Words & Pictures by Shaun Troke
Beginnings | Boarding | Bliss | Brussels/BXL | B&B | Bring To A Close
This is the first question I’ve been asked, repeatedly.
One of the answers is that, quite simply, Belgium is a country I’ve never before set foot in…
Sure, I passed through this country on a Eurolines Bus many moons back, but, with the exception of Luxembourg, I’d only spent time in Belgium’s neighbouring countries: the Netherlands, Germany, & France.
Belgium as notoriously known for its beers & chocolate…and, frites (fries). Belgium is also known for its waffles, too, so it was already becoming apparent that a food-fix would be crucial to this trip.
Brussels is the capital of Belgium, and, the capital of the European Union; and yes, Brussels is the actual birthplace of Brussels Sprouts, and, it is the city responsible for exporting…umm…Jean Claude Van Damme.
On this four-day visit that was bookended by two contrasting accommodations (reviews below, too), the second most asked question has been ‘did you have a good time in Brussels?’ (not once have I been asked ‘did you get your food-fix?’)
Read further to find out…
It was 5am on a Saturday morning, with a drive to Manchester Airport.
Weeks earlier, I’d booked a return flight with Ryanair, for only £26. Additional add-ons to this price were seating allocations (at £2 each), and, parking at Manchester Airport…
Tip #1: Cheaper Airport Parking. On a trip to Greece earlier in the year, I’d booked parking through the Manchester Airport website, and was going to do the same this time. Prices had been checked, and, the Airport website quoted £45 for the four days that the car would be parked there. However, when it came to booking the flight, Ryanair gave the choice of adding Airport Parking to the total cost…for only £30 (a saving of £15)! I’m unsure if other airlines provide this optional add-on, but if they do, make sure that you look-up airport parking quotes before booking your flight ticket.
The drive to the airport was quiet; inside the airport was chaotic: Fake-tanned holidaymakers and stag & hen recruits sat in bars, knocking back loud-mouth juice at 6am, waiting to be taken to whichever beach resort offered the best all-inclusive weekend package deal…
The flight to Brussels had a completely different type of passenger: Quiet, with less shorts & T-shirts…with more sophistication perhaps…? Maybe this was a sign of how Brussels would be.
A little over an hour later, Flight FR3238 touched down in Belgium…
Twenty-seven miles from Brussels city centre.
Brussels has two major airports: Brussels Zaventem Airport (BRU, approximately 12km from the city centre) and Brussels Charleroi Airport (CRL, approximately 45km from the city centre)
Tip#2: Choosing Your Airport. Although the price of the £26 return flight was completely reasonable, if you choose to land at Brussels Charleroi Airport, it will cost you a further £26 to actually GET to Brussels. The Shuttle Bus transfers are operated by Flibco, and, while their buses provide more leg room than a Ryanair flight, it’ll also add an extra hour to your journey. Overall, from the moment I stepped out of my front door to the moment I stepped on to the pavement in Brussels city centre, it took seven hours, which I feel could have been shorter, if there weren’t budget restrictions.
Having thought about this on the first transfer bus, it really is a matter of researching & weighing up the prices, depending on your budget, and, you really should take in to consideration what it will take to reach your destination: If your budgets (and standards!) are high, then find an airline that flies to Brussels Zaventem Airport…or, even take the Eurostar train to Brussels; If your budget is low – and mine was extremely low – and you’re willing to put in the extra travelling hours (remember you have to do the same journey back to the airport!), then fly to Brussels Charleroi Airport.
That being said, Charleroi Airport is a quaint little airport that I really liked it. There’s plenty of food & beverage shops, with so much seating in both the Arrivals and Departures terminals…and, you can be in & out of security within a couple of minutes, which is almost a quarter of the time it takes to go through Manchester Airport security!
The Flibco Shuttle Bus will drop you a little walk from the main centre, at Bruxelles Gare du Midi…and, with the low-budget boarding & disembarking over (for the time being anyway), it was all uphill from here (literally!), with the ascension to luxury…
As said in the Beginnings, many foods & beverages seem to be associated to Brussels…
But, before we get to that important information, here’s something else that you may need to know about, especially if you like visiting museums:
Tip#3: The Brussels Card. Depending on what you’re looking to do in Brussels or how far you’re willing to travel while there, it’s worth checking out the Visit Brussels website before arriving, because the Brussels card gives you free entry to over thirty museums, and, free travel on public transport (for a limited time only), along with a selection of discount vouchers that can be used at museums, restaurants, and, shops.
And, now for the food-fix bit!
