Sunday 9 September 2018

Belgium travel diary: day 4

Day 4 in Belgium was another Brussels day, this time with Holly – as we’d had a fairly late night on the Monday, we slept in and had quite a chilled morning just doing things at our own pace. 

Mike went off to hire a bike and cycle around various tree-filled areas, sending us photo updates throughout the day so we knew he was safe, while Holly and I decided to start our day with brunch at Chicago on Rue de Flandre which has framed pictures of famous jazz musicians on the walls and a bit of a mish-mash in d├ęcor, pastels and brights and retro goodness all around. It only took us around 10 minutes to get there from our hotel, and we were served quickly despite the fact that it was pretty busy. I went for croque monsieur which was nice but not very big – it cost almost €10 and for only a couple of euros more, Holly got a huge portion of macaroni cheese which looked phenomenal. I’d definitely go for something like that if I was there again, just to get value for money and make sure I was well fed for the day ahead.
After spending around an hour in Chicago we headed back in the direction of our hotel, taking a different turn to get ourselves to the tram stop on the canal – we were going to the Atomium and Mini Europe so we got on the 51 tram from Porte de Flandre (towards Stade) which took us around 20 minutes. It was a bit difficult to get across to the driver that we wanted a return ticket each, but that’s our fault for being English and ignorant, and we managed it in the end. The journey was uneventful, and when we got off the tram opposite a large stadium and near a big water fountain/statue (I just can't remember the name of the stop) we could see the Atomium… we just couldn’t really work out how to get there. But after a few minutes of walking in what we hoped was the right direction we figured it out, snapping plenty of pictures along the way.

We decided to hit up Mini Europe first, and we each bought a combo ticket for the two attractions which cost about €24. Now, I had really been looking forward to seeing Mini Europe, which is basically a model village except instead of a post office, a pub and some houses, it features all of Europe’s main attractions; I thought it would be a bit naff but kind of fun and honestly, I was blown away. It was AMAZING. Tiny versions of the Eiffel Tower, the Acropolis, the White Cliffs of Dover – it’s SO good and a must-see if you’re going to the Atomium anyway, which I think a lot of people do when they go to Brussels as it’s not too far out and it’s so well known. Each “country” you visit at Mini Europe has a button you can press which plays their national anthem, and there’s a tiny train that runs all the way around it, and a little airport which genuinely makes it sound as though planes are taking off above you. There’s information about each monument/attraction, too, and it probably took us just over an hour to do the whole thing. It’s so worth a trip, I promise!

We wandered out and grabbed a drink, sitting down for a few minutes before the wasps got too much and we made our way over the Atomium itself – it probably took us just under 10 minutes to get from one to the other, across a bridge and through a car park and along a stretch of pavement. The Atomium, originally built for the world fair in 1958 is huge and so shiny – five of the balls (atoms?) have something different in that you can see, and I think one is dedicated to the Smurfs, but by this point we were so hot and had walked so much that we decided to just go up the lift and check out the view, which was stunning. As the ball is obviously round, you can see out across Brussels from every angle, and there are handy maps showing you what you can see from each window. 

It was equally as hot up there as it was anywhere else, so by the time we got down we were dying to get back to the hotel, freshen up and get a beer. So that's what we did - we made our way back to the tram stop which was all downhill this time, and then took the tram back to stop nearest the Meininger. As we walked into the hotel we noticed Mike at the bar - talk about timing - so we all sat down for a pint and some cards. We didn't want a late one that night as we had a 5.45am coach to Bruges booked for the next morning, so we headed into town sharpish and got ourselves some Belgian fries (duh).

Our first bar of the night was Au Brasseur, where Holly and Mike had been before, which had a lovely chilled out atmosphere despite its amazing central location. We then walked across the Grand Place, all lit up and looking absolutely stunning, to find Delirium, a bar that serves over 2000 varieties of beer. It's got such a cool vibe, all beer signs and barrels everywhere, and we definitely could have stayed longer if not for the impending 4.30am alarms... So we just had the one drink, and then I impressively navigated us back to our hotel without the use of Google maps. Huge pat on the back for me.

By this point it was around midnight, so already too late considering how little sleep we'd be getting, but silly us decided to stay up and finish the last of the prosecco while playing yet more games of Shit head and Rummy. Honestly, why are we like this? But I wouldn't have it any other way, and we made it to bed somewhere around 1.30am - and pretty soon, the alarms went off...

Thank you SO much for all the support during this series so far; I know the posts have been really long so if you've read them all then 5 gold stars for you. I've been having so much fun writing them up, and I'm sad that I've only got two days left to do!

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