After I checked into my Airbnb (the host let me drop my things off early), I took the bus to a really cute brunch place called Chez Franz. Breakfast is served until 11am and you can either order the petit déjeuner (€7), which comes with a pastry or bread with several options (Liège syrup is best) and orange juice and coffee or just the bread with Liège syrup (€3). As soon as I started my breakfast though, it started hailing outside! Weather in Belgium really is unpredictable so you have to be prepared for all occasions! When I left Chez Franz to go to the city center and explore, it was so sunny and felt like the hail never existed. On my way to Notre Dame du Sablon, it started raining so I ended up ducking into Le Café du Sablon to get out of the rain and ate a second breakfast of almond pear pie and dulce de leche. Like I said, you have to be prepared for all sorts of weather in Belgium!
After the rain stopped, I wanted to go see the infamous Manneken Pis (“Little Man Pee) statue as it is the best-known symbol of the people of Brussels. I went to Brussels roughly a month after the two terrorist attacks at the airport and train station so I thought it would be the perfect place to pay my respects since it embodies the sense of humour and independence of mind of Brussels. Along the way, I was crossing a small plaza when I smelled something buttery and delicious. I actually started following the smell and ended up in a small alleyway in front of a doughnut shop called COCO Donuts. It had recently opened and I met the owner who told me she was inspired by Dough Doughnuts in NYC and had opened up her own shop in Brussels. She was so sweet and since it was a slow morning we ended up chatting while I gobbled up yet another sweet – a speculoos doughnut.
I walked off the sweets by roaming around Brussels, seeing the architecture of the city and relaxing at Mont des Arts (also known as Kunstberg), which is a historic site that offers one of the finest views in the city. From the top of the steps you can see the Town Hall and the Grand Place and there is a very nice garden surrounded by benches that is great for relaxing and people-watching while drinking some coffee.
Being the capital of the European Union, Brussels is extremely international and more of a cultural melting pot than I initially anticipated, which was a pleasant surprise. While most Belgians in Brussels do speak French, there are plenty of English and Dutch speakers as well so it’s a great place to go on a mini solo trip. If I recall correctly, my Airbnb host mentioned that Brussels was a fortress town so it’s quite small and safe and a great place to meet new people.
Brussels is a fairly small city so it doesn’t take long to walk around and just window shop and fill your stomach with snacks along the way! I stopped by Maison Antoine, which is super famous for its pommes frites (Belgian fries) and is also very cheap. You can buy a cone of frites and just sit at one of the outdoor seatings in the nearby bars and just order a pint of beer and enjoy while people-watching. You can order a cornet for €2,60 and each condiment is €0,70. I usually get frites with mayo in Europe because while I detest mayonnaise, somehow in Europe, it just tastes infinitely better. I’ve also eaten frites with their homemade tartar sauce which is also a good alternative to the mayo. It is cash only and the line can get long but it is really delicious and totally worth checking it out if you’re ever in Brussels.
Another great spot to explore in Brussels is Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. It’s a big shopping center but the building is quite beautiful. I went there to see the architecture and left with bags of high-end Belgian chocolates. I bought some macarons from Pierre Marcolini and a box of chocolates from Mary – Artisan Chocolatier. Both Pierre Marcolini and Mary – Artisan Chocolatier have royal warrants to deliver chocolates to the Royal Family, so you know that it’s going to be delicious.
There was a restaurant on my list for Brussels that was known for its traditional Belgian cuisine called Belga Queen that I ended up going to for dinner.
Order Anguilles au Vert (eel in green sauce) and Moules Bouchot ou Jumbo avec beurre d’escargots (mussels with snail butter)
I actually was quite surprised by the mussels in snail butter and at how much I liked eating it! I’ve always liked eating escargots with garlic butter but this appetizer was really delicious! I did also enjoy the eel in green sauce but it was a huge portion for just one person especially because it came with frites. Belga Queen is a great restaurant to try traditional cuisine and the experience is pretty fun – their menus are lit by LED lights and their cocktails are super yummy. And thus ends my part one of Brussels!