I'm back from my brief Europe trip. I ate well, drank well, and took great photos. More on that later.
When I booked my flight in early January, I added a free stopover to my itinerary for a quick day trip. I had the option of having a stopover in Geneva, Zurich, Munich, or Brussels. I figured I'd be bored in Geneva and Zurich, and I'd been to Germany before, so I decided on Brussels.
I got into Zaventem airport around 6:30 a.m., and after waiting in the passport control line, I was finally out of the airport.
I did the smart thing and checked my bag at JFK airport through to my final destination in Barcelona, so I didn't have to lug it around during the day.
After leaving the airport, I hopped in a cab to the city center, which is Grand Place. It was still pretty early and dark outside and few people were outside. There was a light drizzle and still quite cold, so I decided to get a cheap room at L'hôtel La Madeleine for a few hours to shower, nap, and kill some time before starting the day. I got up around 11:30 am feeling refreshed and ready to explore.
My French isn't great, but most people in the city spoke fluent English. Basic conversational words in French are always helpful, however, and people will appreciate you knowing a few simple words.
Here's how I spent the short trip.
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
My first stop was at the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. It's a cool indoor shopping market with a few chocolatiers, shopping, and other eateries.
It was still early, but couples and young families were making their way through the gallery in the leisurely way I soon found was commonplace throughout Europe.
It's a beautiful market. If you're an architecture geek like me, you'll appreciate how pretty it is. It's light-filled and makes for great photos.
The Royal Palace of Brussels
The Royal Palace!
I took a hop-on-hop-off bus to get here, which was a waste of time because I almost completely bypassed this place. It's across the street from a park and very, very pretty.
In the heart of Brussels, lies the central square of the city, Grand Places. Grand Place houses the Town Hall, and the King's House, a Hard Rock Cafe, and unsurprisingly, a beer museum.
It's completely closed to traffic, so my Uber driver dropped me a few blocks away. There were tourists and locals milling about, taking photos and chasing after their children.
I was awestruck by how beautiful the buildings were. Again, I'm obsessed with nice architecture. According to UNESCO, many of the buildings date back to the 17th century.
A group of Boy Scouts were running around in shorts even though it was chilly in the city. I grabbed a coffee and some chocolate and took a bunch of pictures. By this point it had started to drizzle again so I decided to find a place to buy a waffle.
Ate a waffle
I stopped briefly at La Rose Blanche, a tavern-style restaurant. I wasn't particularly hungry, but I felt like I could leave Brussels without at least ordering a waffle.
The waffle was crispy and came drizzled with hot chocolate and ice cream, complete with a side of whipped cream. I was pretty satisfied.
Parc du Cinquantenaire
My last stop was at the Parc du Cinquantenaire. The Cinquantenaire was built at the request of King Leopold II, who wanted to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Belgian independence.
When I arrived, there was some kind of event for Volkswagen going on, as I saw all kind of cars, beetles, trucks, and vans parked beside the arch.
Despite the cold weather, I was struck by how colorful and green the park was. The park is surrounded by a busy highway but it felt peaceful just strolling through the park and under the arch.
Back to the airport
13 hours in Brussels and over a day of traveling later, I headed back to Brussels Airport to catch my connecting flight to Barcelona. All in all, a good day and a great use of a stopover.