Another day trip to Europe. Another cold, gloomy and drizzly day out. That’s as far as I was concerned with the weather in Brussels. The whole day was a seemingly endless war against the cold as I had succumb with the flu once again a few days before. My mum, who joined me as a present from me for her birthday, and I were literally reaching for kleenexes every ten minutes to collect the goo flowing from my runny rose.
Alright enough about the weather because that is not what everyone is here for….
Anyway my first impressions of Brussels were that it was more industrial (especially in the outskirts of the city) compared to Paris, having seen a few warehouses, factories and nuclear power plants and village-like/victorian like houses situated on narrow descents, but it still possessed a degree of contemporary buildings as I came off the train, went into the shopping centre connected to the train station and went inner city. If it weren’t for any French signs or tannoys announcing that I was soon arriving in Brussels I would’ve thought I was in Germany instead. Belgium certainly had a German feel to it from first sight.
My brother and sister in law told me to make sure I try out the revered Belgian chocolate when I’m in Brussels and I could see why they told me so as soon as I reached Grand Place, which I’ll touch on later. The country, not just Brussels, is so chocolate and waffle-crazy, literally at every turn there was a chocolate shop. If anyone who hadn’t had chocolate or waffles in their life before then they would become addicted to such when they touched ground in Brussels
I was really impressed with the wide, ambitious and creative range of chocolates that’s available to customers. The first chocolate shop I visted was the Chocopolis, which was pricey but worth the visit having seen the amount of chocolate at a customer’s consumption. I came across chocolate flavours that I thought never really existed such as Brazilian Nut, Puffed Rice and Cappuccino. It was a real eye opener for me on the topic and they’re mostly inspired from tastes and ingredients from different food and drink. My favourite out of all of them? Cream chocolate, I couldn’t keep my hands off the free samples, it was that delicious 🙂 Belgium certainly does live up to the hype when it comes to chocolate.
For waffles it’s the same story, I went to Los Churros and Waffles shop for the obvious near the Grand Place. I tried the Brussels waffles and the Liege waffles. Both were superb; the Liege waffle is very crunchy while the Brussels waffle is more sweet and sugary. In terms of quality there’s little to separate the waffles from the two different cities, especially given their cheap prices with the Liege waffle being €2 each and the Brussels one being €1 each.
To get a rough comparison on prices between Paris and Brussels I went to McDonalds, particularly when my mum was craving food familiar to back home. We both bought a McChicken Sandwich (or McSandwich as it’s called there) with fries and hot chocolate for a respectable €7. On my article on my trip to Paris I voiced how frustrated I was with the fact you could purchase a McChicken sandwich for an expensive €8 (equal to £7) even not as part of a meal deal. So to see I could get a meal deal for a cheaper price brought a slight relief to me in terms of over-paying for something, which doesn’t seem a big of an issue when you normally travel. Quality of food wasn’t that different from London either.
What I was very disappointed about however was me and my mum finding out customers have to pay a fee to use the toilet or restroom in many restaurants, it would’ve been more acceptable if you had to purchase food or drink from the restaurant to get access to the toilet but having to pay a toilet fee on top of paying for food and drink is daylight robbery and inconsiderate from a hospitality point of view. Nonetheless it didn’t put much of a damper on the whole food experience.
As a big city there’s little difference in the Brussels train system from their London and Paris counterparts. On train there are plenty of interchanges to get you close enough to your desired destinations. The distances between train stations via train were just as close as the train stations in Paris, meaning that train journeys were often smooth and quick. Although in comparison to London and Paris, it was a slight inconvenience having to spend an extra 10 minutes walking to get to most attractions after coming off the train, not to mention that there weren’t any buses that could get us to our first attraction.
My mum fascinated by the carriage rides they had on offer in the middle of Grand Place and was eager to go on it. At the Grand Place you can get a carriage ride around the city for 30 minutes at a cost of €44 for a maximum of 4 adults at a time. This means that doing the math a lone person can pay €11 if you can get three other people to share with and split the cost. Unfortunately for us we didn’t get the opportunity to go on a ride as we couldn’t find three people to share with us, so pictures and selfies with the horse and cart would have to suffice.
The crossing system was also more basic also. In some areas of Brussels you’ll find that there’s no magic “wait!” button to control traffic flow more, meaning you can find yourself waiting a little while to cross roads and for us it wasn’t worth the risk crossing through traffic on foreign roads.
For attractions I had to research the most popular attractions as for me Belgium wasn’t a country renowned for iconic landmarks. The main attraction was the Manneken Pis, which is the statue of a small boy/toddler peeing into a fountain, something I found amusing as soon as I saw it on Google. The entertainment value of the landmark was surprisingly plain to see as I honestly thought it was an attraction most people took for granted as it was fairly small. Even my mum saw the humour in it. She went as far as take an interest in how water was able to flow through the tubes and statue and we probably would’ve went home with a Manneken from the souvenir shop had it not been for the price.
We then went to the Belgian Beer museum located in the Grand Place. There wasn’t much to the museum itself with the exception of explaining the brewing process behind making beer and the history behind it. For us it was a time filler in our attempt to find a few others to go on a carriage ride with and our toilet break also. The free half pint of beer we got was a nice touch from a hospitality perspective and made the €5 spent a bit more worthy.
Another attraction that intrigued was the Belgian chocolate village (for obvious reasons). The following statement will shock you…
Chocolate is good for your health.
Yeah that’s right – me as a qualified fitness instructor can verify that chocolate is good for you (in moderation). It lowers stress levels and protects your teeth, just two out of more health benefits I’ve listed (do the research as well!). That’s what the visit to the Belgian Chocolate Village taught me. €8 well spent.
There was a short film on how the key ingredients such as cocoa beans are retrieved from cocoa plantations in Africa, distributed and processed to create the chocolate we know and see around us in our corner shops. For the casual goer it is informative but brief enough for them not to succumb to boredom.
I missed out on entry to the Autoworld, a museum dedicated to cars. As a Motorsport fan myself I was quite gutted when me and my mum got there 15 mins before it was closed, even by just looking at the cars from the turnstiles and at the door entrance it was such a well-lit, captivating and contemporary attraction site. Like with the carriage rides we unfortunately just had to settle for pictures of the cars closest to us.
Out in public the Belgians (and tourists) included were approachable and friendly enough to assist us with directions when needed and bonded with the odd tourist or two over our experience in the city. One tourist went out of her way there to take a picture of me and my mum next to a statue. There was a bit more of a language barrier between ourselves and the locals in comparison to Paris, which I honestly did not expect.
As discussed earlier in the article, the customer service and hospitality was inconsistent from my point of view. Hearing people aren’t willing to share cart and horses sometimes isn’t a good sign despite the clear financial incentives, which are behind decisions by restaurants to charge for toilet use, but the museums and independent shopping markets are more tourist-friendly.
Recommendation of the trip: Grand Place. It’s the central hub for tourists, being able to wide various kind of shops from chocolate shops to museums to shopping markets all in the same area. You can find everything Belgian within this area.
Overall rating: 7.4/10. I enjoyed the comfort of having a lot more familiar shops and stores around me such as Lidl, Subway, and Primark and the quality of food and drink is some of the best I’ve had so far in my life span. On the other hand customer service and hospitality, especially for tourists can be an improvement as well as public transport services.