Country #75

Country #75 - Belgium Day 2

The Rain and The Christmas Light Show

Today I fought off my better judgement and slept in longer than I had intended. While half asleep I told my mom to go to breakfast by herself and woke up two hours later at 11am. After a busy week, I think I definitely needed the extra sleep before day two in Belgium! Once I got up and ready we grabbed some free hot chocolate downstairs at ibis Styles Brussels Centre Stephanie. We walked outside to board the tram which is when I first saw the beautiful snow that had fallen overnight. Our tram stop turned into quite the spectacle when the tram had its path blocked by a car that had parallel parked too far into the tram lane. The tram had not yet reached our stop but we watched all of this unfold down the street. After about five minutes of honking at the car a large group of people got off of the tram and somehow pushed the car towards the curb enough for the tram to get by. Like I said, quite the spectacle!

Our first actual stop of the day was Église Notre-Dame au Sablon, a stunning gothic cathedral. I really liked the inside because even though it seemed similar to many incredible churches that I have had the opportunity to see before, it had a few really unique qualities. I loved that it was lit almost entirely by natural light through the giant stained glass windows, and there were also some very unique sculptures that I’ve never seen in a church before (e.g. a giant wooden boat). After taking in the church we headed across the street to walk through a beautiful park that we had just happened upon, Jardin du Petit Sablon. It was full of cool statues and my favorite part was the really cool bushes. If you didn’t know bushes could be really cool, Brussels will definitely show you they can be.

From Jardin du Petit Sablon we then walked to the Royal Palace of Brussels. It was on this walk that we realized the beautiful snowfall was going to turn to gross mush sooner rather than later and that we would be dealing with it, plus what was now rain, for the entire day. It was quite dreary, indeed. The Royal Palace, though, was exceptional. It was beautiful and filled with more beautiful gardens. It’s an actual palace so you can’t visit but that was okay because it was stunning just to see from the outside.

After the Royal Palace we had a longer walk to the European Parliament. This was a last-minute addition to the day once we realized that both the Royal Museum of Fine Arts and the Musical Instrument Museum were closed - but I am so glad that we visited the European Parliament instead! Our first stop was a tour of the parliamentary chamber. There was an audio guide that offered information about how the parliament and its proceedings work, and it was super interesting. Afterwards, we visited the Parliamentarium, the official visitor center for the European Parliament. It was really one of the most interactive and unique museums that I’ve ever visited!

When you enter you get an audio guide that works with the native languages of every EU member country. You then use your audio guide throughout your visit to tap it on different interactive exhibits to either learn more via audio or to activate the exhibit to use it interactively. There were so many cool exhibits, from learning about the formation and addition of the EU to learning about how the EU works and learning a lot about its citizens. It was such an informational visit (especially as I’m obviously not from the EU) and was very well done as well - oh, and it was free, too!

After the Parliamentarium we took the metro to St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral. It was another beautiful one! It’s similar in style to Église Notre-Dame au Sablon, but also quite unique as well. I enjoyed the different Christmas displays set up inside from cultures from all around the world - it was fascinating! It was also a nice respite from the literal pouring rain at this point. Our next stop was to walk through Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, which is a sort of outdoor/indoor mall - it’s basically an outdoor shopping center that is opened at the ends but covered at the top, and it is so pretty, especially with the Christmas decorations.

Our final stop of the day was the area around Grand Place and Town Hall, arguably the most famous spot in Brussels. When we walked up there was music playing, and it turned out to be the music that goes to the absolutely incredible Christmas lights display! Lights on the buildings all around the square are linked to music (it was traditional Christmas music as well as Christmas songs by Sia). I have never, and don’t think that I will ever, see Christmas lights that top it. Not only are the buildings themselves some of the coolest you’ll see in Europe, but then they have an incredible light show on top of them! I’ll add a video so you can see for yourself.

We only saw the very end before we walked around the buildings and the Christmas market that was all around the area. My mom bought a few ornaments and we enjoyed walking through the stalls before we headed back to the Grand Place to see the entire Christmas lights performance. It was 15 minutes of mind-blowing lights and music and I highly recommend you visit Brussels just for the light show if you are ever in Europe around Christmas. After the lights we were completely drenched through our clothes and freezing, so we ate at a really cute little restaurant right on the square, called La Brouette. We had a seat by the window so we had such a cool view (and saw the light show once more from inside an hour later). I had a hot chocolate, a chicken puff pastry, and a really yummy traditional apple and ice cream dessert. It was a really great meal to end the day on.

Our last stop was to see the famous Manneken Pis statue, otherwise known as the Peeing Boy. By this point, it was snowing again, and snowing hard. Luckily it was only a five-minute walk from the restaurant, and we took a short look before getting on the bus to head to the tram to then head back to ibis Styles Brussels Centre Stephanie. It was such a great, but very wet, day! We saw a lot of Brussels, learned a whole lot about the EU, and really appreciated all of the Christmas spirit that Brussels had to offer. It’s time to head east for a few days, though, as we are headed to Prague early in the morning!

