as we discovered hosts the Marolles Flea Market. This market is a broad mix of antiques to Junk and following breakfast we could not resist a quick browse as we walked back though on our way to the station vowing to return another day as it is on most days it seems.
The train to Bruges was nice and relaxed though in some ways I found it frustrating in that with the foggy weather I was constantly seeing great photographs I could take if I could only stop for a minute. The landscape around there is very interesting in the misty conditions.
Bruges was just as I remembered from a previous trip and very picturesque even with the fog hugging the buildings
It really is the prettiest of belgium towns and well worth a visit, unfortunately it’s no secret so there are always a lot of people about.
We did the rush tour taking in the main square with the Christmas Market, the Chocolate Story (museum) some hot chocolate to warm ourselves up before lunch in the main square and the the diamond museum. Some shopping for local beer and other stuff (including a local Gin called Black Swan) followed with a nice meal in a small restaurant/hotel not far from the centre. They had some amusing photos on the walls of nuns doing what felt like slightly un-nunlike activities;
Laden down with our shopping we returned to Brussels to sleep and be ready for the next day.
This was always a shopping expedition as we didn’t consider Antwerp of much of a tourist destination, we bought pastries in the morning and ate them on the train. Again the journey was full of missed photo opportunities though I did manage to grab a few blurry images through the window.
On arrival at Antwerp central station we were taken with the station itself which a most grand structure and has obviously been through some sort of recent restoration and modernisation; the modernisation is well fitted into the ancient building and the whole thing was very impressive.
Being as Antwerp is the centre for the diamond industry we spent some time looking at those and then I had to resolve the luggage dragging issue mentioned earlier. My case had a problem in that one of its wheels had collapsed meaning on two wheels you were effectively dragging it and on four (or rather three) you were constantly adjusting the angle which was a strain on the arm – a replacement case was required to get us back to England. This was easier said than done as we struggled to find many choices for stores selling luggage and as I am a total cheapskate when it comes to this sort of thing I refused to spend hundreds of Euros on very pretty designer bags. Eventually though a case was secured and we went in search of dinner.
Dinner was at an interesting restaurant called Brasserie Gustav which was full when we went in but as almost all of the customers were there for a pre-opera meal it emptied very suddenly. The restaurant is build in the arches supporting the building above and the opulent decor hints of a grand past. The food was very good and I would recommend it; but get there early if you want a full choice of desserts ;). After that my girlfriend was feeling guilty that I had not had sufficient time to enjoy belgian beer (I really love her) and we called into Bier Central a nice sized bar, very busy and offering the typical though maybe even more wide array of beers. We struggled to find a seat but then saw that there was a quirky balcony overlooking the back of the bar with a gap for two people to sit and we joined the other four people up there (walking through the bar itself to get there).
After enjoying a good selection of beers we returned to Brussels on the train ready for bed.
The last day and we decided to return to the flea market and breakfast nearby. Happy with a few random purchases and a simple breakfast we deposited our luggage at the station and headed to the Grand Place for some sightseeing. Another Christmas market was in place there and we wandered around the local streets stopping for a lunch of mussels at Chez Leon (very good and not my first time eating there) plus a couple of beers at the Delirium Cafe which as a beer lover cannot be missed if you are in Brussels.
Our train to England was waiting so we collected our luggage and headed home. Although it was a short trip we really enjoyed all three cities and recommend any and all of them if you are looking for a nice break in Europe.