Thursday, December 12, 2013
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The Thalys train ride from Gare du Nord Paris to the Brussels South Station/Brussel Zuid takes 1hr 25 mins-we arrive in Brussels at 7:50 AM.
The taxi ride from the train station to the Theater Hotel is a straight shot along Ave Charles-Quint and through the Tunnel Leopold II to Bld d’Anvers. The Theater Hotel is located in one of the many “adult areas” where girls/women can be seen trolling the quiet alleyways dressed in tight short skirts and high heels. It’s all legal-I’m sure the Red Light District is a popular tourist attraction for many!
It’s too early for us to check in-the hotel allows guests to drop off luggage in their holding area for a later check in. That’s great, we’re luggage free!
The friendly hotel receptionist recommends going to the Flamingo around the corner for a reasonably priced breakfast. It’s a beautiful open space café with plenty of seating and a large bar area. I ordered a hot chocolate and a croissant-both fine choices!
We sit around and relax for an hour or so before hitting the city streets. We head south on Rue de Laeken; this street leads us through a residential and commercial neighborhood with older style red brick facades and narrow buildings housing a few local markets, a butcher shop, cafes and drug stores.
Rue des Augustines takes us through the downtown civic area with modern buildings, skyscrapers and shopping malls.
The turn onto Munt; an cobbled stone pedestrian only plaza brings us to the Theatre Royal de la Monnaie with the Iceberg; a sound and light installation that allows visitors to listen and walk through this musical instrument whose notes and light travel from one end to the other.
If you love shopping, take a stroll along Rue Neuve; this street has everything from the chain stores to independent boutiques with specialty name brands and more. This is a shoppers’ haven. There are also many food shops selling Belgian waffles, Belgian chocolates and other specialty food items.
The shopping theme continues on Rue des Fripiers and Rue Gretry; cobble stoned pedestrian only streets with more specialty stores, souvenir shops and patisseries.
On Rue de Tabora; the holiday Christmas market is lined with red wooden chalets with vendors selling everything from hand-crafted knick knacks to chocolates, nuts and other stuff you didn’t know you needed.
Rue Be Buerre is for chocolate lovers and anybody with a sweet tooth; this entire street is dedicated to nothing but Belgian chocolatiers, specialty candy makers and a shop with huge fluffs of assorted meringue clouds and nuts covered in different types of chocolate. I can feel a cavity coming on just by looking at these sweet delights!
At the south end of Rue de Buerre, we come to the Grand Place/Grote Market; the central square of Brussels with architecture from 3 different eras-baroque, Gothic and Louis XIV dating mainly from the late 17th century. the square is surrounded by the city’s Town Hall, guildhalls and the Maison du Roi/Breadhouse.
The cobble stone alley on Rue des Chapeliers takes us pass many restaurants, narrow residential and commercial buildings with more retail and souvenir shops.
The array of chocolate shops and boutiques on Rue de l’Etuve leads us to the statue of Manneken Pis at the corner of Rude du Chene. This statue gets dressed with different outfits on fixed dates of the year. He has more than 900 suits!
Throughout the narrow streets and cobbles stone alleyways, you will come upon comic strip murals. They adorn a large number of walls all over the city centre. You can even take the Comic Strip Walk and see all the replicas of the classic Belgian comics such as Tintin, Bob et Bobette, Monsieur and much more.
We made a lunch stop at Thanh Binh and had Vietnamese noodles and chicken curry. The prices are reasonable with friendly service.
The walk up Rue Paul Devaux takes us to another Christmas market and onto Rue Sainte Catherine. The SE end of this street is Chinatown; there are a couple of Chinese markets and several restaurants. We notice a small restaurant that makes hand-pulled noodles-we will make sure to come back tomorrow for lunch.
Place Sainte Catherine sits at the north end of Rue Sainte Catherine; it’s one of the oldest market plazas in the city with lots of food spots, local markets and for the holidays, there is Christmas market with an old-time carousel with many interesting creatures.
The most happening place is at Mer du Nord; an open market serving up all types of fresh seafood and shellfish made on the spot! It all looks so good! We do get an order of frites to tease our stomachs. No one wants to eat mussels in Brussels.
We slowly make our way back to the hotel; the one bedroom suite we booked is absolutely fabulous! It’s very spacious and clean with a separate kitchenette.
The view from this upper corner unit is wonderful!
For tomorrow, we still have half a day to walk around before taking a midafternoon train back to Paris.
It was a fantastic day of just strolling around the city center with no plan in mind. It was a pretty chilly breezy day with temps ranging from the high 20’s to low 30’s.
Click here to view today’s walking route
Thanks Nancy for this lovely tour of Brussels. I was drooling over all the chocolate!!
Marisa, It’s great to be able to share all the pictures! Michael and my older son can confirm that Belgian chocolates are divine! There’s only one pack left from my travels. Nancy