(in order of experience)
Standby – http://standby-bruxelles.com/ – found on the walk between Visit Brussels and The Hotel, this cafe sells fully-packed Club Ciabatta Sandwiches, which would be my first ever lunch in Belgium.
Quick – https://www.quick.be/ – more Quicks than McDonald’s! ‘Quick’ is the fast-food burger chain restaurant from Belgium…and, being the Burger Connoisseur that I am, I had no choice but to sample their Big Bacon menu/meal.
Chez Charlotte – https://foursquare.com/v/chez-charlotte/4cc16e5956bda093ebbaeb35 – found in Marolles! I stumbled across this place by accident when walking through the interesting Marolles area…what caught my eye were people eating rather large hot dogs, all served from a stall outside of Chez Charlotte. At €4.50 this food could not be ignored.
McDonald’s – it’s traditional. Whenever I visit a new country, I’m usually curious about the McDonald’s menu, as the menu in one country will always offer something that other countries do not. And, this was no different in Belgium, where I discovered one of their original burgers: a Generous Jack!
Waffles – are everywhere! It seems that finding a waffle vendor isn’t too difficult in the city centre. Although I didn’t purchase one until my last night, be warned that, if you purchase a sugar-only coated waffle, and, if it’s a little windy too, the soft icing sugar will find a way onto your jacket. And, your jeans. And, your face. Yeah, I pretty much ended up with icing-sugar all over me…thanks, wind.
Brussels Card highlights:
Fritland – the same age as me! Fritland have been serving frites since 1978, and it’s a true tourist attraction for those wanting to experience frites in Belgium (queues can be very long at weekends).
For €3, the portion of frites is huge, and it’ll fill you up. With the Brussels Card, you receive a ‘free sauce’ voucher, saving yourself .80₵ on ketchup or BBQ sauce (or mayo, in this case).
As you can see, there’s enough sauce to smother the large quantity of frites. To give you an example of how the frites taste, they’re like UK fish & chip shop chips, only a little smaller. Fritland does sell other foods on their menu, one of which I tried when a Fritland staff member sat next to me during this lunch break – he offered me a cheese & chilli bite, which is kinda like the ones you can buy in Burger King (except warmer). Also, out of curiousity, I asked this friendly staff member how many potatoes they get through in one day. His answer: a 25 kilo bag…times 40! To save you working out the math, that’s 1,000 kilos of pomme de terres each day!
I went back to Fritland again the next day to try their Hamburger Sandwich, and this is how I recommend you eat at Fritland: Buy an entire sandwich, because their sandwiches come stacked with frites on top, too (yes, in the picture, there are two hamburgers & salad beneath those frites & mayo!)
A La Mort Subite – https://www.alamortsubite.com/en/ – pricey but nicey. The only reason for going to this cafe is because the Brussels Card presented a voucher for a free coffee when you buy a typical lunch – a typical lunch at A La Mort Subite is any food dish & a beer/wine. Being that I was in Belgian, beer was selected, as was a white cheese sandwich. Coffee came at the end.
And, steering away from food…
The Belgian Comic Strip Center – for free! Just before staying at my final accommodation, I went to this museum…and, you’ll get free entry with the Brussels Card! Usually it would cost €10 to enter, however this is one of the perks of the Brussels Cards. This museum is in a brilliantly designed building, and, features pictures & information about some of our favourite comic book characters, from Tintin to The Smurfs to Asteriks!
And, there’s a comic connection at the last place I stayed…
B&B (Beatific & Blithe)
The owner is a huge fan of Dargaud comics!
Bring To A Close
Overall, I really enjoyed the energy of Brussels, and, it had more of a younger vibe than I’d imagined. As you’ve read, the food is incredible (& memorable), and I wish that my stay had been for longer, to sample more of the foods at more dining establishments, especially around the Grand Place area. In fact, one of my favourite side streets was Rue du Marche aux Fromages, hosting a multicultural mix of restaurants, including Greek, French, and Italian…
Brussels really is a place where you will eat well!
One thing I wasn’t able to do – probably because I was too busy eating everything else! – was purchase from a Chocolatier. However, I would like to thank The Hotel for the welcoming gift of Pierre Marcolini truffles, so I did have a slight dabble in the chocolate area (they were very nice).
Brussels definitely has the influences of all of its neighbouring countries…
The romance & sophistication, and, the side-streets of cafes & bars of France…
Small pockets of urban areas that are similar to those in Germany & Eastern Europe…
A somewhat carefree, cheerful vibe that may come from the Netherlands (however, I’m basing this on a visit to Amsterdam, where marijuana may be responsible for said vibe)…
…maybe one day I’ll finally get to visit Luxembourg, too!
Thank you for everything, Brussels…à bientôt!