Although I’m not a strong supporter of taking as many trips (usually short) around Europe as possible while abroad, I did feel the need (and had the free opportunity) to tag along to Brussels with my parents for a night to add another (unexpected) destination to my abroad travel list. My parents have been in Amsterdam since last Wednesday and do a lot of high-quality exploring themselves (yay, I didn’t have to go to Van Gogh for the fourth time!!) and then we do a lot of high-quality eating together at night. Since they will be in the Dam for a solid week, sneaking out to Brussels was a good plan. We left Amsterdam on Friday midday, got to Brussels by mid-afternoon, and had the rest of that day plus all of Saturday to explore. And quite frankly, that was enough! I should point out that we rented a car and drove, since trains are surprisingly expensive from Amsterdam to Belgium. The countryside was beautiful driving down and especially once we got closer to Brussels. Poor Jim, bless him, for having to maneuver around both Amsterdam and Brussels. There’s a reason I ride a bicycle.
Sidenote: Obama is in Amsterdam today visiting the Rijksmuseum. His helicopter landed on Museumplein and there was absolutely no way of seeing him. Trip advisor said if you want to risk getting a sniper bullet, go ahead and hang out down there. I opted not to! Anyway, welcome, Obama!
I’d describe Brussels as a mix of Prague and Amsterdam–in the older parts–with some New York City littering (yes, littering) the main drags. I love both Prague and Amsterdam so the old city was enjoyable! It is much hillier than I’ve been used to so bicycles were not nearly as large of a thing. That afternoon/evening was spent meandering around Grand Place and the Town Hall, as well as gawking at the Mediterranean sweet shops and beautiful lace in storefronts. Although we wanted to sneak in a museum on that first day, there was too much to see outside while the weather was still beautiful. The best way to see a city is to simply meander around, so that’s what we did. Super relaxed and super gorgeous.
A Simon family vacation, or even just a Simon family dinner, is not complete without mussels. When we were in Curacao 2 summers back we had the best mussels of our lives that were imported daily from Belgium, so we knew that if one day we were all in Belgium, we’d have to relive that meal. We ended up at La Maree, an excellent fish and mussels restaurant that is super local. I swear every single person eating there knew the waiters and owner; everyone was kissing each other and catching up. We got 3 different types of mussels; Dad got the simplest with just salt and pepper and vegetables, Mom got them a la Provencale with tomatoes and peppers, and I went with the white wine and cream. You can never get enough mussels. We stopped to get some of those mediterranean sweets I mentioned above after dinner and they were delightful. See pictures!
We got up on Saturday morning to rain, but also to an adventure. We set out to find Musee Renee Magritte, a surrealist from Belgium. Unfortunately the museum was almost exclusively in French (although I could read some of the Dutch descriptions…) and we didn’t get any English guide or headsets. I’ll have to read about him separately when I have some time, but I did gather that he went to Dallas in 1960. My favorite art by him would have to be “The Curse” or “Companions of Fear.” After that, I dragged my parents to an Ethiopian coffee house which is known as being one of the best cafes in Brussels. It lived up to that. We enjoyed cappuccinos and a piece of lemon cake. So beautiful.
After refueling we headed to find Manneken Pis. The story we heard was that a bomb landed in front of a little boy in Brussels that really had to go to the bathroom; he then peed on the bomb and it was diffused, thus he saved Brussels. No idea if this is remotely true but it’s silly. I personally liked the Manneken Peace graffiti located close to the statue. Mom and I walked around to find a lace Christmas ornament and stumbled upon merengues the size of my head (unfortunately, no picture). I brought one back for Natalie. Brussels knows theirs sweets. My favorite part of the day, however, was where we stopped before heading back to Amsterdam. I had found the Erasmus House online as a place of interest. It’s located in Anderlecht, a small town a bit outside of Brussels. Erasmus hung out and worked in this house for a few months in 1521, and the house was really beautiful. It even had an original Bosch! The back of the house has a medicine garden and beautiful structures. It had just rained so everything was green and alive. Such a great find!
I think we did well for the short amount of time in Belgium. The drive back into the Netherlands and up to Amsterdam was beautiful and sunny. I saw many a cow and many a cute cottage. Even though I can be a total grump when travelling and tired, I thoroughly enjoyed going on this little adventure with my parents to a place none of us knew. If only Anna was with us!