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Thursday, 16 February 2017

Year Abroad Photo Diary: Brussels

February 10th marked my one year anniversary with my boyfriend and since it is so close to Valentines day I thought I would combine his presents and book us a little trip away to Brussels. I had never been there and neither had Sam, so since Ryanair had a sale on flights and they were seriously cheap, it was a no brainer! 
Whenever I think about Belgium, the first thing that comes to mind is chocolate (obviously) and I wasn't actually sure what was even there, but after a quick google search I saw that there was a lot to see! We stayed there for 3 days, 2 nights, and managed to cram a lot into those few days but never really felt rushed at all which was good as I had wanted us to have a relaxing yet fun trip. 
We boarded our 8am flight from Bergamo airport and arrived in Brussels about an hour later. From there, we spent about an hour trying to buy the new Yeezy trainers (thanks Sam) in the eye-watering cold airport where it was about 0 degrees and snowing fairly heavily. I had done a bit of research online about how to get from Charleroi airport into the city centre as it a bit far out from Brussels itself, but the man at the ticket office there said the only option was to take the city shuttle bus, even though there were signs for train stations and taxi ranks... I don't know if he was lying or not but we both agreed it was better to actually get there than haggle with taxi drivers and potentially take a train to a completely different station. Brussels city shuttle takes you directly from Charleroi airport to Gare du Midi which is good because from there you can take the Metro if needs be. However, it was not cheap - the tickets were €32 for a return and I think they were a bit cheaper online. 
The trip from the airport to the station took around 45 minutes so we got into Brussels for about 11am. From there, we bought two 24hr Metro tickets for €7.50 per ticket - I would definitely recommend doing this if, like us, you are staying a couple of Metro stops a day as it saved a lot of money (the tickets are €2.30 each so if you take it ten times a day you're going to be spending over €20 just on travel...) and gave us the flexibility to hop on and off wherever we liked. Then, on the final day our tickets ran out at 11am so we made sure we spent a lot of the day walking and just bought a 1hr ticket when we were commuting to get our luggage and go back to the station.

We couldn't check into our room until 2pm so after we left our luggage at the hotel we decided to have a little wander around the area and get something to eat. We stayed at B-Aparthotel Regent which was a really lovely hotel - it was very modern, and a bit weird because there wasn't actually anyone working there... you get sent a code to enter the building and to get your luggage room pass (I liked the luggage room because you got given your own huge locker with a key card to enter rather than having one shared room with everyone as I am always scared that anyone can access it and steal your belongings) and then when it is time to check in you receive another code with access to a mail box with an envelope with your name on it that has your room keys. I'll admit this was a bit confusing for us at first but I reckon you can get the hang of it if you go quite a bit. The room was really big and had a huge bed, TV, bathroom with a waterfall shower and a coffee machine with Nespresso pods! But anyway, before we saw any of this we did go on the hunt for food and came across... Dominos! 5 minutes in Belgium and we decide to go for something we can buy in England... or so we thought. Dominos in Brussels is extremely cheap and they have so much better options for toppings. I got the smallest size which was a regular/medium and Sam got a medium... mine was €5, his €6. SO much cheaper than England! After eating, it was time for us to check into our room and get settled and ready for the evening.

As part of Sam's present I had made reservations at a restaurant called Green Mango. This was one of the best rated restaurants on Trip Advisor, particularly for burgers, and from the pictures they looked huge! We went at 6:30pm and it filled up really quickly. The food was unreal - I had the 'triple cheese' which had cheddar, raclette and blue cheese on the burger and Sam went  for the 'fat boy'. Both burgers came with chips and we both had 2 beers each and the bill ended up around €38 which is not bad at all considering the size and quality of the burgers and the fact we were in a city centre. Sam even claimed it was the best burger he has ever eaten so there's that! I would return to Brussels just for this burger to be honest, and we were both really happy with the meal.

