Brussels, Belgium

June 28-29:

We traveled to the capital of Belgium – Brussels! We arrived around 8:00pm to our Airbnb, which was centrally located inside the bustling city. Brussels had a different feel about it than other cities we’ve visited – everything was alive and very metropolitan. It almost felt like New York City.

Our first night in Bruges we found ourselves unable to get any dinner because it was so late, (11:00) and everything closes early in Bruges. Thankfully, we had saved one soup packet from our Iceland campervan travels and cooked it in the shared kitchen of our Airbnb.

Brussels is the complete opposite. Things are open late into the night (the pub in our apartment complex closed at 4AM and reopened at 6AM!). We grabbed some Indian cuisine for dinner that night. The best garlic naan we’ve ever had! So good!

Our yummy Indian food for dinner!

The first night we arrived we listened as we were trying to go to sleep to excited Belgium football (soccer) fans as they cheered their team into victory. It was incredible to hear the deep rumble of cheers whenever they got a goal. (We were live streaming the game from our phones in bed haha) After Belgium won, the streets erupted in coordinated singing and fireworks.

Grand Place

The Grand Place is a large city square surrounded by beautiful historical buildings dating back to the 14th century. At night the square is lit up. People during the day and at night sit on the ground and enjoy hanging out with friends or family. We loved this spot the most in Brussels!

Grand Place
Grand Place
Grand Place at night.

Mont des Arts

Mont des Arts is a beautiful landscape garden on a hill with a great view of the city.

Mont des Arts
Mont des Arts

Triumphal Arch

We walked 2.5km to a beautiful city park with a grand Triumphal Arch at the end. After doing so much walking, we decided to cave and rent some Lime scooters to ride back into the central district of the city.

Triumphal Arch
Triumphal Arch

Manneken Pis

Graham’s grandparents have a miniature version of this statue in their downstairs bathroom that we always thought was funny. We had to go visit the real thing! It is a 17th century fountain and the boy is sometimes dressed up during different festivals. We must have caught him at a bad time though because he was missing all of his clothes.

Manneken Pis
Manneken Pis

Le Pêcheur- Belgium restaurant

For dinner, we headed to Le Pêcheur for some Belgian food. The menu was only in French. We both ordered from the page that stated “entree”, with more reasonable prices for dinner than the following pages of the menu. Graham ordered some mussels and Lizzie ordered a plate of croquettes au fromage (cheese croquettes). The plates came out and we then realized we must have ordered off of the appetizer or small plates page. Lizzie had two small cheese croquettes (looked like 2 freezer cheese sticks) and Graham had a very small plate of miniature muscles. We both ate very small bites to make it last. Thankfully, the restaurant gave out free bread, which we gratefully ate two baskets of.

Our very small plates of dinner.

France football

After our small dinner, we headed across the way to a sports bar for a drink and to watch the exciting football game between France and Switzerland. It was a highlight of our time in Brussels. We sat around very enthusiastic fans singing fight songs in French. It was a great experience!

Laeken Cemetery

The next morning we went to Laeken Cemetery to see one of the twenty original sculptures by French artist Auguste Rodin – The Thinker. The cemetery was filled with beautiful unique graves and tombs. It was very humbling walking around. Many of the tombs had old pictures of the deceased that you could still see. Some were so old that you could barely read the lettering on it. Walking through reminded us of how quickly life goes by, how grateful we are for our friends and family currently around us, and how appreciative we are to be on a journey like this – knowing that this life is but a single breath.

The Thinker

Bruges, Belgium

June 25-27:

We made it to Belgium! It was just a short train ride away from Gouda to make it to the Belgian border. We connected through Brussels and out to the city of Bruges on the western side of Belgium.

Belgium is one of the newest countries in Europe. Around the same time as the French Revolution, the Belgian Revolution in 1831 resulted in the southern half of The Netherlands to secede into its own, independent country. The Kingdom of The Netherlands finally recognized its sovereignty in 1839.

The flag of Belgium

Today, the country of Belgium is a fascinating mix of cultures, heritages, and languages. There are 3 national languages: Dutch, French, and German. The people of the capital city of Brussels are pushing to make English an official language as well. As such, most folks (including all school children by the age of 14) typically become at the very least conversational in 4 languages.

The regions of Belgium see different languages used predominantly as well. For example, in the southern regions of Belgium, French dominates public discourse. In the northern half of the country, including where we stayed in Bruges, a Flemish variation of Dutch dominates. We noticed that signs here often showed Dutch, then French, then German, then English. As such, the historic plaques are necessarily huge!

Bruges, Belgium is one of the most historically preserved cities in the country. At one point in the 13th/14th centuries, it was the wealthiest city in Europe! Echoes of that era remain today.

Canal in Bruges
When we first arrived in Bruges. This canal was close to our Airbnb.
Carriage tours through the main parts of the city
The streets of Bruges
Minnewaterpark, Bruges
Minnewaterpark, Bruges

Food in Bruges

It was in Bruges that we got our first taste of Belgian food! Because of its history, Belgian food tends to take many forms and come from many different countries. It’s easy to find cuisines from just about any country in Belgium! That being said, Belgian chocolate and Belgian waffles seemed to be some of the most popular snacks.

Belgian chocolate!
Belgian chocolate shop
A great waffle shop in Bruges

The waffles were so sweet, you didn’t need to put syrup on them! They already had large granules of sugar baked in, but we noticed most folks would sometimes spread butter on them and/or add brown sugar to the top of them.

Belgian waffle!
“Deadly delicious” – the most popular type of chocolate at one of our stops
Inside “Deadly delicious” – something like cream cheese, raspberry, almond, and caramel!
“Cacao nibs” – a brick of chocolate with little bits of Cacao added

Belfry of Bruges

One of our favorite stops in Bruges was the Belfry of Bruges. Located in one of the main squares of the city, the belfry was originally the seat of the Bruges government. It got struck by lightning and partially burned down at one point, and they decided to move their official offices into a smaller building. But the belfry has been maintained and open to the public for some time now. It’s famous for its music-box sounding chimes that ring out over the city at all hours of the day.

Belfry of Bruges
View of Bruges from the top of the belfry

After a climb to the top of the belfry, we saw that it was indeed a giant music box that controlled all of the little bells! It’s the largest of its kind in the world.

The “music box” controlling the chimes in the belfry

Going up one level from the “music box”, we got to see the actual bells and chimes that it controlled. It was incredible seeing how it was all made, but quite loud when you’re standing underneath the bells!

Bells in the belfry

Final thoughts

Bruges is an absolutely charming city. We loved feeling like we were stepping back in time to see the older sides of Europe through the well-kept historic buildings. We can’t wait to one day come back!