It was during New Year’s Eve of 2014, that my companion started thinking on a plan to surprise me with a trip of a lifetime. In late February 2015, when airfares were at their lowest, without disclosing any details he booked 2 return tickets for a euro trip. So excited was he, that the plan no longer remained a surprise and soon both of us joined the club of travellers planning to travel without a planned trip. We bought ourselves an Instapix Camera from Fuji to be used on the trip. He had decided to make this trip memorable in every way, so capturing pictures was a way of recollecting these memories.
The Journey: Mumbai – Dubai – Brussels – Amsterdam – Luxembourg – Bruges – Brussels – Dubai – Mumbai
Take off from Mumbai
Day 1: Our tickets were booked in Emirates both ways including the transfer flights which halted at Dubai. Emirates was a fantastic flying experience, right from baggage tags to the fantabulous customer experience they provided. The first flight to Dubai was in an A380 Airbus a huge jumbo jet and we were more than excited to travel on that. Our flight took off at 4.00 am and reached Dubai at 7.00, with a connecting transfer scheduled at 10 am. My first experience at Dubai airport wasn’t exceptionally great & I kind of empathized with shopaholics as to why Dubai airport was considered a heaven for them. Duty free Shops lined the entire terminal; wherever people walked you could see something to shop for. 3 terminals only for emirates, the airport was huge. We moved from A to terminal C, not by foot but a metro train which had its own metro station. Massive is what I would call the airport with a huge duty free area filled with chocolates- at least that’s what I was interested in. It really is a marvel to watch an airport so big that could have at least 200 airplanes at one point of time. The flight to Brussels from Dubai was exhausting yet fun, since we did not sleep for at least 24 hours. On reaching Brussels, the airport had 2 lines for the immigrations, one for EU countries & the other for non EU countries. The immigration was smooth and we had to take a metro from the airport to our destination. Then catch a train immediately to Amsterdam. The intercity trains were just a level below the airport, displaying the modern & convenient transport system of western countries. We paid an airport tax of 10 euro & continued our journey.
The route to Amsterdam in a first class compartment train running at the speed of 150 kms per hour was fascinating. The 3 hour journey ran past country side and entered Netherlands with Rosendaal station. The local city trains unlike the intercity ones had wifi connectivity so did most of the platforms. At Amsterdam, our destination, Amstel, was the next station to Amsterdam Centraal connected by metro. The hotel Casa 400, a beautiful hotel we booked through booking. com was our preferred hotel. Although there was little space in the room but this was expected. The place was aesthetically beautiful & maintained in a quaint residential neighbourhood. No shops, no tourists except for the business travellers & guests at the hotel. It overlooked a canal & was adjacent to a walkway meant for the community living there.
Once we unpacked, freshened up, we took off for Amsterdam Centraal, and the first thing on our mind was a boat trip through the 100s of canals Amsterdam was legitimately famous for. I was exhausted after being awake for more than 24 hours and the jet lag was killing me. I choose to take naps in between but the excitement kept me awake to capture the ride though a time lapse device. There were atleast 3-4 companies that offered these canal cruises across Centraal station. On the cruise we spotted the NEMO, the old buildings and the oldest folding bridge in Amsterdam. One of the houseboats in the canal was turned into a museum for Houseboats. Amsterdam is one of the cities in the world which is cyclist friendly. We would see cyclist everywhere. We returned back to Amstel and choose a light sandwich meal for dinner. Time wasn’t very comfortable, we were in a zone where sunlight chooses to stay away only after 10 pm, making the days longer, better for tourists we realized.
DAY 2: We had taken a Euro rail pass which enabled us to travel across countries & was meant to be an affordable option. Our pass included options of travelling in Belgium, Luxembourg and The Netherlands, validity was for 5 days travel and travel option of first class. The Eurail kit also included a step by step guide on how to use the Euro rail. The pass cost us both, 34000 INR, but was well worth every penny. This was a fun day for us at Centraal. We Indians would normally consider travelling a 2 kms ride with a taxi or a travel that requires transportation, but the Europeans walk walk and only walk. Their fitness secret of their healthy lives. We walked everywhere, didn’t bother about what we ate, whether healthy or junk. And the best part we just started our trip and could not stop munching on junk food. Belgium & Amsterdam is famously known for the “best French fries” across the world and that was the first that we intended to taste. Amsterdam is famous for 2 very important foods -the variety of cheese available & the fries, although Belgium was known as the fries’ capital, Amsterdam could be known for a lot more than that. We didn’t use the euro rail pass that day instead opted for a mono rail pass worth 12 euros that included travel by train and bus. The mono rail platform was connected to the main intercity train stations so platform no 2 at Amstel was where we boarded from to destine to Centraal, got off and went straight to the city tours’ office. The travel offices across the city offers a variety of city tours, entrance to key tourist attractions at cheaper prices with discounts on 2 or more attractions. We walked down to Dam square and saw the Grand Palace and a troupe performing on the streets. Basic gymnastics, hand & leg work, group performance but enthused with drama. The main act was that one of these performers was to jump over 4 people bent from their knees. I also paid a euro for their good performance. The Dam Square