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Trip Report Backwards trip report—four nights in beautiful Brussels

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My husband and I recently spent 4 nights in London and 7 in Belgium. Our last four nights were spent in Brussels—a first-time visit for both of us and I was a little apprehensive because of all the negative posts I'd read both here and on Tripadvisor. I needn't have worried, we loved Brussels. I decided to start my report with Brussels because we were so pleasantly surprised by our stay. I apologize if it's too long—

Arrival Day:
We arrived in Brussels via train from Antwerp on friday at about noon. We were booked at the Sheraton Four Points near Avenue Louise because I used my airline rewards. I knew it wasn't right in the center, but felt it would be a good location for what we wanted to see of the city.

Check-in was easy and the room was great—we were overlooking the garden and had two large windows that we could open up. Since it was sunny and warm, we decided to explore the neighborhood and followed an art nouveau walk from an old guidebook I had with me. We explored the St Gilles neighborhood with its great art nouveau houses—we were both surprised at how beautiful Brussels was, beautiful architecture, cherry blossoms everywhere.

We had a quick lunch at Mama Roma's before heading to the Horta Museum. What a gorgeous house. It wasn't very crowded so we had a great look-around and then continued more of our walk—we stopped in at the Musee Meunier. His studio at the back was particularly impressive with the larger-than-life bronze sculptures. It's at the end of a long hallway and is quite unexpected–we were alone at the museum so it was almost eerie to come across them like that.

Crossing Avenue Louise to the Ixelles neighborhood we came to the Abbaye de la Cambre—beautiful—really a place that time forgot. We sat there for a while watching the people picnicking, enjoying the sunshine and then headed slowly back to our hotel along the Ixelles ponds—great people watching, crazy ducks and geese (they looked far more exotic than our Canadian ducks) and beautiful belle epoque and art nouveau houses on either side of the ponds.

After a rest at our hotel, we headed back to Place Flagey—we decided to forgo supper and stood in line to get a cone of frites, then sat in the square watching the kids playing soccer. On the way back to the hotel I got a gelato at a small place—I think it was called Artisanal Gelato or something similar. I've eaten a lot of gelato but I swear it was the best gelato I've ever tasted.

Day 2, Saturday

It was another sunny day so we decided to walk to the Royal Museum of Ancient Art. After a quick stop at the Place Fernand-Cocq for some croissants, we arrived at the Museum right at 10 am. We were able to get two-for-one entry by showing our Eurostar ticket. I really enjoyed the museum—it wasn't that crowded so we were able to really appreciate the paintings, which had information in English. We had a coffee at the museum cafe and went out to the patio that looks down into the backyard gardens of the houses below. One house had about 10 white doves and when we asked one of the staff members he told us that they were in fact pets—they were free to fly around but always returned to their roost.

We left the museum around 1:00 and then headed towards the Sablon. I had made a note of Le Perroquet so we stopped there for a quick lunch—it was packed, both inside and out, but we managed to get a table and had yummy stuffed pitas.

My husband had picked up a flier advertising a show of Lucien Freud etchings so we walked over to Avenue Stalingrad to see them. It was at a small gallery and the owner was super friendly and knowledgeable.

After that we headed back and stopped at Place de la Chapelle for more frites and then poked around the antique market in the Sablon before heading back to our hotel for a rest before dinner.

For dinner we headed back to Place Flagey—my husband wanted falafel so we went to one of the places near the square. It was kindof funny because the television was on some Euronews channel and I looked up and saw the headline 'Canada Curling' and they had quite a long piece on curling—the first mention of Canada since being away and it was about curling!

Day 3 to come...

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    Hello outwest :)

    Really enjoying your report on Brussels.

    Like you, my husband and I will be visiting Brussels for the first time this summer. Don't know why it hasn't made our radar screen all these years, but better late than never!

    "...we were so pleasantly surprised by our stay."

    Music to my ears!

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    swisshike, Tuni01—I'm glad you're enjoying it! Here are our last two days (we spent two nights in Bruges and one in Antwerp before going to Brussels so I'll work on that next week!)

    Day 3, Sunday

    Once again we woke to lovely, sunny weather. We'd decided the night before to see the new Magritte Museum, so we set out on foot and arrived right at opening time.

    The Magritte Museum was much more crowded than the Museum of Ancient Art but it's well designed and people moved pretty quickly. I have to admit I'm not the biggest fan of Magritte, but I did enjoy seeing his earlier advertising work and learning more about him.

