Belgium, Europe, Travel

Bruges, Belgium

As I’ve said in my other two Belgium posts, it’s been 13 years, since I’ve been to Europe.  Lucky for me, I finally had a chance to return.  From September 1-6, my friends and I traveled around Belgium to take in all of its beauty, many of the towns, the languages and definitely some of the food and drink.  This travel itinerary will come in three posts: Brussels, Mons and Bruges, as there is just way too much to share!  Many, MANY thanks to the Smith Family for hosting us!!!!

Words cannot even describe how amazing Bruges is.  Imagine the perfect fall day with the perfect air temperature, the leaves rustling and it being just crisp enough that you want to stroll around the canals, the alleyways, the streets and the square with a cappuccino in your hand and take it all in.  There’s a reason it is called “The Venice of Belgium”.  It’s beautiful, it’s quaint and it’s romantic.  It is the one place in Belgium I am definitely returning to, to spend at least four days taking it in.

The pictures below don’t do it justice.  Since it was a Sunday, most everything was closed (other places close at 6 pm).  Thus, we missed the Michelangelo sighting, the Salvador Dali exhibit, the chocolate museum, a peek into numerous historical buildings, the horse carriage ride and the canal ride (hence why I need to return). Still, we happened to stumble upon the only thing going on that day –  a cheese festival (amazing) – and learned that no matter how many people pack into an area, it’s one of the safest towns in Belgium.

Cheese festival

Shopping and Dining

Bruges is a hub of both common shops and boutique shopping, as well as home to many delicious cafes. We started our day with a wonderful cafe lunch at Cafe Francois, which sits inside of the Burg Square.  Our view allowed us to take in a beautiful view of City Hall, as well as the carriage tours, which started there.

City Hall
Part of Burg Square

The interesting thing about this restaurant, as well as most of the city, is that the primary language is Flemish.  However, almost all menus (and servers for that matter) can be found in English.  Needless to say, it made our dining experience the best yet.

When we were done, we headed down the main shopping corridor to just sort of wander around.  (I bought a beautiful black Chantilly lace Chinese fan).  From this point on, it was an incredible experience of stumbling upon more and more beauty at every turn.

Street performers
Street in Bruges
At the canal
I'm still searching for what this is
Afternoon rain shower is over and the sun is out!

This was quite beautiful with the ivy rustling in the breeze.
More of the canal

Belgium, Europe, Travel

Mons, Belgium

As I said in my post about Brussels, it’s been 13 years, since I’ve been to Europe.  Lucky for me, I finally had a chance to return.  From September 1-6, my friends and I traveled around Belgium to take in all of its beauty, many of the towns, the languages and definitely some of the food and drink.  This travel itinerary will come in three posts: Brussels, Mons and Bruges, as there is just way too much to share!  Many, MANY thanks to the Smith Family for hosting us!!!!

Mons is where our friends live.  It’s a quaint town with lots of open fields and farms.  According to Wikipedia, “The first signs of activity in the region of Mons can be found at Spiennes, where some of the best flint tools in Europe were found dating from the Neolithic period. When Julius Caesar arrived in the region in the 1st century BC, the region was settled by the Nervii. A castrum was built in Roman times, giving the settlement its first Latin name Castrilocus; the name was later changed into Montes for the hills on which the castrum was built.

Like all other towns in Europe, it too boasts a market square, which includes a belfry, Town Hall, shopping and many cafes. However, it’s history is much more dark and ridden with peril along the way, including an arson in the 1990’s.   It’s also much more expansive than Grand Place in Belgium.

Dining

On our first night in Mons, we ate at Le Saint-Germain Cafe – also known for their mussels.  The view of the market square, from our outdoor seats, included the local street bands, the fountains and of course, the belfry.

Market Square of Mons
Town Hall in Mons
Street band
Mussels

On our last night in Mons, we headed to a hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant, named Ashok’s.  It’s a beautifully decorated, authentic Indian cuisine spot that sits on the side of a quiet road, boasting breath-taking chateaus.  Definitely a must-eat place if you ever visit this little town!