housed the 3 main attractions – The Grand Palace, The Amsterdam Dungeon and the Madame Tussaud museum. We then walked down to the Amsterdam dungeon. The entrance of the place had a quote on it – Fear is a funny thing. We took a picture of us at the entrance while we placed our heads at the gallows. I volunteered to be killed. This place was a uniquely designed; each individual group was given a tour of each of the incidents in a real life manner and with a theater group performing the chilling scenes. The audience was also involved in it and the setup done was made in a way it uniquely stimulates your fear senses. We made way with a few spooky gifts items at the souvenir shop for our friends back home. Our next stop with tram no 16, was the Heineken factory. Trams ran frequently in the city and gave the city its charm. We stopped for some Pre affligem blond beer guzzling, at Cafe Berkhout coupled with cheese sandwiches, supposedly our lunch. Not much time on hands we always made way for fast foods in almost all places. The Heineken factory was huge; barrels, tasting rooms, lounge, souvenir shops, digital rooms, even stables with horses named after the CEOs and their family members. A wrist band entitling you to 3 free Heineken beers and a bottle customized with our names “BATA” was our takeaway at the location. A lot was spoken about the ice bar at Amsterdam so a quick visit there was a must, but a dampener instead. The concept of the bar was chilled beer in chilled glasses in a room with an ice sculpture of a wild bear frozen at -9 degrees. Cool if you don’t expect it to be dramatically executed. Instead of the inside, at the bar outside the ice room we loved the drink prepared by the bartender – “Amsterdamned” distinctively known as an Amsterdam local cocktail. Cheese nachos with guacamole sauce followed. The evening passed away serenely at our hotel with dinner comprising of chicken ham club sandwich and fries, a ‘Welcome in East’ cocktail and Bruschetta for my vegetarian better half.
Day 3: Back to Dam Square this early morning we used our metro card since it was valid for 2 days, and travel was convenient. The Amsterdam Madame Tussaud museum tickets were available at 12 euros at a book shop at Amstel station, a cheaper and faster way to get inside. We had to get a souvenir from the museum & stumbled upon a unique way of displaying our love with wax. We had our hands sculpted in silicon wax & coloured. It was fun with no qualms about about other people thinking we were crazy. We even posed for photographs with curled hair wigs at the museum. The Madame Tussaud’s had sculptures of Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, James Bond, Frankenstein, Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, Oprah Winfrey and many others. Next stop with the metro was one of my favourites-The Bols Museum called as the House of Bols –Cocktail and Genever Experience. The Bol’s museum described the place as “Bols is all about taste. Taste is all about senses. Senses are all about you”. This uniquely designed place was built in 1575 and is known for the 30 – 35 unique flavours of Genever they make. The museum houses a room with flavour pumps. Each of these storage glass bottles has a unique flavour inside attached with a pump that needs to be pressed to release the flavour and smell it. The flavour pump also has a flap above it to name the exact flavour so that u can be rest assured this particularly is your preferred flavour. Then down the bar and lounge area across a hall with a brewery kind of vessel representing how Genever is made, we walk to an interactive screen. Here we make our own cocktail online by understanding what actually goes in that cocktail and select 2 flavours of the Genever to be consumed without any mixing. The bartender a professional guy makes your drink look sexy & one of the best to be tasted, and what do you know, it actually turned out that the drinks we ordered were out of this world. 2 genevers with a cocktail each is what we get at the museum. Genever is the alcoholic flavour used for cocktails at the Bol’s. It contains over 50% of malt wine and 42% alcohol and was perfect for drinks. We learnt that taste is a combination of smell, feel & what u see. So a strawberry might not taste like one, if you see a banana while choosing it. I choose red vanilla berry crush and my companion had a mango cheesecake flavour cocktail, both appealed to senses difficult to comprehend but amazingly different. At the souvenir shop we carried a mango and a green banana Genever along with small yogurt & plain Genever bottles for ourselves. Just as we walked out, we saw a huge line ahead for the Van Gogh museum, so we avoided he place. Also in front of this place was an open ground called the Vonldelpark, where the word Amsterdam was sculpted and people were curiously taking pictures with the text sculpture. We were famished with hunger so we chose to visit a cafe in Leidseplein called The bull dog cafe. Recommended by a friend it lived up to all expectations. The chicken wings I ordered along with beer & the veg capressa and brownie with ice cream delighted our hearts. Next stop a literary one-The Anne Frank house. A must recommended on the list of places to see in Amsterdam. We were not the literary kinds so after seeing a queue and understanding that we would have to wait for a 3 hour period, we decided to skip this tourist destination. Left for the hotel, dropped our shopping bags and then headed to the notorious street, famously known as the Red light district in Amsterdam. We got off the tram at Nieumarkt & walked the distance to the parallel lanes of the Red Light District. There were 3-4 parallel lanes, one of them also being China town housing Chinese restaurants. The lanes inter crossed among themselves with the central lane by-passing the beautiful canal, where seagulls were spotted throughout the day. The lane included The museum of Prostitution also called as The red light secrets. This place was created for people to take a look behind the scenes of the oldest profession in the world and experience how it feels to sit ‘in the window’.
