Thursday, August 13, 2009

Brussels Belgium, August 7-8, 2009

This was a kind of "spur of the moment" trip. We knew we wanted to go to Brussles (to say that we have been), but couldn't really plan too much. For some reason, Thom's schedule has been like a revolving door..constantly changing this month!!! It was a 3 1/2 hour drive, we had no real plans, and no hotel we'll see!!! Boy did we have an "adventure."

We missed our hotel exit and ended up seeing "down~town" Brussels. When we finally got to the hotel, we were discriminated against..not once but twice!! We were told at one place they had room for us, but as soon as I said we had 5 kids..."oh, I'm sorry we are completly booked tonight." The other one just said "forget it." We finally found a Holiday Inn (which you don't find very much here in Europe), and they allowed us to all stay. Once we checked in, we decided we would try and do some sightseeing. We got a map, put Emi and Dominick into the strollers and started walking. Our intention was to go to the "Grand Place", which was suppose to be 1 1/2-2 miles away (a 30 min walk). After walking 45+ minutes and didn't see anything that resembled the Grand Place we turned around and started looking for something to eat. We discovered a few things on this walk:

*the French and Dutch language barrier sucks ~ it was hard to read the street signs and restaurant menus.

*the cobblestone walkways are torture on the stroller (to include Emi and Dominick) and on our ankles.

*the restaurant selection is limited ~ instead we saw a lot of beauty salons, fitness centers and stores and chocolate and lace stores. AND the restaurants didn't open till 6:30 for dinner.

*cars don't care about other cars (they will make a one lane road into a 2 lane) or about pedestrians ~ so watch very carefully when crossing. We were told that it wasn't until about 15 years ago that it was required to have a licence here...and most of the drivers were grand-fathered in, without being required to take a test...yikes!!!!
So we finally settled on a restaurant that spoke universally ~ PIZZA!!!! It was ok...but it was going to be hard to top the authentic Italian pizza we had just 2 weeks ago. We passed some chocolate and torte bakeries, and we were going to pick one up for Thom's birthday, but they were closed by the time we finished dinner. As a matter of fact, most things that were family oriented were closing, so we went back to the hotel, and called it a night (at 8pm).

The next morning we checked out, and were on a mission to find Belgian waffles for breakfast...something we thought should be easy enough to do...NOT!! We left the hotel around 8:30, but none of the vendors or bakeries opened till 10. We finally found this little "hole-in-the-wall" place back at the Grand Place area. OH, by the way we were completly lost the day before when we were walking and trying to find this area.

The waiter didn't understand us well, and that made for interesting process to order our food (since the menu was in French too). We wanted basic waffles (with one topping on them)...well, the kids lucked out b/c of our "great" French speaking abilities....they ended up getting waffles that had strawberries, chocolate and whip cream on them. Thom and I ended up getting our one topping (I had chocolate..yum) and Thom had powdered sugar, though he wanted whip cream. We also had Latte Machiattos (3 layered coffee)....this breakfast was VERY, VERY good!!!!

Because none of the things we wanted to do were quite open yet, Thom pulled out our tourist book, and gave us a history lesson of the Grand Place. It use to be a market place and where the dukes and king use to live. They had all kinds of shops....carpenters, seamstresses, breweries, and order for the marketplace to function for the town. Each building had a different animal "symbol" to name the building. It was very breezy, and we were all in shorts, and just about froze. When we looked around, we were just about the only people wearing shorts..who would have thought in August that this would be an issue????

After figuring out the correct opening times and correct locations for the museums, we finally were able to visit them (the book was wrong). We first went to the brewery museum, where we learned how they made beer in the 1800's and also today. With the entrance fee, there was also a sample of beer...Thom got to drink his and mine, and said it was very good. Some of our friends actually gave Thom some Belgian beer for his birthday...thanks Alicia and Nick!!

We also went to the chocolate museum...once again we saw how chocolate is made, and we even saw a demonstration. But the best part were the samples that were given to us. They made the mistake of leaving samples of chocolate chips (4 different kinds) out...and Emilee and Dominick found them, and definitely got their fair share of them.

If you visit Brussels, you are "suppose" to visit the Manneken~Pis. There are a couple of different stories on the origin of the statue..I won't bore you with the details. The only reason why we found the statue, was because we saw a huge group of tourists standing by it. The statue is hidden in a corner in between 3 chocolate stores, and is a whopping 3 feet tall (maybe). So we got our picture, and then headed over to a chocolate store for some more free samples, and then we actually bought some too!!! The chocolate is good, but very, very sweet.
Our day was starting to wrap up, but we promised the kids we would take them to Autoworld. This was another museum that had over 400 cars ranging from the 1900's until today. They even had some bikes (motorized and not) from the 1890's and even some stagecoaches. The kids (esp the boys) were in awe over all the cars there. We told the kids to pick out their favorite ones, and we'll take a picture of them in front of it.

Overall Brussles is a place that we can say we have seen. It is not very family friendly though. We thought it was just us because of the 5 kids and me waddleing around...but we talked to some friends and co-workers, and they said they got the same treatment. We have concluded that Brussels is for single people or those without is definitely a night-atmosphere kind of town. But we were also told that Bruge' Belgium (about an 1 1/2 hrs north of Brussels) is a lot friendlier and nicer to we are going to give Bruge a try later on.