Day 2 started very early as we wanted to make the most of our trip and the night before we had planned to go exploring but couldn't really stomach it after eating so much... so we were out of the room by around 10am and took the Metro to where we thought was Grand Place. We ended up walking the complete wrong way for around half an hour before turning back and actually going the right way, but it was nice to get to see more of the city. We basically followed tourists and big buildings in the distance and saw quite a few nice sights along the way, including that horribly creepy statue where someone has painted blood coming out of its eyes... nice. This day was absolutely freezing and in all of the photos I am trying to forget that I am in fact an icicle. 

Unfortunately the day was pretty miserable weather wise and we did get a bit of rain (much to my dismay as I was wearing my brand new All Saints suede biker...) so the photos are a bit dull but pretty none the less. We stumbled across Grand Place by mistake as we were wandering aimlessly down little side streets on the search for the chocolate museum but it was absolutely beautiful. I particularly liked the gold decor on these buildings, and in person it really does shine. We asked another tourist to take a photo of us in front of it and he took possibly the worst photo in existence so we don't have any couple photos of us here thanks to that... obviously being British we just smiled and said it was nice instead of asking him to retake it. 

The chocolate museum is literally right next to Grand Place and I had seen that it was quite cheap online and included free chocolate so we were excited to see it for ourselves. As we are students, we paid €5 each to enter the museum, and then we got to sample some free Belgian chocolate whilst we waited. It was obviously amazing, but the tour really did fill up as soon as we got there and it seemed a bit like they were just trying to cram as many people in as possible in the time frame. We all entered a kitchen area where we were shown how chocolate is made and did actually learn a few things, but we could barely see because everyone was crowding around the front... in the end we got to try a lot of chocolate and for €5 it was definitely good value for money even if just to get us out of the cold for 45 minutes. 
We stumbled across the famous Mannekin Pis statue by mistake also as we left the museum... I have to admit I was expecting a huge statue, and it is tiny. Again, there were loads of people here taking photos with it so we couldn't really get too close for long, but you can see from the photo just how small it actually is...

We spent the rest of the day basically wandering around the different areas in Brussels, unable to feel our hands, and we had wanted to go to the shops but as it was a Sunday barely any of them were actually open. This night we didn't really know where to go to eat, as we had wanted to try Mussels as they are a Belgian delicacy but didn't know where to start and where was good value for money. There is an outdoor elevator in the Louisa area near the Sablon shopping streets where a cool little fish-cafe is set up that looked good but was way too busy when we were wandering around there that day, and actually closed when we return the next so we were really gutted we didn't get to sample them! We did, however, have Belgian frites from a little road-side cart in the Sablon area which were unreal - I had a small cone for €2.50 with mayonnaise and Sam had a large with 'american' sauce (basically Big Mac sauce) for €3. That night we ate at Brussels Grill in Louisa opposite where the designer shops are and were really surprised at how nice it was considering it was a chain restaurant and didn't look amazing from the outside... Sam had a steak with chips and peppercorn sauce and I had a chicken curry which tasted almost exactly like the Wagamamma's katsu curry, so we were both really happy! We also both had a stein of beer for about €4 and a man next to us cut up a lemon like it was a piece of meat then ate it, peel and all, before downing a glass of red wine :|. 