This was also created to answer questions on the lives of people surviving in this district, their occupation, questions on trafficking. It also showed the windows they use, the rooms on rent and all other things associated with their lifestyle. In spite of prostitution being legal, human trafficking was still present in the city. The museum, a self-guide to the area, threw light on the lover boys, how the landlords rented rooms to the women at 150 euros a day, who would have to earn enough to first pay the rent and then earn themselves. We then walked the streets, looking past women who were gesturing and signalling boys to come visit them inside. There were live sex shows, rented rooms, show windows, and a lot more on those streets. Everyday 900 prostitutes work in this area, with more than 290 windows. It was sad how a lifestyle like this would be pronounced as a tourist destination, but it was reality. Dam square, our next stop, we walked into a hotel called The grasshopper. It overlooked the Main Street and a beautiful evening sky. It was 10 pm & the sky was a mild velvety colour, with a blue tinge. Beer & spring rolls were on the menu, we walked to centraal after trying our hands at some night photography of the famous trams & the Centraal station.
Amsterdam to Luxembourg
Day4: This day, was our extra euro rail day, we put the euro rail card to work, so the train from Amsterdam to Centraal was planned. We had to go to Luxembourg, the next country in our tour. The route- Amsterdam-Brussels midi-Luxembourg, a 3 hour route via quint little cottages passing by, farm cows, windmills, lush green meadows and rains. The train started at Brussels Centraal but since we had little time to catch the next train, we opted to get in from Brussels midi. A visit to the restrooms and I realised that by paying money, the people ensure you get cleanliness everywhere at these stations, maybe one of the reasons, why they say – developed countries. Absentmindedly and out of no crazy intention, I entered the men’s section in the restroom & turned back immediately as I heard the woman scream in Russian “Madame Moshe”. Thankfully screams have no language but embarrassments do have colours & they showed on my cheeks. My companion was the best guide ever, knew geography on the back of his palms, road navigation skills were excellent inspire of a foreign country & was just too interesting to talk to about cultures & countries. Officially undeclared as our online navigator Here maps was a total mess. I would never recommend it to any tourist. Amsterdam to Brussels midi was around 8-9 stations and from there Luxembourg was around 12 stops, so in all we stopped at 32 stations during this journey. There was also a station called Brussels-Luxembourg on our way and the last station in Belgium to Luxembourg was Arlon. The trains had a peculiar name to it, B, we didn’t understand why. Amsterdam had trains called the Sprinter, RE, Metro, ICE & the Thalys running between cities & countries. The trains however in Luxembourg are manufactured by a company called SNCB and in the Netherlands by GVB! (Including trams & busses). And the trains in Luxembourg are from a company called CFL. The day pass that included train & trams travel in Amsterdam was also issued by GVB at Amsterdam.
At Luxembourg our lodging was booked at Hotel park plaza. On the way to Luxembourg, we passed plain stretch farms with country side cottages, farms accompanied by the quaint & beautiful houses. Cows the size of 2 in India, lush meadows along one side & dry along another, formed firming patterns looked were beautiful. Cars were parked by their house owners outside their respective house so very well maintained, hills with no sight of human clutter and the beautiful sky. We journeyed in summer so we could see a lot of dry grass making part of the field brown giving that layering colour to the landscape. The languages spoken in Luxembourg were German & French predominantly hence signages in the trains that we travelled were not in English. We reached by late evening and started exploring the place after setting up our luggage in the hotel. Luxembourg City centre was a good 5-7 km walk one way, but worth it. A beautiful landscape with mountains adorned by a castle that was lit up at night. The entire city gave us a feel of nobility. The Adolf Bridge – a major landmark was under renovation so we missed capturing this mighty landscape. Once we got to the city centre, we witnessed live music setup on stage in the centre surrounded by seating arrangements of different hotels in the vicinity. We looked up the menu of different restaurants & preferred to eat where we had a choice of at least a margarita pizza for my companion. I personally was happy with the baked fish & chips we ordered. We also tasted the wine at the hotel Brasserie Du Cercle where one was dry & the other one a lot more fruity. I preferred the fruity one, & decided to buy the same for my father on our way out of the country.
Day 5: We toured around Luxembourg, leaving not one lane. The fortified city called ‘The Royal Dutche of Luxembourg’ was famous for its grand castles, caves called the Casemates on rocks called the Um-block. The Casemates were long spiralling caves leading to openings at various sections overlooking the city. There were sections from A to J in these caves & each one was called differently & had a different experience. Once outside the Casemates, we sat on a toy train bus called the ‘Petrusse Express’, which led us through the city with an audio recording helping us understand the history of the places we visited. The recording actually started off with the mayor’s speech & explained how this city, strategic to many was taken over & ruled by many countries and changed powers. We passed the Red Bridge, a long bridge without any suspension known for its historic importance in the city. Then a quick visit to the Grunde, the lower part of the city, which was overlooking the bridge. Walls were built to protect the Grunde from an attack in early history. This medieval City is also called the green city. This is where the European court of justice is, although the parliament is in Brussels. People are elegantly dressed & polished. We were confused in the by-lanes of the city & ended up at a restaurant called Adriano for lunch, after trying hard to find the way to the city centre. English was not a preferred language, so conversing took efforts. Lunch was a risotto, mine with Scrimpe / prawns & with cheese for my companion. This coupled with local beer, a leffe blonde & a Diekirch. The glass was almost like a wine glass although 3 times in size to serve beer. My companion a fan of the toy company Lego, brought himself a Lego policeman, which he said was not available in India.
