I take my job as a lifestyle designer and coach seriously. I truly believe in carpe-ing each diem. I create my dream life by pursuing my passions, and travel is most certainly at the top of my list of passions. How could I possibly call myself a travel enthusiast if I didn’t make the most of my time in Europe? If you ever find yourself in a place, or on a trip, or even in your day-to-day life thinking, “I don’t think I can do (whatever it is you’re considering). There’s just not enough time.” I’m going to prove that isn’t the case with a 24-hour trip to Brussels, Belgium.
We took the train from Paris to Brussels to meet our friend, August. Lucky us, were able to maximize our time thanks to a local’s knowledge of the city. Having never been, getting a local’s perspective is a great way to experience a place in a short time. I’d highly suggest it when you’re traveling. Seek out a friend, friend-of-a-friend, or do a search for “locals guide” to wherever you’re traveling.
TAKE ME TO THE WAFFLES!
Straight off the train, August walked us through gardens at the “Mont Des Arts.” Even with the brisk, cold March temperatures there were flowers getting ready to bloom from the meticulously manicured hedges. I could see why our friend often came to this area to write poetry in the spring and summer months.
The train ride and garden tour helped us work up an appetite. It was time to try Belgian waffles! As a self-proclaimed waffle fanatic, I couldn’t wait to finally try an authentic Belgian waffle – large, light, crispy and loaded with toppings. Our friend recommended a small corner restaurant, Aux Gaufres De Bruxelles, that served Belgian specialties.
It was everything I’d imagined – waffle toppings included all the delicious things like ice cream, jam, Nutella, fresh fruit, and hot Belgian chocolate. I went with the drizzled hot Belgian chocolate, because when in Belgium….
DIVING INTO MY ART HISTORY ROOTS
Well fed, it was time to see some art and historic monuments. With a background in graphic design, I’d spent my first two years of college studying art history. So, one of the things I was most excited to do in Europe was finally see some of the original paintings, sculptures, and churches I’d studied during my early years of college.
Brussels is the home of the Musée Magritte Museum – my favorite surrealist, Renee Magritte. This museum is a must see for any art lover, showcasing works by many well-known founders of the Surrealist movement including Salvador Dali.
Next, August walked us to Grand-Place, the central square Brussels. In the middle ages, the markets took place here, and crowds would gather to watch beheadings. Today, it’s mostly tourists gawking – me included. My jaw dropped as I spun around to take in the 360-degree views of ornate, Gothic architecture. There’s no doubt why this square is considered to be one of the most beautiful places in the world! Arches, towers, spires and opulent golden statues adorned corners and tops of each building, meant to emphasize the city’s wealth in the 17th-century.
We decided to come back again next time in the month of August, because every other year volunteers from around Belgium gather together to make a flower carpet that spans the entire square. Google pictures to see for yourself!
Next, August took us to one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Brussels – Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula. The church houses another historical piece I studied during college, a large Baroque sculpture by Hendrik Frans Verbrugghen depicting Adam and Eve being expelled from paradise. The detail of the carvings was absolutely breathtaking!
This was the first European cathedral I’d experienced in-person. I’d certainly seen many pictures while studying in college. Nothing quite prepares you, though, for the intense detail everywhere. Ornate stained-glass windows, the enormity of the grand halls, and sculptures lining the corridors. I was humbled by the amount of history that surrounded us as we walked through the cathedral – a powerful reminder of the importance of sacred spaces in Europe’s history.
The sun set. We checked into our Airbnb. It was time to hit the town! August took us to his favorite bars where we had the chance to try Belgian beers.
Belgian monks have been brewing beer since the Middle Ages. British beer connoisseur, Michael Jackson, rediscovered Belgium’s specialty beers in the late ‘60s and propelled Belgian beer culture into the spotlight – one of the most prominent being Delirium Tremens. In fact, we have Belgium to thank for the microbrewery movement in the U.S.
The last time my husband Dane had visited our friend in Brussels was in 2006. Since then, Belgium has become a “beer Mecca” for American travelers! What was once a single Delirium brewery has become “Delirium Village,” and has a separate specialty bar for everything from tequila, whiskey, beer, and even absinthe.
Since Europe is also the birthplace of absinthe, which was actually banned until recently, I had to taste it for myself! As they say “when in Europe…” We visited Floris Bar in Delirium Village, which has over 600 different varieties of absinthe. Great news, we found one we liked! As the local, August ordered for us. The custom way to drink it was to quickly soak the sugar cube in the absinthe and then light it on fire so the sugar would melt into the shot glass – talk about strong! I’ll admit, I was both excited and nervous to try absinthe for the first time. The last thing I wanted to be was hung-over the next morning on our 9am train ride to Luxembourg. But, we took the shot. Strong, but tasty!
Before leaving Delirium Village, we walked to the end of the alley to pay a visit to the “Jeanneke Pis,” the humorous sister version of the more famously known “Manneken Pis.” These statues pay subtle homage to how much Belgians enjoy public urination. Believe it or not, the cathedral across from our Airbnb installed public urinals at the base of the church for people to literally pee on the church. From our 5th floor balcony, you could look down and watch people pee on the church. Definitely not something I expected to see during our trip but amusing nonetheless!
MAKE THE MOST OF THE TIME YOU HAVE
We made every moment count during our time exploring this friendly, genuine, special city that now feels a bit like a home-away-from home, thanks to our friend. The decision to make this part of our trip was an important one. We worked to fit it in, because we knew if we didn’t visit our friend, we’d regret it. Don’t live life with regrets, dear reader. Even the smallest of decisions – I don’t really have time to sit for coffee – might be worth reconsidering. If having coffee, or taking time to garden, or read, or fitting a side trip in on your travel plans is your passion, pursue it. It’s worth it, every time.