Monday was our final day in Brussels and our flight was supposed to be at 19:10 that evening so we decided we would get up early again, have one last wander, go shopping and be back at the hotel to get our luggage and get the bus for 16:30ish ready to catch our flight. The day was beautiful and although I completely forgot to buy Belgian chocolate truffles (sorry Ceri) we had a really, really nice day. We had another little explore around the areas we had and hadn't already visited, took some more photos at Grand Place, had the most expensive hot chocolate ever at Starbucks in Grand Place (worth it though as our hands were frozen) and then got to go to all the designer shops in Louisa. I fell in love with the Gucci bags and belts, and the Bvlgari Serpenti Forever bag and basically everything I set my eyes on, and Sam managed to find a sold-out Moncler polo-shirt in a designer department store. We then had a Quality Burger for lunch - basically a Maccies - and caught the Metro back in order to be back in time for our flight home.
Obviously, as Sam and I are the worlds most unlucky people and we had had such a good time and good luck during the weekend, something had to go wrong for us. We caught the bus at 16:30 in order to be at the airport for 17:15, two hours early for our flight. We had no checked luggage so thought even with a bit of traffic we would get there with heaps of time and be back in Bergamo for around 20:30. Unfortunately, there was a 'huge' crash on the main road towards the motorway, so we were stuck on the shuttle bus for almost three hours and missed our flight by 3 minutes. Naturally, Ryanair and the airport staff were no help at all and told us we had to either pay a €100 missed flight fee to get the next flight or do one basically. Luckily, we had already checked online for the next flight and there were loads of tickets available for €23 each so we quickly bought them as there were quite a few people on our bus who had also missed the same flight. Good news was we got the tickets, bad news was the next flight was at 6:50am... almost 12 hours after the one we were supposed to get. We asked the airport what we should do and she basically said that we had to stay at the airport and didn't give us any suggestions of nearby hotels or anything, so since our phones were both pretty dead we got some food from the shop - microwavable pasta and soup - and settled down next to a vending machine with a spare plug socket for the night. We did watch a couple of things on Netflix as the wifi wasn't TOO horrendous, and got pissed on the €1.50 cans of Hoegaarden available at the little shop, then I sort of crashed out and had a very uncomfortable sleep on the airport floor with my suitcase as a pillow and Sam watched multiple films as he couldn't get comfortable enough to drop off. After literally the WORST sleep of my life, we set off at around 4:50am to go to our terminal (determined NOT to be late this time even though we were already AT the airport) and caught the early flight. Since that night Sam and I have both been ill which is definitely a combination of lack of sleep and sleeping next to a vending machine which has probably never been cleaned, but at least the flights were cheap coming back!

Sam fell asleep pretty much as soon as he got on the plane, but I drifted in and out and managed to take this photo of the gorgeous morning sky! Even with my sleep-deprived headache it still looked beautiful. We got back to Bergamo at around 8am and by the time we had got our bus back to my flat it was around 9am. Then we just conked out asleep and woke up at around 3pm. Definitely not the most romantic Valentines day but we both felt so shit after the night before there wasn't really much else to do. We were planning on going out for a meal that night but ended up just getting a couple of takeaway pizzas and settling down with a film in bed. 
I would love to revisit Belgium and Brussels in the future, probably when it is a bit warmer though because I was extremely cold the entire time! I would recommend B-Aparthotels if you want something a little more fancy than a standard Travelodge but nothing too expensive, as the rooms cost me €75 per night. I would definitely say that the restaurants we visited were worth going to and neither of them were too expensive. The situation with our flights definitely put a bit of a dampener on the trip as we had had such a nice time, but now that it is over and done with we both admit it was pretty funny even though we are still slightly traumatised at having to spend over 11 hours in a freezing cold airport which literally has NOTHING inside it other than an overpriced cafe and corner shop. Everything was pretty easy to navigate even without a map/google maps and there are so many beautiful sights to see.
Now to plan our next little adventure...

Lauren Gibbins
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  1. I was in Brussels for a couple days last summer and it was lovely, Bruges is even more amazing though if you ever want to go back to Belgium, I would recommend going there! You are doing an amazing job with your blog, well done gal! x

    1. It is so beautiful isn't it, I wanted to go to Bruges so much but we were only there for a couple of days so unfortunately could't! Definitely an excuse to go back! Ah thank you so much! xxx


[name=Lauren Gibbins] [img=Your Image Url Here] [description=I'm Lauren, I'm a 21 year old student from Manchester currently studying in Italy for my erasmus year abroad.] ( ( (bloglovin=

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