July, 2nd to 10th 2011
Saturday, July 2nd
It’s busy at work this summer, so I haven’t got time for much of a vacation. One week in Belgium – that’s all there is. I start out in rainy conditions in Aarhus. I take a flight from Billund to Amsterdam. I have to spend my bonus points from KLM.
The sun is shining in Amsterdam. I have to take a train from the airport to Brussels. I miss the first one by 10 seconds, not sure which platform to choose, so I will wait an hour for the next one.
I get off the train at Brussels Central. I can’t find my local train to Brussels Luxembourg, and I can’t find a taxi. Instead I walk the 2 km to Hotel Renaissance in the EU-area. I check in to room 633, booked cheaply via Priceline.com. It’s a super comfy room in this 4 star hotel. But breakfast and Wi-Fi cost an arm and a leg, so other solutions for that has to be found. Before bedtime I stroll over to Place Luxembourg, for my first – but not last – Belgian beer.
Sunday, July 3rd
I don’t want to pay for the breakfast at the hotel. Instead I head out for a place at Place Luxembourg that serves the most delicious bread, juice and coffee for a fair price. From there it’s a short walk to the Metro station, where I take the Metro for the city center. First I head out to find the no. 1 sight in Brussels – it’s called The Grand Place. It’s a nice and very old square, with lots of nice old houses surrounding it. These days the houses are full of souvenir-shops, restaurants and museums. At one end the Brussels Town Hall is placed.
From here on I follow a walking trip that I have found of the homepage of the brewery Cantillon. It takes me through nice neighborhoods and of course ends at the brewery. It’s a very nice walk. You have to look up to take a look at the gables of the houses. Often there a nice cartoons drawn there. Of course we are in Tintin-country and the home of the Smurfs.
The only bad thing about the walk is the end. The brewery is closed on Sundays. Instead I have to take a trip back to the hotel combining a tram and the metro
After a late lunch I head out for trip no. 2 in the EU-area. The European Parliament is just opposite the hotel. From there I walk through Parc Leopold to the EU-commission, which is located in the Berlaymont-building. From here I head back to the hotel, getting lost only once.
Dinner and beer at a local sports bar make a nice finish to this day.
Monday, July 4th
After breakfast at my local “Boulangerie”, I head out for a daytrip to Bruges. The trip is well prepared. I have recently seen the lovely movie “In Bruges”, so I know all there is to see. It takes an hour by train from Brussels Midi to Bruges, and the trip is on “summer-offer”, so it’s only 15 Euro.
Bruges in mainly known for its Medieval City-center and some nice canals. I check out both on a long walk. From the station I follow some of the canals to the squares Burg and Markt. On Markt you will find the belfry, which plays a major role and kills several people in the movie.
From here I follow some small streets and alleys to Jan Van Eyck Plain. Most of the tour boats on the canals turn around here, so I can follow the canals – on foot – in opposite direction – back to the center. Most people use the tourist-boats on the canals, but for me the look more like a transport of cattles – full the the last seat, and hurrying on to get back to pick up the next load. So I prefer walking along the canals instead.
There are plenty of museums along the route. I skip most of them – no honestly – all of them. There are also bars and Café’s. I skip only some of them. It gets very nice in the area around Hof Arents, with a small park and a picturesque stonebridge called St-Bonifaciusbrug. From there I head on to the railway-station, and take the first train back to Brussels.
Dinner is at a restaurant at Place Luxembourg. It’s not weekend anymore, so the EU is working and the restaurants are full of Eurocrats.
Tuesday, July 5th
Another daytrip today. This time I head north. 30 minutes by train, and I’m in Antwerp. I end in one of the major sights in Antwerp – the railway station. According to Newsweek it’s supposed to be one of the 5 most beautiful railway stations in the world. And it sure is nice.
The building is old, but all inside the building is modern. The track’s isn’t laid out next to each other, which is the normal way to do it. They are on top of each other, so you have railway-tracks on 4 floors. The area around the railway station is full of Diamond shops. Antwerp is a European center for Diamonds.
From the station there’s a pretty long walk to the city center. My guidebook recommends the route where all the shops are, but I chose a different route. No matter how you do it, you end up at the same place – the major sight in Antwerp. That’s the old church with the lovely name Onze Lieve Vrouwekatedraal. It was finished in 1521 and they used 169 years to build it. The church tower can be seen from all over the city. Inside there are lots of nice paintings. Some of them painted by a guy called Rubens, which I recall to have heard about before.
Then it’s lunchtime. I find a nice local restaurant, mainly catering for the locals.
Then I continue down to the river. Down there, there’s a big warehouse full of lovely old boats and vessels. That’s a great photo opportunity, not even mentioned in my guidebook. There’s a boardwalk along the river. At the end you reach the area called ‘t Schipperskwartier. According to my guidebook its “seedy”, and there is something about that. Antwerp is an old harbor city. From here I return to city center and the Square at Gtote Markt. That’s a medieval place – a little like Bruges yesterday.
It’s time to get back home. I head for the railway station. It’s still very nice, though not very practical when they suddenly move your train from 4th floor to ground floor 5 minutes before departure.
The evening is spent relaxing at the hotel.