75 countries down, 121 to go.

Read about my first day in Belgium here.

To learn more about ibis Styles Brussels Centre Stephanie click here.

Country #75 - Belgium Day 1

The Chocolate

This morning we had a great breakfast at STROOM Rotterdam (I had an amazing omelette) before starting our journey to Brugge! We took the tram to Rotterdam Central Station, which is one of the coolest modern style train stations that I’ve ever seen! It was great to at least see Rotterdam in the day on the way to the station even though we wouldn’t get to spend any time enjoying the city during daylight hours. Next time, I guess!


We took a high-speed Thalys train from Rotterdam to Antwerp where we just missed out on the first connection to Brugge, Belgium, but luckily the next option was just a few minutes later. Antwerp itself is a great city (I spent a day there last year) and I definitely recommend it if you are looking for a day trip in the area. It is beautiful and there are tons of tiny museums and lots of shopping as well. If nothing else be sure to take in the train station - it is massive with platforms over at least four stories and has fantastic architectural details.


We arrived in Brugge around 1:30pm but would still have more than enough time to see the city. I also visited Brugge last year on the same trip that included Antwerp (and Amsterdam), and I was looking forward to showing my mom around the tiny, beautiful city. When we walked out of the train station there was a giant Disney setup - it was Disney ice sculptures celebrating the 25th anniversary of Disney Paris! We decided to go back later in the day on our way out of town, but being the perpetual eight-year old that I am we definitely would be going back.


Walking towards town our first stop of the day was to journey through Minnewaterpark, which I think is one of the most beautiful parts of the city. I mean, it’s all beautiful, but Minnewaterpark is more naturally beautiful, I guess. It was raining so we, unfortunately, couldn’t enjoy the park, but the good news was that the snow from that morning was still around, making for some beautiful photos! Our next stop was Church of Our Lady Bruges and the surrounding area, which is, in my opinion, the other most beautiful area. It is so picturesque and just strikingly beautiful, and really is just a great introduction to the city. The inside is cool as well but in this instance, the outside of the church definitely wins.


Our next stop was to walk to Simon Stevinplein, a small square in the middle of the city that’s now home to a lovely, small, Christmas market! We walked through on our way to the center of the city, the area surrounding the Belfry of Bruges. The large square was home to another Christmas market, and the buildings and lights were all decorated very well for the occasion. It was such a pretty setting! Past the Belfry we then visited the Basiliek van Het Heilig Bloed, an incredibly unique church located on the second story of a building next door to Stadhuis (town hall) on Burg Square. Burg Square is then, of course, another picturesque little square in the heart of the city.


After Burg Square we then walked past Jan van Eyckplein, a cool little spot on the end of a canal, to head to the most underrated chocolate shop in the city, Chocolaterie Jan De Clerck. After extensive research on my last visit, I found that this was supposedly the best bang for your buck when it comes to chocolate (and trust me, there are more options than you can possibly choose from). I brought some home last time and we had to be sure to go back so my mom could stock up on more!


After buying lots of chocolate (who knows how we are going to fit it all in our bags) we then made the long trek out to Bonne Chieremolen, but it is totally worth it. The walk was made better, though, as we ran upon a cute and tiny Christmas market on the way there. Bonne Chieremolen is a historic windmill on the outer ring of the city and is one of my favorite spots. There are actually a few windmills on this ring and we were able to see two. We also saw Kruispoort gate, one of Brugge’s original gates to the city from the fifteenth century. It was a long walk to this area in a torrential downpour but was completely worth it!


We had an equally long walk, if not longer, back into the city where we headed to The Old Chocolate House to eat. There is almost always a line but it is definitely worth it! They have fantastic Belgian waffles (of course) and the best hot chocolate! It was a very satisfying end to our long day walking all over Brugge. Before heading back to the train station we took one last walk through the center of the city to see all of the Christmas lights at night which was definitely a good idea because they were so charming.


When we arrived back at the train station we did the Disney ice sculpture exhibit which was so cool and literally freezing. It was twenty-one degrees Fahrenheit inside, but so worth it to see so many awesome ice sculptures! There was so much detail in each one and there were also so many, it was incredible! It was such a great thing to just happen upon and I really enjoyed it even though it required being colder than I had been outside which I didn’t know would be possible.


After finishing at Disney we took an hour-long train to Brussels and then took the tram from Brussels Centraal to our hotel for the next two nights, ibis Styles Hotel Centre Stephanie. We were both exhausted and so excited to see our great room! It was giant with a cosy bed as well as a great fold out extra bed. We had a giant balcony with an amazing view of the city as well! I cannot thank ibis Styles Hotel Centre Stephanie enough for sponsoring this night of my trip and helping to make for an incredible stay in the heart of Brussels. It was a very long day, but I’m really excited to get some sleep and explore Brussels for the first time tomorrow!

75 countries down, 121 to go.

Read about my second day in Belgium here.

To learn more about ibis Styles Brussels Centre Stephanie click here.