Next stop, our hotel to drop our shopping bags & then we looked around for some Indian tea, which we were deprived for many days. Luckily we found an Indian restaurant called Nirvana Cafe that served tea, but was nothing like an Indian tea. The city was attractive & fashionable; people in the whole of Europe had an established work life balance. 5.00 pm was their last visitor time in shops, and most of these shops although huge in size end up having a max of 2 staff members to manage the store, which included the major ones like H&Ms. On our list of restaurants was one called kniddelkinnek- restaurant waitstuff, which inspite of Here maps and asking people, we were unable to find. Tired we decided to scrap the idea & opt for a different place, when we encountered a storm. Strong Winds & rain surrounded us; luckily we got inside a building passage to keep dry, but realized the winds were just too harsh & fast coupled with thunder storms. Rains in Luxembourg got the whole city centre rushing out of open spaces into dry areas- a sight we had to see to believe. Disgruntled we then walked into a Mexican restaurant & I ordered quesadilla fajitas grilled chicken. My companion ordered a classic quesadilla with Mexican sangria and a melon & strawberry cocktail with white rum called cancun. We returned to our hotel & on the way tried to capture the majestic castles in the night sky with my camera. The night was darker as it had rained.
Luxembourg to Bruges
Day 6: We had to leave for Bruges & wanted to leave at ease, so trying out different trains & timings was crucial. A Euro rail application made for travellers like us was a boon. We understood that an intercity train named IC from Luxembourg to Liege gullimens was possible, the route was more scenic passed through Luxembourg city and did not cover the same route as when we came from Brussels. Every station was a sight to see, & the train passed through rivers on one side and forests on another. When we passed through Luxembourg city, our route took us through the rail bridge that was visible from the catacombs. We also passed The Red bridge from below. This train covered exactly the same distance, took exactly the same time except it choose a different route. In order to get to Bruge we had to catch a train from liege gullimens at 2.01 pm, and our train was scheduled to reach at 1.53, which it did precisely on time. It had rained this morning & inspite of that, I had to buy wine for my father. Our breakfast was a burger from Mc Donald’s this morning as we had not booked a breakfast with the room at our hotels except for in Amsterdam. The journey was beautifully scenic & since it had rained, the temperature had dropped to about 9 degrees. I was very cold as it was windy too. We passed through houses in farms, houses in clusters & houses alone, neat & beautiful houses by the flowing river, camping sites, mountains, beautiful bridges, lots of vegetation unlike only farms & fields during the journey to Luxembourg. The road adjacent to the tracks was very narrow & the train had more stops on stations. This was a single sided railway track, with fewer flowers, less birds to be seen, but more cows. We also saw a lady on the road with a poodle, a big dog & a donkey that had come out on a stroll- a funny & unusual thing to see. We reached Leige Guillemins on time and took a train to Ostende. Bruges was a 2 hour distance from Ostende. We noticed that on every journey, there would be a ticket checker on the trains. Not only in first class, but also the second class. Strict rules apply to travel by trains, since it is an expensive mode of travel there. On reaching Bruges, we were delighted to see the beautiful town & our hotel- Prinsenholf. This one was the best & was run by a women only team. Our normal routine followed like in every place we visited; we would scan the city, understand directions, places to visit, timings, restaurants, destinations & then the next day, navigation becomes easy. A visit to the Belfry – a bell tower situated in the centre of the city proved to be useful. The Belfry had a huge musical instrument similar to a giant piano, played by a musician. The street was commonly seen as the city centre loaded with eateries, and how hungry were we! One of the restaurants offered Italian spaghetti & pastas, which we graciously accepted, with a Staffe hendrick & Brugge triple beer. One walk around the city & we realized why this place was called the Chocolate capital of Europe – there was atleast 5 chocolate shops on every road. We walked towards Minnewater lake, a place commonly known as the lover’s lake. We wanted to try every local beer available, so this time we saw a restaurant offering 3 beer tastings for 10 euro & we couldn’t resist. Out of the Waterloo, Corolus and the Cherry beer, my favourite was the cherry beer. I had made up my mind to try the local cuisine here even though I would be alone to eat, so we opted for a local restaurant on the back road of our hotel called the Vlaamsche pot for dinner. We ordered a Waterlooz fish & a vegetarian dish with a sparkling beer, Bourgogne flondres. Although I didn’t fancy the fish dish, I was thrilled to see my companion gobble up his vegetarian meal to the last piece.
