Friday, August 29, 2014

24 Hours in Brussels

Jetting off to Europe is always such an exciting adventure.  This time I had a very last minute opportunity to go sailing from Barcelona to Nice but needed to book my last minute flight within five days of departure.  No big surprise flights to Barcelona were coming back très cher (very expensive) so I called United and inquired why the rates were so expensive.  The primary reason, the through fare from North America with an Inter-Europe connection was adding nearly an $800 premium to the base fare.  The recommendation was to terminate at the first stop in Europe and buy a one way ticket for the final leg.  Voila! Flight from Vancouver (YVR) to Brussels (BRU) and Nice (NCE) to Vancouver (YVR) came back at just $1499 - more reasonable with a one way fare on Brussels Airlines for just 40Euros (BRU to BCN).  This also meant I would need to spend an extra night in this Diamond and Chocolate studded town.

Being a frugal traveller and knowing I would not be spending a lot of time at my hotel I opted to stay at a 2-star property.  After reviewing various websites like Expedia and TripAdvisor I decided I would try the Hotel Aristote (Avenue de Stalingrad, 5, Brussels).  

I chose the Hotel Aristote for a couple reasons: 
Location.  It is a very easy walk (approx. 10 min with luggage) straight down Av. de Stalingrad from the Gare du Midi (Midi Rail station) with a direct link to BRU International airport.  Rail pass one way is just 8Euro50.  It is also within a short 5-10 min stroll to Brussels Gay Village. 

Price.  At just 40Euro a night it is just a step up from a hostel but you have the added comfort of having your own room.  I just needed a clean comfortable place to sleep (afternoon siesta after a long travel day, and a short night sleep for early morning departure) 

Eat. On this trip I decided I would eat and drink my way around town.  First up was Plattesteen (Rue Marché au Charbon (Kolenmarkt). popular with the locals with a fun 50’s inspired interior and beautiful outside terrace seating.  Luckily the weather was comfortable and sunny so I opted to sit outside.  The cafe sits on the corner of the Gay epicenter of Brussels with the city’s Gay monument recognizing many of Belgium’s LGBT leaders including my good friend Jerko.  Here I met, Jerko, founder of the GLISA worldOutgames Antwerp III and the Executive Producer of Mr. Gay World 2013 Antwerp.  We enjoyed catching up over our sodas and Belgium Goat Cheese salad.  Highly recommend if you love Goat Cheese - yum! 

Next was a cultural crawl.  Belgium is also known for one of the birth places of comics including Tin Tin so I had to go and explore and learn more about this famed character.  Along the way many of the exterior walls of buildings have beautiful murals, street art.  Belgian Comic Strip Center was very interesting.

Chocolate. As I navigated the old cobble stone streets and taking in the beautiful architecture of Brussels both old and new, I was able to stop along the way and savor some of Belgium’s dark chocolate.  The intoxicating aromas from the stores threw me into an altered state of reality as I savored various creations of 85% dark chocolate. My favorite was Passion Chocolat (2/4 rue Bodenbroek, Grand Sablon (NH hotel)

People watching, Beer and Bears.  Brussels has a wonderful spectrum of people from all walks of life from around the world.  It was time to sit back and enjoy the bustling after work crowd over a couple glasses of Belgium beer.  First stop was La Baroque, a frequent stop of Bears, Otters and perhaps a few Wolves. Super friendly and great atmosphere with some outside seating or standing.  From there I  headed down the street on the edge of the Gay Village to La Reserve.  It appeared to have a mix crowd and was pretty busy.  For dinner I chose to head to a newer hang out , La Moon.  It is a bit newer on the scene with a big street terrace in front of a beautiful church.  The cafe is starting to steal clientele from Cafe Le Fountains which has more of a bohemian crowd, but spreading the love around is always good.

Pissing. After dinner with the need to walk off some of the calories that have been piling up it was time to head to the center of town and visit the “Boy Peeing” aka Manneken Pis and onto Grand Place Grote Markt.  Seeing these sights lit up at night is stunning.  I also remember from a previous trip that there was a lounge I had to have a drink at, Taverne le Cercueil. This is a unique lounge in that all of the tables are of coffins.  It is like having a bar inside a tomb.  Fun atmosphere, a bit creepy in the sense you are enjoying a beer on a coffin complete with skeletal remains! 

Next stop, Barcelona!