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.
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 [...]
At the time of typing this it had been exactly a week since I had finished my long, physically taxing day out in Paris by myself and was warmly greeted by the British weather with heavy rain, with my mum picking me up from Stratford station 😦
What a depressing and bitter end to a refreshing and fulfilling day.
Anyway rewind back to September 27th 09:30 am also the time at which I touched down at Paris after a two and a half hour journey on the Eurostar from St Pancreas International. Coming out of the busiest train station in mainland Europe in Paris Gare du Nord, I was brimming and pacing myself with nerves with the realisation that I was alone in a foreign city for the first time in my life and not comprehending everything that was going on around me.
Seeing French national soldiers patrolling populated areas such as the inside of the train station did not settle my nerves one bit. Ironically they should bring safety and security to you but in a city that’s been a victim of terrorism in recent years it takes you out of your bubble and can make you think that danger is possibly close by.
But no way was I turning back to the comfort that was London just yet. I reminded myself of why I was in Paris in the first place and it was all positive vibes and intrigue from then on. Like with future travel trips I reviewed this trip based on ratings given for key categories that defines a city and country (e.g. transport system, food and drink, attractions, culture, citizens etc.)
The transport system in Paris is very similar to London: not hard to find nor long wait for a bus or train (or metro in France), interchanges at metro stations with different metro/tube lines. For example M1, M2, M3, M4 etc. You can find your Victoria line equivalent, your District line equivalent or your Central line one. The maps were user-friendly much like London, you could easily work out where you needed to get to and the interchanges you needed to go through without much issue. Uber cabs were always available close by also.
Generally-speaking I was relieved to see an inspiration of the London Underground and grateful to be a Londoner in that sense rather than just taking the knowledge for granted. Whilst all my public transport journeys ran smoothly it’s important to be aware that it could have been a different story in terms of how smoothly the services ran.
It wouldn’t have been possible to have a good trip to Paris without getting a snapshot or two of the iconic Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysees, the long stretch down to there is literally breathtaking and rivals that of The Mall in London. There are none to few words to describe my first reaction to seeing it in person, even though it was a gloomy morning when I visited it. I actually bumped into a newly wed couple taking pictures of themselves whilst on a ledge and Eiffel Tower in the background (my followers on snapchat would’ve caught my snap on it). As us English or British would say: what an absolute ledge he and she are! Hopefully they are enjoying their honeymoon 😉 My biggest regret however was not getting to the Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysees at night. I was kicking myself at how much time I had wasted trying to get dinner after a long day without food, because I’m certain it would’ve been one of the most if not most spectacular sights I’d witnessed in my life thus far.
Attractions included a few visits to museums. The first museum visited was Musee de L’Orangerie, which was free for me to enter as all individuals under 25 with valid ID were granted free entry. It’s an eye-catching place for casual art gallery visitors and very satisfying in general if you’re strongly into art. Currently there is a painting collection dedicated to French art dealer Paul Guillaume, who worked with famous painters and artists such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse in distributing and selling their paintings. It was amazing how words can be used to bring art to life and it served as a refresher for me as I have had nothing to do with art since my early years of secondary school.
After Musee de L’Orangerie I passed through the Jardin des Tulleries and as you can see in the picture below it says a thousand words and one of them: stunning.
I followed it up with a visit to the Lourve museum; honestly I had no idea it existed until a friend of mine told me about it, not to mention that it’s one of the largest museums in the world with 800 years of French history and tradition represented, stretching all the way back to the year 1200. It’s a very cost-effective time filler as it’s size means you can spend the whole day being engaged with French history and the country’s passion for art was clear to see as art classes were being held in the museum and visitors were also around sketching the sculptures in front of them using flipbooks and pencils.
The amount of sculptures were enough to give me a burning headache so go at your own risk ladies and gents.
The travel connoisseur becomes Youtube’s chicken connoisseur – until he returns of course!
Food wasn’t really on the top of my agenda with all the places and sites I was so desperate to check. However I had a small breakfast and dinner, the breakfast was a cheese and chicken crepes. I had ironically fallen in love with crepes since my Uni’s korfball tour in Amsterdam (a story for another blog post :D) rather than in its country of origin which is France. Knowing that it’s not surprising that the quality of the crepes was not disappointing, it felt like I was enjoying a filling chicken baguette and for a cheap price of approximately 4 euros. There are a lot of dessert and crepe stalls around Paris that can do you a good crepe for as low as 1.5 euros.
For prices I was very annoyed by how expensive popular food outlets were, for example the McDonalds next the Lourve museum charged over 8 euros for a McChicken sandwich. In the UK I’m not being charged over £3 (3.4 euros) for one – and that’s the price of a Mcflurry in Paris! In all fairness It’s a theme for food prices to be inflated all over Europe from what I gather from my family and their holiday experiences in some European countries.
For dinner I wine and dined at Le Thermidor, which was a 5 minute walk from Lourve. It was somewhat okay but my value for money and the speed of the service was too slow for a restaurant that was not busy at the time of eating. I had snails for the starter with a small glass of French rose wine to remove whatever yuck in my mouth from eating them, the taste turned out to be decent given what it was. The main course was chicken fillet with French fries and salad; the meal was slightly underwhelming with the small portion sizes however the chicken itself had good taste and texture to it, enhanced by the condimental touch of gravy which was well-spreaded. All the food was well-cooked, with the fries having a slight amount of oil on them but not enough to ruin my enjoyment.
The bill came up to 25 euros, once tax was added 😦 I didn’t mind on this occasion but it’s not going to be a common theme going forward personally #touristrobbed
Apart from the d*** who tossed my bag away like garbage to get their own when checking into St Pancreas International the French citizens were not stereotypically rude. Comfortable sharing seats and space on train journeys, helpful and aware of tourist around the area. It also helped that I spoke a bit of French and practised it en route to Paris along with experience communicating with foreigners so it was an easier time understanding them and allowed me to mostly overcome the language barrier, plus English is the international language so most French understood at least a bit of English.
Any crepe stall as it is one of the country’s national food. For reasons stated above as well. Best options to go for are nutella-flavoured or banana-flavoured from personal experience.
All in all it’s nice to start my travelling adventure on not so unfamiliar ground. The people and services were mostly helpful and easy to understand although Paris is a bit of unfinished business on the attraction front.
But for now – Au Revoir Paris, a plus tard (see you later)
At the time of typing this it had been exactly a week since I had finished my long, physically taxing day out in Paris by myself and was warmly greeted by the British weather with heavy rain, with my mum picking me up from Stratford station 😦 What a depressing and bitter end to [...]