Day7: The day at Bruges started with a walk to the city centre after a quick breakfast at Mc Donald’s. We visited the Historium that was a thematic representation of The Golden age of Bruges showing Joseph a boy & his career as a painter with the famous painter Van Gogh. In the Historium we were guided to 7 different cellar like rooms showing different themes & times of the boy’s life & his love for a woman (later his wife), who was bought by the famous Van Gogh for a painting he intended to do for the royal kingdom. The life of Joseph was narrated with an audio device given to each one of us. The visit ended with a beer tasting session at a huge verandah with bar stools overlooking the city centre. We had a Maredsous, both blonde & strong, a Liefmans’, including a blonde & fruitesse, Vedett extra white and brasserie de achouffe. We then intended to take a horse carriage ride around the city but had to manage a line for half hour, although worth the wait. The horse carriage charged us around 45 euros for a half an hour ride explaining important destinations in the city. The horse ride took us to Minnewater lake, waited for a 5 min stop & back via another route to the city center. We were in the chocolate capital & a visit to the chocolate shop was a must do on our list, but we preferred the chocolates waffles, a mix of both the delicacies of Belgium. The famous lollipop shaped waffles adorned with delicious melted white chocolates was a delight. After tasting the chocolate from the waffles, we had to get our hands on the real chocolate pieces, so our next stop was the famous shop Leonidis, who had an unbelievable range of chocolates, chocolate foods, creams & biscuits. Chocolates in all shapes from tools to shoes were available at these shops. Chocolates was the theme today so once we dropped our shopping bags at the hotel, the Chocolate museum was next. We saw different kinds of cocoa available from around the world and even got a chance to taste some of it. Chocolate making session with the chef followed by a tasting session & a quick visit to the souvenir shop. We got the best chocolate from there. At the museum we also saw a Venezuela film showing how cocoa beans are made, fermented and exported. We also learnt that Ivory Coast was the largest exporter of cocoa beans. The museum also displayed advertisements related to the chocolate industry & a collection of vintage chocolate wrappers. We walked out of the chocolate museum waiting to grab a bite of the delicious chocolate we tasted. As we headed to the canals for a boat ride, we walked down cobbled roads, photographing the various aesthetic architecture of the city. We were lucky to have made it in time as we were the last ones allowed on-board the canal ride. The canal ride was beautiful, unlike the Amsterdam canal ride where I was weary & tired I wasn’t dozing off on this ride. Geese & ducks followed our boats as we passed the city of Bruges and its by-lanes through the canals. Bruges was also known for its hand-made lace collections and I had a few friends back in India who I wanted to gift, so for my lady friend I got a hanging lace souvenir from a shop called kantrelle in the market. Waffles with ice cream, a cheese sandwich & hot chocolate at a small snack bar were our evening snacks. Hot chocolate felt great, since the weather was cold & it kept drizzling throughout the day. Once in the city square, we noticed an ice cream shop called Amehrana famously known for home-made Australian ice cream & we just couldn’t resist. We walked down a different route, passing some of the hotels we had considered earlier & trying to comprehend whether we had taken a right decision of choosing to stay where we were. We indeed had.
Bruges to Brussels
Day 8: Since we had no breakfast at our hotel, we walked a little further away from the city centre to a small cafe called Flemish stew, where I helped myself with a chicken and my companion a veg burger with coffee. This day was well reserved for De halve Mann brewery, famously known for being the oldest brewery in town & which produced many of the local beers including the Bruges Zot & the straffe Hendrick. The tour guide an aged enthusiastic man took us around the brewery, explaining how beer was brewed passing each room, carefully detailing each ingredient used in the process. The types of beer available & prepared at the halve Mann were Straffe Hendrik blonde, single, double, triple, quadruple. The Bruges blonde and Bruges single, a Total of 7 types of beer + 2 during the season special varieties and another one called The Heritage- special beer. This Heritage beer was to be kept intact for a year to bring out the best taste. The guide in a very friendly manner showed us what brewing was before the 50s, how many processes went into the making of the product and compared it to the today, where it was just 2 buttons that needed to be clicked – an ON button and the type of beer button. Mechanization does bring a boon to the world. Then off we went to the kiln, the old way of drying malt & how beer was made when there were no machines. The kiln was a 3 storied high cellar kind of building where malt was dried, and in the older times, one person had to take the risk of wearing a fire suit and enter the kiln to change the malt each way so that it would burn. The kiln was heated at 90-160 degrees Fahrenheit, and the risk was huge which is one of the most important reasons the kiln was discontinued. Above the kiln was a terrace overlooking the city of Bruges and we could see a part of the new factory that the brewery had started operations from. The tasting sessions after the visit was as common as chocolate shops on the streets! We tasted the brugse Zot also called the Fool of Bruges. Souvenirs collected were a pair of beer glasses of the brugse Zot. Next stop the body world museum since our tickets package included this tourist destination. The body world was an out of this world experience and in literal sense. Human bodies preserved for medicinal reasons, after death. A real life look at each individual organ of the body with details of the functioning. It also had a room showcasing sick organs & the illness along with descriptions of the causes. Real bodies of humans who volunteered to have their bodies embalmed and showcase them in glass doors were present. The good part about the visit; it was a mind opener to many, on the importance of taking care of one’s health. The bad part, my body part- the brain did not function well & I lost my camera lens cover. After that we visited the Cathedral, where the famous Bruges Madonna was kept. This was our last lunch at Bruges & I so wanted to taste the mussels that the city was famous for, but I realized the quantity was too huge & there were chances that I may not like it and end up wasting it, so I didn’t risk ordering it. Instead when we visited the restaurant Poules Moules, a local one near Pizza Hut, we ordered veg pasta and a baked chicken & curry sauce dish with kreik belle vue and hoegarden framboos beer. It was time to leave the beautiful & Romantic city of Bruges to head to Brussels town.
