On my way from Paris to Amsterdam, I had time to stop off in Brussels for the afternoon—thanks mostly to the efficiency of Europe’s high-speed rail system. My train arrived at the one of the classiest train stations I have seen in Europe. Everything looked clean and new, and the walls even had stained-glass murals throughout the structure. As I walked up and out from the train station to the surface level, I quickly discovered why the train station was so nice; it’s located directly underneath the European Parliament. The European Parliament building is gigantic in size, covered with glass, and located next to the Place du Luxembourg (a famous local square in Brussels).
I had an afternoon to kill, so I decided to see some of Brussels’ landmarks. Just west of the Place du Luxembourg is one of the beautiful parks that are littered throughout the city. I asked a lady to take a picture of me in front of a huge gate that had lion statues on each side of it. The lady just happened to be working for the American embassy in Brussels. She told me the gate that I just took a picture in front of is actually the rear side of the Royal Palace of Brussels. She said for me to go northwest on Rue Belliard, through Parc de Bruxelles, and after I get to the other side of the park to go southwest and I’ll come to the front of the palace. Her directions were spot on.
After walking through vast array of trees and artistic statues I came upon the front of the palace, I took a couple pictures and then asked another polite stranger where I should go for some good Belgium beer, chocolate, and waffles. He told me the main tourist area was only about a kilometer away and that he happened to be heading in that direction. Sure enough, after chit chat for a short walk, we came to a street that was lined from side to side with Belgium flag pennants overhead. He said to go down that street and you’ll arrive at the Town Hall located at Grand Palace Square. He said from there you could find anything and everything you want. So I headed down to take some pictures of the Town Hall and then was in search of beer, chocolate, and waffles (not necessarily in that order).
I was clearly in the most dominant tourist area and had my pick of many pubs that surround the square and flowed down each connecting street. So I sat down, asked the bartender what are some of the better beers that are produced in Belgium and which are not readily available in the United States. He showed me a list, narrowed it down for me, and then I tried his top three choices (not all at once). Let me go on record as saying that I can’t remember which beers I sampled, but Belgium beer is divine.
After a liquid lunch I was in search of chocolate-covered Belgium waffles. As I looked around, I saw a huge Haagen-Dazs boutique that had sign featuring chocolate-covered Belgium waffles displayed in the front window. I made a beeline for a table outside. The entire time I was thinking to myself with a name like Haagen-Dazs, this has to be an authentic Belguim company. Wrong! I did not find out until after I returned to the states that Haagen-Dazs is as American as apple pie. I will say that I was able to order Belgium waffles with chocolate and that the chocolate that they used was specifically made in that region of Belgium.
The last thing I had to do on my to-do list was to buy a beer stein from Belgium. I collect a beer stein from every Germanic country that I visit. My father collected steins, and I like to continue that tradition. I usually like to spend anywhere from $100 to $200 on a souvenir (conversation piece) from each country I visit and then ship the items back to me in the states so I don’t have to take the chance on breaking it by lugging it around. Besides, it’s nice to get home and then every other day after your return you get a little present from yourself from a different country you went to. This seems to be the best method when you’re a backpacker.
If you’re backpacking, set aside a portion of your money for shipping and then determine the weight and frequency in which you should ship things back. I only had one souvenir with me, so I carried it with me until I shipped out more souvenirs from the next stop on my trip. After buying my stein, I had a couple more beers before heading back to the Bruxelles-Luxembourg station and then was off to Amsterdam. I didn’t get to spend as much time as I wanted to in Brussels, but in the short time I was there, I got an eyeful of historic sights and a belly full of chocolate, waffles, and beer.