Shopping

There is a ton of shopping, right off of Market Square.  I popped into a store called Jacqueline Riu, which carries affordable French fashions.  I scored a brand new outfit for about 82 Euros – picture to follow tomorrow.

Le Chateau d’Havre

Just outside of Mons in a town called Havre, sits a once elegant castle, which now stands in ruins.  Le Chateau d’Havre has had a lot of unfortunate luck, over the centuries, and the families that once were responsible for its upkeep have now abandoned efforts to restore it and looters had set in to remove artifacts.  Thus, it now serves as a public park and a site for events.

Although we didn’t spend a ton of time exploring Mons, we felt we got the true experience of such a quaint town.  Next time, I’m popping into a few chateaus for tea 🙂

Stay tuned for my next most on Bruges!

Belgium, Europe, Travel

Brussels, Belgium

It’s been 13 years, since I’ve been to Europe.  Lucky for me, I finally had a chance to return.  From September 1-6, my friends and I traveled around Belgium to take in all of its beauty, many of the towns, the languages and definitely some of the food and drink.  This travel itinerary will come in three posts: Brussels, Mons and Bruges, as there is just way too much to share!  Many, MANY thanks to the Smith Family for hosting us!!!!

Best Posh Cafe in Brussels

Our trip started at  Wittamer Cafe in downtown Brussels (Bruxelles to the natives).  According to sources, this is the “creme de la creme” of places to take a leisurely coffee break.  It’s known for its decadent desserts and pastries, as well as amazing cappuccinos and hot chocolates!  Sitting outdoors affords you the opportunity to run into Belgian celebrities and sports figures, none of which I’d ever be able to pick out of a lineup.  Still, a great way to start the trip!

The best tiramisu ever (what I could eat of it anyway)
Me with Liz Smith, taking in the people watching.

Grand Place Downtown Brussels

After our two-hour break, we decided to go explore downtown Brussels.  After taking several twists and turns down streets/alleyways, lined with chocolate shops, we made it to the Grand Place (pronounced plats).  As most European travelers know, almost every town has one – it’s just a big town square where people congregate.  (Click here for the complete history.)  In this particular case, it’s a famous one, as it started construction in the 1100s and boasts influences from the Medieval times, as well as Louis XIV.  On our first day there, we happened to stumble upon two things: 1) A meeting of princes at the Royal Windsor Hotel, where I could have stayed for the next hour or so to snag one 🙂 ; but 2) a setup for one of the world’s largest beer festivals to celebrate the Manneken-Pis – more on that later.

Guilded homes
Waiting to announce the exit of the princes
Town Hall

Grand Prix Exhibition Race

Our first full day took us out to the former World’s Fair site, Expo 58,  for the Grand Prix Historical Exhibition race.  It was a day for car enthusiasts, allowing VIP ticket holders to race historical Grand Prix cars for 10 laps, as well as chance for spectators to see historical Grand Prix cars in motion from the 60s – 90s.  Check out my videos and pictures below.

Expo 58
Admiring one of the drivers

Festival of Mannequin-Pis

As previously introduced, this same weekend that we’re here, the big Manneken-Pis beer festival was also going on, complete with parade (which we happened to stumble upon).  Thousands of people were jammed-packed into a roped-off, tented area to sample hundreds of beers from across Belgium, France and Germany.

Manneken-Pis
Beer Festival
My good friends and I at the beer festival
The town hall on a sunny day
The town hall on a sunny day
Faberge egg structures

Dining and Drinking

Our time in Brussels couldn’t be complete without tasting some of the local cuisine and hitting up one of the most infamous bars.  We started at a place called Chez Leon’s, which is known for their mussels (yes, I made that Mussels from Brussels joke about a half dozen times) and then headed to Delirium – a massive, world-reknown bar that brews its own beer, now found in the United States.  Given that I cannot drink beer, I was lucky to be able to try some Belgium pear cider, called Stassen.

A litre of beer

If you notice, I didn’t say anything about chocolate yet.  That’s because the entire first day, just the smell alone fills you up but don’t worry, I didn’t leave Belgium without some 🙂

Stay tuned for my next most on Mons!