Monday, 1 January 2018

Brussels & Antwerp: Family Getaway

To close the year 2017, my family and I decided to jet off to Belgium!
As usual, I was the planner and the 4D/3N holiday cost 225.50 per person which included:

  • 109 Return Flights from Dublin 
  • 4.50 Bus from Brussels Airport to the city 
  • 35 Brussels Airbnb Apartment 2D/1N 
  • 7.60 Train from Brussels to Antwerp 
  • 57.80 Antwerp Apartment 3D/2N 
  • 11.6 Train from Antwerp to Brussels Airport train 

Both apartments were great value with their central location, large space, and great facilities such as good coffee, towels, code access, toiletries etc. so I'd recommend them for parties of 4-5.

The majority of time was spent on wandering the city and tasting all its delicacies at the local Christmas market and stores. 

So on our first night in Brussels we had some delicious mussels, along with some fried calamari, and escargot.

And of course, the famous waffles in Belgium had to be had - in all its different forms.

The Brussels waffle - a rectangular and lighter version 

And my personal favourite - the LiƩge waffles which have a slightly more doughy texture.

These were followed by sinful cups of hot chocolate which came in an assortment of flavours via stir-in chocolate blocks such as the deadly dark chocolate with rum.

Many tasty chocolate-themed treats were up for sale and we were spoilt for choice.

And shops were tastefully decorated for the festive season.

Similarly, Brussels city was decorated to bring in the Christmas cheer.

The stunning Grand Place.

With its incomplete nativity scene sans baby Jesus.

And of course, the Manneken Pis.

The food trend continued with breakfast the next day.
A lovely strong coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice, and buttery flaky croissants.

The last few hours in Brussels were spent wandering through the city and admiring its beauty both cute and traditional.

We boarded the train to Antwerp with pre-booked tickets off the GoEuro website
(very handy for saving valuable travel time!)

Antwerp welcomed us with rain showers but luckily the next day it brought us clear skies!

Antwerp had its own magical essence to it such as this adorable sculpture of
Nello and Patrasche from A Dog of Flanders.

We also went to the Museum aan de Stroom which showed Antwerp's history of how it became the city it is today. It was well worth the entry fee (8 for under 26 and 10 for adults) and I highly recommend it to future travellers.

Standing at ten floors high, each floor had a different theme explaining aspects of Antwerp such as its history, cultural heritage, diamond trade, and food supply.

The museum combined both traditional and modern aspects in conveying its information to the visitors. In English, French, and Dutch, explanations were printed in bold, accompanied by QR codes which you could scan for further information on certain artefacts. Other methods included mini 360 degree information booths

It was an interactive museum which allowed you to leave your footprints there as well as take some home. Visitors were encouraged to leave a message for a stranger in a bottle, while taking one for themselves.

Similarly, visitors could write a wish on a piece of paper and have it clipped up along with others in the hope that they'd come true in time.

You could also get a great panoramic view of the city at the top of the museum 
- which is free for everyone!

We continued our Christmas market hunt in Antwerp and found that there were several dotted across the city such as Groenplats, Grote Markt, and Steenplein.

Personally, I felt that the Antwerp markets were better in comparison to Brussels as there were more shops, more variety, and a nicer vibe as well.

If you weren't already aware, I enjoy markets - especially food markets.
So we made sure to pay a visit to Antwerp's Exotic Food Market at Theaterplein.

The Exotic Food Market which is open on Saturdays from 8-4 was a great visit for both fresh produce and prepared food. 

One of the best eats I had was the Morrocan pancake (pannenkoeken) which only cost 4 euros and was bursting with flavour! 
The pancake was crispy on the outside and layered on the inside (similar to a roti canai) which was cooked on a grill. Cheese, olives, sundried tomatoes, artichoke, honey, dates were then thrown into it and rolled up into a beautiful wrap of deliciousness.

We saw a long line. joined it, and did not regret. 
Freshly deep-fried handmade croquettes filled with cheese which were absolutely to die for.

They also came with other fillings such as mushrooms, chicory, shrimp, tomatoes, and ham.

Antwerp was also filled with fresh seafood - so we got some prawns, crab claws, and escargot with some seafood dipping sauce to blend in with the locals.

They provided standing tables at the seafood stall where you could enjoy your chosen seafood with some wine. 

On our last day, we had to get the train from Antwerpen-Centraal to the airport and had some time to kill before getting on.

So we were able to take a sneak peek at the Antwerp Zoo entrance and watch the pretty pink flamingos.

Interestingly, there was a Chinese festival incorporated at the zoo similar to Dublin's Zoo!

That was pretty much a summary to our Belgian trip and I'll end it with a cute little story.

While we were at the Brussels Airport waiting for our gate, Sonya and I tinkled on the grand piano which was available after check-in. Funnily one man came up to us and gave us two pieces of chocolate as a token of appreciation for playing. Some people even took videos or complimented us. 

Every single person we interacted with in Belgium were so kind, courteous, patient, and did not once look down at the fact that none of us knew French nor Dutch. One of the waitresses even stood by our table and translated their entire menu to us so we could choose what we wanted.
This made the holiday so much more memorable and Belgium is definitely a place to return to.