Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Brussels: Where it Rains Often - Our Family Trip Part 2

Bright and early Monday morning we set off for our next destination - 3 nights in Brussels, Belgium.  We weren't on the road but for a few minutes when we had a slight driving snafu.  There was very little traffic and about 1/2 mile up the road we noticed a large bird right in the middle of our lane.  As we got closer, both Bryan and I started shouting "Move! Move!" and waving our hands, and we could tell this massive bird (a hawk or an eagle, perhaps?) was just sitting there watching us as we bear down on it.  Right at the last second this enormous bird/possibly endangered eagle finally tried to move, but it was too late and it hit the frame of our car next to the windshield, feathers exploded everywhere and our antennae bent to a 90 degree angle.  Luckily, it didn't hit our windshield; we would have been in big trouble.  The whole incident reminded us of this steamroller scene in the first Austin Powers movie:

We made it to Brussels around noon, but it took us until about 2:30 p.m. before we actually found our hotel, The Van Belle.  Yes, we drove around Brussels for 2.5 hours shouting out street names as we passed them by and fervently searching our pathetic GoogleMap seeing if those roads were within the quadrant that we had printed out.  We had written directions, but like other large European cities, Brussels is deficient in clearly displayed street signs, so we missed our first turn off the highway and were immediately lost.  We finally parked, walked to the nearest hotel we could find, which happened to be the very hoity-toity Royal Windsor Hotel, and asked for a map.  Then we asked if they could show us where we were on the map so we could get our bearings. The snooty concierge wasn't amused.

We decided that we were done driving for the next three days and parked our car.  The first night we went to the Grand Place and the shopping district and wandered around, but had to dash in and our of places because every 30 minutes a rain cloud would pass by and downpour on us.  I didn't realize that it rained so much in Brussels until I saw a T-shirt in a tourist shop that said "Brussels: Where it Rains Often" and had an image of a person under an umbrella.  That's not really a great catchphrase for a city, but it certainly fit the bill.

Rainy day at the Grand Place.

 Bryan puts on a brave face after driving us through Brussels for 2 and 1/2 hours.  At least we remembered our umbrella. Although, it did turn inside-out several times due to strong wind gusts.

Getting ready to rain again ... time to take shelter.

Seeing Baggers (German for excavators) are the highlight of Dylan's day, no matter what city we're in.

Taking shelter from the rain once again.
I can't remember the order that we did things in Brussels, but it often felt like a lot of walking in circles. Here are some of the other things we did and saw:

  • Bryan got a Dylan-free lunch on the famous Coin de Mer street where he ate the famous Mussels in Brussels. It was his favorite part of our trip to Brussels.  
  • It was so cold that I had to buy a scarf to stay extra warm.
  • We went to the famous Jeu de Balle flea market which had lots of cool stuff and lots of junk all mixed together.  
  • There was a big carnival near our hotel that was set up in the median of a major thoroughfare.  This greatly added to the confusion when we were trying to find out hotel.
  • Our room was so tiny that a travel crib didn't fit anywhere in the room.  Dylan had to sleep on a mattress on the floor. PS, don't expect too much from a 3 star rating in Europe.  It's not like a 3 star hotel in America.  4 stars here and you are in the clear.  3 stars and under, and you are booking at your own risk.  Our Rotterdam Hotel was 4 stars and our Brussels & France Hotel were 3 stars.  Huge difference.  
  • The Mannekin Pis (statue of a boy peeing) is really tiny.  Not sure what all the fuss is about, but it's always surrounded by about 50-75 tourists taking pictures.
  • Walking tours in English were super expensive, so we didn't do any.  In fact, I still know very little history of Brussels even after being there for 3 days.
  • The chocolate is too expensive.  I couldn't justify spending 6 Euros on a 100 gram chocolate bar when I can buy a 1 kilo Ritter Sport at Netto for less than 2 Euros.

Good view over Brussels. No, this is not the view from our hotel room, although that would have been nice.

Lovely streets to walk down through the city center.

We can get about 15-20 minutes of peace by buying Dylan and ice cream cone (followed by a 45 minute sugar rush, but it's worth it!)

Family photo, minus Oscar.

Jeu de Balle flea market - very cool!

Oops.  I snapped the photo right as he tripped and fell.  Time to hug it out with Daddy.

Aren't my guys the cutest?

Finally, no rain in the Grand Place.  Dylan is actually clapping his hands, he's so excited.

Grand Place - gorgeous!

More Grand Place.  Lots of people come out when the rain stops.

Coin de Mer - best food in Brussels right up this narrow alley.

Mannekin Pis - translation "Little Boy Pees".

There weren't a lot of places in Brussels to let Dylan run around to expend his ample energy.  This made him 'ready' to do something as soon as we tried to sit down and have any sort of meal together.  'Ready' is the word that he would shout and let the area square block know over and over again when he was ready to move on from remaining stationary at a shop or restaurant.   This made for some really quick and stressful meals while we were out.

In case you haven't noticed by now, each day was broken into two parts. The morning shift, which starts at breakfast and last until Dylan's mid afternoon nap, and the evening shift, which starts around 5pm and lasts until Dylan's bedtime (anywhere from 8:30 to 9:30 on our trip).  Our meals were usually eaten either one at a time, or very quickly eaten together while Dylan ate a snack or an ice cream cone.   Needless to say, we weren't eating at any fancy establishments. At least that helped us stay within our budget.

Overall, Brussels was a very nice city to visit...without a 2 year old.  The city center was beautiful and everything was accessible by foot.

After 5 days on the road and a stressful Brussels trip under our belts, we briefly considered calling it quits and heading back to Germany.  But, we are too stupid for that.  On Thursday morning, we checked out of our closet, I mean Hotel room, and headed onward.


Anonymous said...

Hi Bryan and Fam! Reading about your Brussels trip reminds me of our adventures over here with toddlers. We have been here in Germany (Kaiserslautern - Southwest Germany) for a little over 2 years now. Really enjoying it and all the travel. Trips are always stressful but afterwards we are glad we did it. If you ever travel down around here for basketball shoot us an email or give us a call (brent.gaylord@yahoo.com, 015153942287). We were actually up in Muenster last spring visiting the exchange student my parents had while I was in college. Beautiful town, really enjoyed it. Take care and enjoy your travels.

Bekah (Holt) Gaylord

Anonymous said...

My name is Amy and I'm with Dwellable.
I was looking for posts about Brussels to share on our travel site and I came across your blog...If you're open to it, shoot me an email at amy(at)dwellable(dot)com.
Hope to hear from you soon!