    Since we were done by noon, we bought a 10 ticket transit pass and took the Metro down to the Parc du Cinquantenaire. An exhibit poster about children and war caught our eye so we decided to take a peak into the Millitary Museum. We didn't spend a lot of time but would definitely visit again—it's a real 'old-fashioned' kind of museum—just loaded with uniforms/weapons/vehicles etc. from all the various wars. The building itself is interesting, if a little musty. Looking at all the old wool uniforms made me think they must have quite a challenge keeping the moths at bay!

    By this point we were starving, so we headed over to Place Jourdan for a quick lunch, then resumed our walk back through Leopold Park, Marie-Louisa Square and Ambiorix Square, checking out a number of art nouveau houses along the way. It was a warm, sunny Sunday so there were plenty of locals out enjoying the parks.

    We found ourselves back in the Parc Cinquantenaire and realized it wasn't that far to the Cauchie House so we went and looked at it (from the outside only, it wasn't open). It really reminded us of the art nouveau we saw in Vienna. I knew it would be a bit of a way but decided we could walk back to the hotel. The only real challenge was that our map didn't include the EU area/Ixelles area so there was a bit of guesswork, but we did manage eventually to get back. Along the way we stopped in at a small gallery representing African artists. Once again the owner was informative and talkative. He was actually pretty funny, grumbling about the wasteful spending of the Belgian government (just like being home!)

    Anyhow, this had turned out to be a LOT of walking so we were pretty tired when we got back to the hotel. Since we still hadn't seen the Grand Place, we decided to take the tram up town and have a quick falafel on the rue des fromages. Given our worn out state this was not the best choice. The GP, though beautiful, was mobbled with tourists and the rue des fromages was even worse. We decided to cut our losses and just grabbed a quick bite before taking the tram back to the hotel and collapsing—

    Day 4, Monday, the last day of our vacation

    We certainly lucked out weather-wise on this trip, and once again we woke to glorious weather. We went to the Natural Caffe at the corner for coffee/croissants/orange juice. We had to switch hotels because we had an early morning flight the next day so we checked out of the Four Points after breakfast but stored our luggage until later that day. We both found the Four Points very comfortable and friendly—we'd definitely stay there again.

    Because what we loved about Brussels was exploring the neighborhoods (and this was monday so most of the museums were closed), we decided to do more of that. We meandered around St. Gilles, heading for the Marolles area because I'd read that it was one of the more authentic neighborhoods of Brussels. We found the flea market at the Place du Jeu de Balle and poked around there for a while—lots of junk, but the odd treasure here and there and fun to look. We were feeling a little hungry so went into one of the sandwich places surrounding the square and got a great sausage with grilled onions in a baguette. We sat in front of the church with our lunch, watching the great cultural mix of people before walking back to the Four Points to get our luggage and check in to our last hotel.

    I was able to get our last night at the Meridien with my airmile points so we took the tram back and checked in. It's a pretty posh hotel (we're budget travellers) but we were really only there because of it's proximity to the Central Station.

    I'd originally intended to go to the Van Buren house but it was so warm we decided to stick a bit closer to home and walked down to the Musee Charlier. It was charming—we were alone, except for the staff, so we took our time and looked at the great furniture and artwork. We're big fans of the decorative arts and always enjoy house museums. There was an exhibition on of paintings called La Vie Simple—there was no text in English but it was easy to appreciate without it (and I can read a bit of French, so we muddled through).

    After that we walked down and explored the St Josse area—it was charming, very multi-cultural, beautiful architecture but a little rougher around the edges than Avenue Louise—we followed the rue des Deux Eglises (and only found one church?) to Place St. Josse and had our final cone of frites before heading to Maria-Louiza Square for a rest and some people watching. It has a great lake with a sort of grotto at one end and there are built-up roosts for the ducks—enchanting. The houses surrounding the square are beautiful, but on closer observation some of them turned out to be derelict—I'd read that there was a lot of discontent about the way beautiful old neighborhoods had been destroyed here to build the EU offices.

    We walked back to town and stopped to look at the big cathedral. We were fascinated by a group of security guys all dressed in suits with microphones in their ears—they looked just like the secret security guys you see protecting the US president. We were doing our best to eavesdrop on their conversation but of course they weren't speaking English so who knows what it was about.

    We found a noodle place I'd read about—au Bon Bol—it was off Blvd Anspach, so it was nice and quiet—and had a big bowl of soup with hand-made noodles. We headed back to our hotel, walking through the Grande Place. I realize it's Brussel's number one attraction but we far preferred the quieter, residential neighborhoods to this part of town.

    After finishing our packing and buying our train ticket to the airport we went out for one last walk and climbed the stairs to rue Ravenstein where you look out over the Mont des Arts—there's a park that's lit with multi-colored lights and you have a picture postcard view of Brussels in the background—it's lovely, and was a nice end to a great trip.

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