The euro rail trains were a boon. Once outside Brussels station, the first glance is the huge statue of the smurfs, welcoming me. Little did we know the museum of comics & figurines was right there at the station called the Gallerie mall. Our hotel Ibis was a half min distance from the station. Ibis is renowned world-wide as a business hotel, and we expected the rooms to be small, but the rooms exceeded our expectations, they were very very small, just enough room space to move from the restroom to the bed & a small window thankfully that helped not make our room looked cramped. Every hotel in Europe was equipped with wifi facilities; moreover most of the restaurants too carried wifi availability or atleast provided wifi on purchases to customers. Good speed connectivity was thus never a problem. The staff was very courteous, helped us plan our visits to places with the help of a map. The Brussels map cost us a whopping 3 euro at an Asian shop, the man looked like a Pakistani & both of us were fumed at the exorbitant rate he charged us for one city map. Our first day was similar again, a walk in the city to understand the directions & plan places of visit for the next day. We visited the St Michaels Cathedral in broad daylight although it was past 8.00 pm but since it was closed, we walked around it. The breeze was heavy & the weather was cold yet pleasant. The place was well known for the Pelican Falcons who build their nest here & return every year. Then there was this street called the museum plein, strategically called so, since all the museums of importance were located on that street. The city was known for its grand architecture designed, on and around each building. This place had a huge garden with fountains and a huge wall clock on the building. The other side of our hotel was where the eat street and the city centre was. The Grand Palace & town hall was also situated there. Delirium cafe was a very well-known place and we were enthused about visiting it, but unfortunately walked out as soon as we saw it was filled with students & over-hyped. The music was very loud, not something me & my companion preferred to do on the first night in the city. So we opted for an Asian restaurant, in a street filled with Chinese restaurateurs. The lane we went to, across town hall was filled with food & shopping and each one had a unique proposition to lure customers in to the restaurant with their sales guys waiting outside. Unlike Amsterdam, here there were atleast 100 restaurants in lanes and by lanes, mostly controlled by Asians. Our dinner at this Asian restaurant was a well thought one; I had Chicken and fries and cream pasta for my companion along with grimbergen abs cherry beer and Mort subite. We then tried finding the Australian home-made ice cream shop we found last night but it was shut since we ventured to eat ice cream at 11.30 pm. So Haagen Dazs it was for that night, with mango raspberry flavour.
We learnt:: Unlike Bruges where women and old people worked everywhere, here there were more Asian men at work and mostly at restaurants in the city. It was never a good choice to order out of the menu customised dishes; when we ordered vegetarian pasta he were given a plate of pasta and veggies in a separate bowl for them. The place was known for pickpockets; hence apportioning money was necessary, in case of any emergency. We returned to our hotel for a good night sleep, having visited almost 3 kms diameter of the city from the hotel.
Day 9: Brussels on foot was tiring, as places of visit were not very close and since the city was huge, there were chances we would not get to see it entirely. So we opted for a hop on and hop off bus, which gave us a chance to see the city, hop off at any destination we wanted to explore and wait for another bus to hop on again on that route. There were 2 routes on the bus and the bus covered 23 locations. The 23 euros that we paid for the ride included headphones for an audio commentary of the places we passed by in the bus and a map. Our first hop off was the auto museum. Similar to the auto car museum in Germany owned by a carmaker and the auto car museum in Dubai owned by the Ferrari this one was owned by jaguar. The finest of cars, bikes, racer cars, evolution of the jaguar till the latest cars was displayed here. An audio guide talking in detail about important vehicles was also present. I realised my dad had a miniature Minerva car model while looking at the section of vintage cars. The museum was huge, included racer cars and we got a chance to pose into one of the carcass of the speed racer cars. The museum also stocked a library and a souvenir shop that sold miniature cars of all kinds but at exorbitant rates, meant for a collector’s album. Outside the museum, we had a waffle for breakfast and then through a window saw war planes. Wanting to have a look at this first hand, we walked in the military museum, but didn’t find anything impressive. The warplanes were probably locked up in a room not accessible to public. We returned by bus no. 2 and got off at Centraal station, to hop on another bus, bus no 1, which followed a different route. The city was beautifully landscaped, marvellous architecture, beautifully adorned gardens, well maintained roads. We passed the European Commission office along the many small streets we discovered while on that bus. Bus no 1, covered west & north Brussels and bus no 2, covered south & east Brussels. The garden we visited a day before in the evening had a Cultural centre called libertanic. Most of the plants kept here in the botanical garden, were transplanted to the outskirts of the city near the Atomium due to urbanisation, although the place still remains to be called the botanical gardens. We passed the World trade centre offices, the Church of our lady of Laken, on our way to the north side of Brussels. Other places we toured were the Private residence of the royal family of Belgium, where no one was allowed entry into. We also passed the Palace of Laken, Museums of the Far East, having the Japanese tower, Chinese tower & one more country tower. The green houses here have tropical and subtropical plant species but only till mid-May, end of autumn. Our destination was The Atomium, an architectural marvel