Belgium is obviously known for good chocolate, and they have lots of it. In both Bruges and Bruxelles, we went to see chocolate museums, which were both informative.
Let's start with Bruges' Choco Story. Sadly by the time we arrived there, it was 16:30, or 30mn from closing time. so we had to go through it quickly. Still, it gave a good overview of how cocoa beans were discovered, which birds ate them, and the complicated process to turn them into yummy chocolate :) (they also had a demo showing how to make a specific kind of chocolate):
pretty, that bird that eats the cocoa beans :)
the beans are colorful too
Choco frites, really? :)
all the reasons why chocolate is good for your health :)
yummy samples to try on the way out :)
A few days later, while in Bruxelles, we went to see the Chocolage Village Museum, which sure took its museum job seriously, and had even more displays:
fantastic model of the basilica
They also had a place where wthey were growing real cocoa plants:
chocolate is easy
a 'mere' 15 steps...
I quite enjoyed their poster and comics collection too:
you be a good boy and you get chocolate, simple :)
Since we were going to Holland, close to the Belgian border, I figured we should take a few days to visit Belgium. It was only 4 days, not enough, but then again, that's what we had. We started early on December 26th with a Thalys high speed train to Bruxelles and a connection to Bruges. We got there in only 2h20 or so.
first time I've seen X-Ray machines before boarding a train
Once in Bruges we went directly to our B&B (Saint Sauveur, Bruges), run by a super nice French lady who gave us loaner bikes so that we get around more quickly (mind you Bruges is very walkable, but bikes helped us get around a bit more quickly, especially when we went to the edge of town).
Most people do Bruges in 2-3 days, we did pretty much all of it in 26 hours :) (and that includes waiting for things that only opened at 10:00), delaying us quite a bit:
Saint Salvator Cathedral
Church of Our Lady
Then, we went to walk around:
We then did a boat tour, a good way to look around:
The main plaza was next, starting with Belfy Tower, which we climbed to the top after a 30mn wait in line:
music box for the bells
We then did the rest of the main plaza and the museum there:
Next, we went to the chocolate museum, where we had only 35mn before it closed (everything closes early):
We then went to visit the bruges story museum, which thankfully closed after 17:00, unlike everything else:
Main Plaza looks great at night too of course:
We then went out for dinner to conclude our day:
The next morning, we had to wait for museums to open. One of them opened at 09:30 instead of 10:00, how nice:
We then biked to the city gate:
And we finished our trip by visiting the French Fry Museum (which of course are not French, but Belgian):
After arriving in Bruxlles, we tried to make a reervation in the nice restaurants that were open, which was hard given that it was between Xmas and New Year's. Eventually some stupid tripadvisor owned side, fork.be, told us we had a reservation at Alexandre, when in fact we had none at all, and they did not expect us at all when we showed up.
Thankfully they very nicely agreed to take us anyway, although we were limited to the 5 course tasting menu instead of the full 9-10 course one. Life can be tough that way at times :)
After a partial day in Ghent, we took an evening train to Bruxelles, checked in at l'Epicentre, our B&B in an authentic historical narrow building that was challenging to get into with luggage, but the location was hard to beat and our host was super nice and helpful.
a mere 30mn from Ghent to Bruxelles
it was 'fun' to get our luggage up the stairs :)
On our way down, we walked by grand place, beautiful, and went by the famous manneken pis on the way too:
The next morning, we had breakfast at our B&B and headed out for a walk while everything was closed (nothing opened before 10:00, sadly, making the day kind of short). We ended up at Basilique Nationale du Sacré-Cœur à Koekelberg when they opened at 10:00 and went to the top for so so views due to the fog not having quite lifted yet:
every city seems to have a ferris wheel now :)
finally we made it to Basilique Nationale du Sacré-Cœur à Koekelberg thanks to uber, still foggy at 10:00
We then went to the atomium, which I figured was a bit of a washed out attraction during low season, so I didn't worry much about lines. I was wrong, there was a 2H+ line to get in. Even with line optimization, it took us a while to get up. The main line was to get to the top, which had reasonable views. Then you had a different entrance to see just a portion of the balls, the other ones were not in use anymore, which was a bit of a shame, but the remaining ones had some expos inside:
escalators or stairs between the balls
part of the expo recounted when Belgium still had an airline, Sabena (since then bankrupt)
nice plane food back then
Once done with mini Europe and Atomium, much later than I had planned, we took another uber to the Comic Book Museum. Belgium is probably the capital of the world on commic books, especially in variety, I grew up with them:
Hergé is famous for the great job he did with Tintin, but he was just one of many
the museum pointed out that the first comic strips actually came from the egyptians
I also loved the schtroumpfs (smurfs)
After the museum closed, everything was closed, so we went back to Grand Place to see the light show on the buildings. Click on the video for more:
We then walked around to see the little Xmas houses and get dinner:
During our short time in Bruxelles, we say many chocolate shops, as well as beer shops, and those were only a very small sample:
beautiful Galeries Royales St Hubert, filled with shops
The next morning, we went to the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History, which was nice enough to open at 09:00:
And nearby was the European Parliament, where we went to visit Parliamentarium:
We when used the little time left to see Mont des Arts, Place Royale, and Église Notre-Dame du Sablon before we had to head back to the train station for our fast train back to Paris (just 1h15) and have a reveillon dinner with my dad:
For our first day in Bruxelles, we went to check out Mini Europe because it looked fun. and it was. The only mistake is that we should have gone to see the Atomium first, before the line got stupidly long. I did get a few pictures Mini Europe from the Atomium, and those were nice:
While in Bruxelles, we went to check out Autoworld, which turned out to be a really good. Two floors filled with cars, mostly European, some quite rare, some unique. I spent a couple of hours there while Jennifer was waiting for me, and it was time well spent.
double tire, interesting
This electric 'car' was the fastest one in the world in 1899*, at 105kph
pretty colors :)
fancy futuristic car :)
damn, a citroen-maserati, didn't even know those existed
The belgians, kings of comic books, even had comic strips portraying a race car driver.
Bruxelles Autoworld, if you're anywhere close, go see it.
While visiting the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History in Bruxelles, we entered the hangar where they kept all the planes. That section of the museum is effectively Brussels' Air Museum, with a nice collection. It seems like the museum doesn't get a lot of funds, the hangar wasn't heated (as in near freezing), many plane tires were flat, but it doesn't change the fact that the collection was quite good and well worth a visit.
Considering the airport wasn't nearby, I also came to wonder how they got all those planes there.
While coming back from the war museum and walking to the European Parliament, the local Google office was conveniently on the way, so we went to have a quick look. It was December 30th, so the office was understandably virtually empty, but we're happy we still got to have a quick look.