Category Archives: Brussels

Crash course tour of Brussels

Here’s my tip if you ever have a layover long enough to leave the airport and explore for a few hours: hit up the airport tourism booth and ask the person for a map of the town, and just have them highlight the must-see sights. That’s what I did last year in Copenhagen and this time when I was in Brussels for a ten-hour layover. Here’s my crash course tour Brussels based on the tourism lady’s suggestions:

Houtsiplou
I had lunch at this burger spot that had free wi-fi and cool murals all over the walls. Not to mention it encouraged adding your own graffiti to the bathroom walls (which were chalkboards). The Basique burger I ordered was humongous. There was also a burger on the menu that consisted of raw beef with a raw egg in the middle. After consulting with my mom, she informed me that this is steak tartare, and that she used to eat it because it’s actually good. No thank you!

Chalkboard bathroom

Manneken Pis
I don’t know much about the history of this particular landmark, but it’s basically a small statue of a boy pissing. Oh, and they dress him up in random outfits. Apparently, he’s the pride and joy of Brussels.

Manneken Pis

Grand-Place Grote Markt
Finally, I was starting to like Brussels. Let’s just say that the train station where the airport shuttle drops you off is hardly charming or scenic – it’s almost dismal. But this main tourist square is beautiful. The buildings are an old, brown-beige stone color and are all complemented by the same red flowers. It looks really striking – the bright red petals contrast the stone buildings perfectly.

Galleries
This is a pretty row of shops in a covered gallery. Too bad I had no money to shop at the moment!

Entrance to the galleries

Marche aux Poissons Vismet
Apparently this is the place to go for a good fish dinner. I wasn’t in the mood for a fish dinner, but wanted to check out the area anyways. The restaurants had the cutest neon-red lobster signs out front. I have to say that Brussels has some of the cutest shop-fronts I’ve seen.

Restaurants at Marche aux Poissons Vismet

Ste. Catherine
I don’t know what Brussels’ obsession with pissing is, but this church literally has built-in stone urinals on the outer wall. I actually saw some guy pissing in them – literally pissing on the church.

Ste Catherine church with Brussels' crazy weather in the background

Place de la Bourse Beursplein
I was trying to find this famous cafe I read about, Belle Epoch, but failed. However, I did see tons of police, helmets ready, and police cars. Not sure what was going on, but something was going on. I also saw St. Nicolaus Church in this area. It had this very simple, clean, limestone look from the outside, which I really liked.

Accordion player near St. Nicolaus Church

Souvenir time
As I was walking around, this jewelry store caught my eye – it was a really small shop, but had these beautiful Art Noveau-inspired rings. And the lady happened to accept credit cards, so I made a little impulse buy. Oops… But, in my defense, it is a really unique ring and it was my only souvenir purchase in Brussels.

Mont des Arts Kuntsberg
This is a more modern, artsy square. It’s also where the Museum of Musical Instruments is – a slender, elegant Art Nouveau building made mostly of glass windows with music-inspired designs and music-carved brass.

Museum of Music Instruments

Rue des Sablons
Apparently this is the place to buy chocolate (according to the map/guide from the tourism booth lady). Not sure if I got to the right place exactly, but this street did have really cute boutique shops and is anchored by a pretty church.

At this point, I was exhausted and my body was giving out on me, so I just headed back to the shuttle, passing by the crazy art station, full of skateboarders, and Place V. Hortaplein, which is dominated by a tall, glass office building.

Near Place V. Hortaplein
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A bumpy ride to Brussels

Why do I do this to myself? This was my brilliant plan for the day I left Portugal:

  • 3:15 a.m. Wake up
  • 4 a.m. Shuttle pick-up to Faro airport
  • 6:30 a.m. Flight from Faro to Brussels
  • 10:10 a.m. 10-hour layover in Brussels begins
  • 8:50 p.m. Flight from Brussels to Warsaw

Why did I think that I would feel like running around Brussels after a jam-packed two weeks of traveling and after waking up at three in the morning? My idiotic logic strikes again!

Needless to say, I was not a happy camper in the morning. There were almost tears. At least I got a little sleep on the plane, but nothing solid. The little girl sitting behind me, kicking my seat and singing made-up songs about Ryan Air sure as hell didn’t help.

At least my experience with Ryan Air wasn’t bad – aside from all the fees, that is. Thankfully, they had separate lines for each destination at the airport which puts them past the cluster#%&@ easyJet prefers to operate in. And I gotta give it to the Ryan Air on-flight staff, they really push their merchandize. Through my sleepy slumber, I caught at least one enthusiastic announcement promoting some watch they were selling.

I got off the flight in Brussels – after an excited trumpet solo blasted over the speakers on the plane to celebrate our landing (make that our on-time landing) – and tried to figure out what to do:

  1. Brussels is an hour bus ride away from Charleroi airport
  2. The bus ticket lady was only accepting cash
  3. I had 15 euros in my wallet and $7 USD in my bank account
  4. The bus ticket was 13 euros each way

In the end I just got the one-way bus ticket to Brussels and hoped that I could exchange whatever Polish zloty I still had in my wallet in the city for enough euros to get me back to the airport. And hopefully use my credit card for anything else.

I dumped my huge backpack into a locker at the airport – lucky number 13 to be exact – and headed to Brussels with my heavy carry-on bag (8 kg to be exact).