in the form of an atom, magnified 165 million times. This building was the living legend of Belgian engineering. There were 5 balls like structures in this building, where each one housed different themes, the best one of them, being the topmost ball, where a Hawkeyes view of the city was possible. But reaching the top took endless time, and when we got up there, we were truly disappointed. The only thing to see was the view and then you would stand in another line for 45 min similarly, to come down again in the same lift. The lift was an engineering marvel, took about 22 seconds to reach up to 102 meters. The view was spectacular; the city with its horizon was visible from the top. Another attraction nearby was Mini Europe, this was similar to the one we had earlier seen at Bangkok. This however had a lot more photo opportunities for capturing moments, with dummy figurines you could get into, or smaller versions of historically important places of each of Europe’s destinations. It took us about an hour and half to complete the entire area. The hop on hop off last bus was scheduled at 6.00 pm, so we choose to rather take the metro back home. But this journey was quite a funny one. We walked to the closest metro station (heysel station) and were in a dilemma on how to purchase a ticket to get inside the station with automatic machines. After looking around for 5 min, we realised there was a ticket vending machine, but the best part we had no change to offer in the machine. No Shops closely, no passengers around, we contemplated to take another ride back home, but thankfully there was an option in the machine which accepted cards and we got our tickets. We had to catch a train going to elizabath station. So we got down at beekkant to change trains, took another train, which can be either no 1 / 5 to go to central station, and then walked to hotel. We were tired from the journey with the hop on and hop off trails and the metro ride that we choose to rest for a while. We had to buy souvenirs from Brussels so we decided to visit a few shops around the central market place, picked up magnets, T-shirts & scarves for a few friends and then walked down the alley to the most famous monument in Brussels – The manekkin piss. Review had already briefed us not to expect a huge structure, but rather a tiny one situated in one of the restaurant alleys near the city square. We expected it to be a little more crowded atleast, but this one was just next to a waffle shop, which had more visitors , since waffles were sold at starting 1 euro. There were atleast 20 different kinds of waffles they made here. Our evening drink was at one of the restaurants close by – Delirium tremens, where for a change I had a mojito and my companion had a 3 beers tasting session with a Waterloo, triple farmeliet and kwak. The Best of these was the kwak. A truly enriching mojito, sitting in the middle of a busy walk street with people on your side drinking beer through huge mugs. We wanted to explore places, drinks, restaurants, so we would pick and choose very few items from the menu at one place and have the rest at another. This day was the same, drinks at one and dinner was at another’s – Ristorante Giannino pizzeria. A huge margarita pizza and a Campari accompanied us at this restaurant, owned and run by a woman. She served and she took orders. Campari was the worst drink I had had in my entire trip, but my companion was the best guide ever.
Day 10: On our list was the Tintin museum, a famous place for comic book lovers like me. We caught a train to ottiginnes from central station, a train going to Luxembourg. From ottiginnes we changed train and got down at louve – nouvain for the Tintin museum. The museum is walking distance from this station in the heart of Brussels. Louve – nouvain is a small station almost like a university station. There were student gathered around their residential buildings in the university complex, students with bag packs, hostel like structures, study rooms, hospital, shops, but no utility shops or restaurants? The Tintin museum was also called the Herge musee, on the name of the character and creator. We walked down a lane through a well-maintained garden area and saw the grand structure of the museum. On the door was a vinyl pasted of Tintin and the captain. I posed in between them for a photo opportunity. The tickets with the audio guide cost 9.50 euro and we had to go through 6 separate sections in the museum. The audio guide was comprehensive, with 20-30 chapters each corresponding to the rooms and items in each individual room. This was similar to the auto expo audio guide, only that this was manual entering of corresponding numbers to the items laid in the museum and at the auto world, it was a swipe needed to hear about that corresponding item. The museum showed in audio, visual format the life story of the creation of Tintin & the other characters, including the captain, the prof, the lady, snowy the dog and many others. The audio guide also had a section to quiz us at the end of the session. There was a selfie counter, where a themed backdrop was laid by the computer and we had to pose for pictures in it. The themes were of a forest, of marine life in sea and then there was Captain on the backdrop with a sword pointing towards an empty space. I posed for that pictures, giving out a yelling scream as if he were poking me & it looked original. These pictures could be mailed to ourselves, which was fun. Then there were some interactive screens where movies were being played, audio visual documentaries also filled up half the tour at this museum. There were toys of each character in the different rooms. As we were walking down to the ground floor, we noticed a huge chandelier on the ceiling. This was made up of pictures of each character in the Tintin series from the beginning and was lit up beautifully. Then we walked into a room where huge sketches were made, of characters, of comic strips and stories. They also housed a library, where the series of Tintin reads were available. Once we completed each section of the museum, we made our way to a restaurant on the ground floor, to grab a quick bite. We had skipped breakfast and were very hungry. We asked for a vegetarian dish at the restaurant