Wednesday, July 6th
Everyone that has ever read Tintin in Congo knows that Belgium used to have colonies in Africa. Of course at that time they nailed a few things and brought them back to the mother country. Some of this is on exhibition in the African-Museum in the outskirts for Brussels.
The trip out there is nice. First the metro, and then a nice ride on the tram for the last 10 km. to Tervuren. The museum is old-fashioned. Most of the exhibition is hidden behind glass in showcases. But the location is nice in a small park. I spend a few hours out here, before returning to the hotel for a break.
Trip 2 for the day is from the homepage of the Brussels tourist office. It’s called Classic Walk and take you past the major sights like Manneken Pis, Grand Place, The Bourse, Rue Neuve, Place de Martyrs, Galeries Saint-Hubert and Cathedral de Saint Michel. Maybe I haven’t heard of all the classics before arriving – but now I have seen them all.
Dinner is at a local restaurant. Lovely dinner – again. And great beer – certainly great beer.
Thursday, July 7th
Today’s walk takes place in the neighborhoods of Sablon and Marolles. This walk was also found on the homepage of the tourist office. I start out on the very nice square Petit Sablon, with a lovely little park. Here you will also find the church Eglise Notre-Dame du Sablon. From here I walk to the Palais de Justice. It’s wrapped into scaffolding, so it’s hard to see how it looks. But the views from the the top of Sablon across Brussels is very nice.
You take an elevator down to Marolles. I walk along Hoogstraat to the square at Vossernplain. There’s a market there. Lot’s of stuff is for sale. Then on to Blaestraat, full of antique-shops and further on down to Eglise Notre-Dame de la Chapelle. Lovely lunch at a fine restaurant, before the last stint up to Grand Sablon – another square surrounded by chocolate-shops. Here I find a bus no. 95 that will take me back to my hotel.
Later on I return to Grand Sablon. There’s a Mediaval festival going on called Ommegang. Some guys on horses dressed in armor do tricks.
I watch this for some time, before taking the bus back again, and I finish with a pizza at a local place.
Friday, July 8th
Time for another daytrip. This time to Ghent. That’s also 30 minutes by train. But it takes more than an hour to buy the ticket together with one for Schiphol on Sunday.
For once it’s windy and cold, so I will be freezing today. Ghent is a fine old city. I start by climbing the local Belfry. Or climbing is not the right word, since there’s a lift. A nice feature – but a little unusual. At the top there’s a great view of Ghent, and you can see the bell called Roland. It rings every 15 minutes.
Then I head out into town. I follow the canals and the small streets, and suddenly I’m lost. I have to trace back to a decent road that I can find on the map to retrace my route. Lunch is at an Irish Pub. The only meal on this trip that is unsuccessful. I don’t know what the poor chicken had done, to be treated like that. But the beer is great – but of course – it’s Belgian.
Then I head on to Gravensteen. That’s an old castle, build by solid stone. It’s a nice place, with nice views. There’s also lot of Medieval-stuff inside.
From then I go to the neighborhood of Petershol. That’s cozy old streets and hardly any tourist. They seem to concentrate on the huge squares in city center. One hour in this area and along the canals there, until I can say that I have been to Ghent. Then it’s back onto the tram – no. 1 – and back to the railway-station and the first train to Brussels.
Back at Midi I pick up some baguettes, which will make it for dinner at the hotel. But that’s much better than the Irish chicken.
Saturday, July 9th
It’s my final day in Brussels. I start by going out to the small brewery Cantillon in the Anderlecht area. Today it’s open. You get an introduction to the place and the beer they make. They use a special method for fermentation. It’s natural fermentation – not cold, not hot. But it means they can only brew in winter. In summer the place mainly caters for tourists – and for spiders. There are a lot of spiders, but it’s good they are here, because they keep other insects away.
At the end you reach the reason you have gone to the place – the tasting. You taste their Gueuze, which is a mix of the brew that is 1, 2 and 3 years old. It’s an interesting taste. It’s strong and taste a little bit of acid. No. 2 testing is Rose de Gambrinus, and has been added fruits. This one is with raspberries. It looks almost like red wine. It’s very refreshing, but honestly I don’t like it.
From Anderlecht I go to Heysel to see the Atomium. It was build for the world exhibition in 1958. You can get up there, but there’s a line and according to my guidebook the view is crap. Instead I head over to take a look at Mini-Europe, a kind of Legoland without the Lego. There are copies of building from all EU-countries. It’s very touristic and at the entrance you have to have your photo taken with a stupid green turtle. They get pretty pissed as I refuse.
Denmark is the first country in line in the exhibition - followed by all the others.
The tour around Europe ends with a good steak, fries and a lovely beer at a restaurant.
Then it’s back for a break and Tour de France at the hotel.
The final Brussels-walk will be short and local. It takes me through the African neighborhood of Matonge and to some shopping in Ixelles. Dinner is at the first burger bar on this trip, before heading back to Place Luxembourg and my final Leffe Blonde.
Sunday, July 10th
Going home today. Check out from my nice hotel. A short ride by local train from Brussels Luxembourg to Brussels Midi. A long ride to Amsterdam Schiphol. Then a short flight to Billund, and a half long bus ride to Aarhus and a small walk to my apartment.