Belgium is one of those countries that I enjoyed a whole lot more than I thought I would. I mean, what’s not to love about a country whose major exports include some of the best beer, chocolate and waffles on the planet?
Arrival in Brussels! After a pretty darn easy five hour flight from PDX to IAD, followed by perhaps the most effortless seven hour hop across the Pond I’ve ever done, we arrived at 7am in the Belgian and EU capital with all our stuff and a happily slumbering baby in tow. Hard to ask for more than that.
And yes, that’s a stroller/carseat combo and the monstrosity followed us all the way from Portland. It was a tough decision to justify bringing it, given the bulkiness and what we knew from prior experience. But Lori’s public health background/sensibilities, combined with advice from the field and the low cost of carriage (actually, there’s no cost to gate check stroller and carseat for a lap-baby on most major airlines) ultimately won out. Lori may have convinced me to bring it, but I’m still skeptical about how often we’ll actually use it in Vientiane.
Noe did awesome on both flights–in fact, he slept right through them for the most part. Lori fed him during takeoff and landing, which helped to prevent his head from exploding or something like that.
Arriving in Brussels at 7am, we fully expected having to nap for a few hours in our hotel room before doing anything. Really, you never ever want to do this. I learned this the hard way many years ago. With Noe cozily bundled in his bassinet, however, we managed to get a sufficient amount of sleep where we were able to make it through the day without feeling like zombies. Not sure how that happened, but were grateful for the chance to see a bit more of the city than we had planned.
Our taxi driver from the airport informed us that today was “Car Free Sunday” in the city center and that many major roads were blocked off. That’s very cool, we thought. Is this something they do every Sunday? Nope. Just today. We somehow always seem to arrive in capital cities on some weird or significant day: Quito’s Independence Day, Delhi on Independence Day, Santo Domingo on Carnival, Phnom Penh on the day the king died, etc. So, we checked in to our hotel, put Noe down for a short nap, then headed out to join thousands of Belgians enjoying their capital on bikes, rollerblades, on foot, or in Noe’s case, his very own stroller lugged all the way from Oregon.
Central Brussels is an extremely walkable city, but not great for strollers. It’s charm and challenge lay in its cobblestone sidewalks, roads, alleyways — pretty much anywhere the Belgians could install cobblestone, they did, and continue to do so — kind of ironic in a country often associated with prams. But we made it work and Noe got a free Belgian massage out of it.
The main tourist site in central Brussels appears to be the Grand Place, the old central square.
With roots in the 11th century, the Grand Place is surrounded by a mishmash of grand structures constructed over the centuries.
Today, in addition to Car Free Sunday, the Grand Place is hosting the Festival of Folklore. Not sure what the Japanese connection is, but Japanese culture (and attendees) featured prominently.
Didn’t make it into the Belgian Beer Museum, but heartwarming to see they have one in the Grand Place.
On our way out of the Grand Place, we were on the hunt for a public toilet and followed signs to this crazy place deep inside a Middle Eastern shopping bazar. Now, why Americans haven’t thought to put fish tanks and LED lights from ceiling to floor in public toilets is beyond me.
We couldn’t visit Brussels and not have frites, right? And why not a toasted baguette topped with fruit, cream and honey to go with them.
On our way through the central park in Brussels, Lori was excited to stumble upon an informational tent of her new employer.
And what better way to finish the day in Brussels than with Indian food and a glass of Belgian beer…