on the ground floor, called La Petit Vingtieme. I didn’t want to experiment calling for a meat dish and not eating it completely since i wasn’t very hungry. We asked the sweet little owner to recommend a vegetarian dish without meat and we took her word and ordered the vegetarian dish. To our surprise, it was a salad, a one which had leaves and vegetables, which both of us would hardly eat. It also had some small round green colour seeds and leafy vegetables. I was so amused at my companion’s dish that i took a picture and sent it to my cousin in Newzealand. The experiment backfired on us and we hated it, since both of us are junk food lovers and have never tried our hands at healthy foods. My cousin was equally amused and recognised the seeds as caucus seeds, which are meant to be high in proteins. It tasted gross, but i still managed to eat a bit of the salad leaves just to fill up my stomach. We took a train back to Brussels Centraal station through the same route and checked-in our seats for travel the day after. This was the comic strips museum day and the next stop was in Brussels at the Comic Strip Museum. Herge the creator of Tintin also contributed to this museum. At the entrance of this museum was a huge figurine of 2 cartoon characters and then a stairway leading up to the first floor. Since this was a comic strip museum, the floor had boards where comic strips were displayed with an introduction on each of them along with their history. Manga comic strips were also presented including the very favourite for children, The Aesop Fables. On the second floor of this museum, was a huge backdrop with the smurfs and the history of the smurfs was also mentioned. A quick glance at these and we headed back to the museum square to visit the Musical instruments museum, but were disappointed since it shut at 5.00 pm. On the same street we found a cafe called ciabatta mania and decided to get refreshed with some coffee. The weather was windy, but since we sat outside the cafe, it started warming up for a while. That made me change my decision to a strawberry milkshake and a cheese cake, but suddenly in 5 min, the weather got really breezy and we had to wrap up and leave soon to head towards the hotel.
Before we got to the hotel, we visited the Museum of Figurines for Cartoons, at the Gallerie mall, at Centraal station. I got myself an Asterix and a Tintin keychain to take back as a souvinier. This was the end of the tourist destinations for us with just the walk back to the hotel, the dinner and the beautiful night. Since it was our last night, we started venturing out a little further away from the hotel and came upon a different street called the bourse beer straat. This street on that day was converted into a walking street with performances on the streets, cafe seating arrangements, people walking around shopping, children playing, cyclists, skateboarding and much more. Everyone was in a joyous mood. We sat at a cafe called the Grand le cafe and guzzled a Gueuze belle vue- blonde beer & an Omer beer. This was the tradition, every single cafe, every single time a different beer. How in the world were we gonna claim that we tasted atleast 1/5th of the 500 varieties of beer that the country had. Then we walked into a Thai lane and that was the best day for our food. We walked into a restaurant called Fanny Thai for dinner as we were very hungry. The food was Asian and as expected we were longing for some Asian food since 10 days. We ate to our hearts merry – my companion had vegetarian gravy with Fried rice and i had a Ga chau ngot that has fried chicken in sweet n sour sauce and rice. We opted for a Jupiler and Buval beer, thanked the waiter for the awesome food and made our way for some dessert. Once again at the Australian Home Made ice cream counter, we made it back to the hotel with a pistachio flavoured ice cream and preferred to eat it in our rooms. The next day was our departure; we packed and slept with a heavy head, not wanting to return back to our mundane lives.
Brussels to Dubai to Mumbai
Day 11: This was the last day and as all good things should come to an end for better things to begin, we had the last breakfast- coffee croissant and cheese sandwich at Sam’s Cafe, just opposite our hotel, and headed with our luggage to Centraal station and then to Brussels and then to National lucthaven station for our flight back with emirates. This time our layover at Dubai was a 6 hour gap. At Dubai airport even after roaming around and checking for things to shop, we had a 3 hour rest and we landed in India at 8.00 am – India time.
What we Did and what we Learnt:: (This is the famous phase my companion always used during the trip)
– We need to be careful while getting inside the trains. The distance from the platform & trains are usually very large
– The Euro star train goes to London and the TGV goes to Spain & France. Thalys is the train that only goes to France.
– 3 of the most hilarious incidents for me:
*** I ask the receptionist at the Prinsenhof for “The room to my key”
*** The TC made a quick pun at me while i was eating chips in the train and said i wasn’t allowed to do that and then smiled at me and said he was making a fool of me. The people have a wierd sense of humour in that country and it sometimes intimidates strangers.
*** In the chocolate shop at Bruges, i ask the lady at the counter if she could show me some Brussels’ chocolates instead of Bruges’s chocolates. It was embarrassing for me as she looked so confused.
– An old couple travelling to Luxembourg looked so happy, they took care of each other and were smiling and talking like they just fell in love. I for a moment realised, how we take love for granted.
That was the end; we returned with our bags full and were hesitant that the customs might catch our bags since it was full of bottles – souviners of beer from every place we visited. Thankfully they didn’t notice. But more than our bags, we were back with a full house of memories. Memories that will teach us and guide us and enlighten us. Memories that will keep us happy when days are blue. Memories that will keep the hope that someday once again, we will be back or go on a similar trip and relive these memories.
One of the most memorable trips of my lifetime.