Weekend Break in Belgium – discovering Brussels

When I first considered travelling to Brussels I encountered numerous articles, blog posts and reviews which strongly discouraged me to ever visit the capital of Belgium. Described as grey, boring and dangerous, the city seemed like the last place I wanted to visit. In October my best friend and I found cheap flight tickets, which were so inexpensive (around 20$ or 15 Euro both ways) that I simply had to go, even if I was extremely agitated with safety issues. I literally freaked myself out reading safety articles and how Brussels’ safety index in only 59%. Then, to increase my disconcern, I watched documents on terroristic attacks on 22nd of March 2016 and even considered not going. Above all, my paranoia was infused by the fact my landing date was on the third anniversary of the attacks. Luckily, my boyfriend convinced me not to be such a crybaby and we flew to Brussels.

A great arc in Brussels

Charleroi Airport and getting to Brussels

We landed in Charleroi Airport just before 11 PM. Being a control freak as I am, I planned everything in advance, purchasing tickets for the shuttle bus. It was a rather neat idea, as we were one of the last ones to get on a bus to Brussels (it was second-to-last bus that night so with the crowd that gathered in line, there was a great concern we would not make it, if I didn’t purchase tickets online). The bus took us through well-lit highways straight to Brussels-South railway station in Rue de France. We were a little bewildered by the marking system, so we decided to take a tram instead of metro. What is interesting, the timetable of trams was so confusing, we didn’t really know which way we should go. The monitor above tram-shelter projected direction the tram was coming from, as oppose to where it’s going. Also, the timetable showed next stops above the stop we were on, which was even more confusing. I don’t know how it is where you live, but where I come from it’s the complete opposite.

The Grand Place

We started our first day with a long walk from our hotel to the narrow streets around La Grand Place. In the heart of Brussels, the “Great square” one of the most often visited places in Belgium. It is a great quadrangle surrounded by architectural masterpieces altogether forming a UNESCO Heritage Site. The 15th century Town Hall and King’s House, as well as 200 years younger guild houses give the La Grand Place an astonishing feeling of wealth and luxury.

 

We spent a rather long time reading interesting details about guild houses and how each sculpture or even shape of facades conveyed a deeper meaning. My favourite building, the baker’s house named Le Roy d’Espagne, decorated with busts of Saint Aubert (patron saint of bakers) and sculptures of six figures representing force, wheat, wind, fire, water and security, all believed to be necessary ingredients for baking a perfect bread, charmed me immediately.

 

Manneken Pis

From the Grand Place we ventured towards the statue called Manneken pis. “Little Pisser” is a bronze figure just next to the Town Hall, depicting a toddler urinating into the fountain. The statue is the best-known symbol of people of Brussels, representing a rather dark Belgian sense of humour. Each week a non-profit association “The Friends of Manneken-Pis” dress the figure up in various outfits. While we visited Brussels Manneken Pis was dressed in FC Barcelona attire and we have yet to discover why.

Manneken PIs statue in Brussels

After a rather long walk through narrow streets around La Grand Place we decided to head for lunch. We found out earlier that our hotel is just next to the place with “greatest pommes frites in Belgium” so we headed there. There was quite a queue, with a lot of Belgians so I knew the fries were going to be delicious. We ordered and were pleasantly surprised that we could take them out and eat in one of the nearby bars where we ordered additional beer. The size of fries is rather tricky, so if you visit Brussels always go for small ones as you will get full quite easily.

The Atomium

After lunch we travelled by metro to one of the most well-known symbols of Belgium – the Atomium. Built for the first postwar Expo in 1958 the steel structure has become an unmistakable trademark of Brussels. In the shape of iron particle enlarged 256 million times, designed by Andre Waterkeyn and architects Andre and Jean Polak, Atomium is 102 meters tall and is a rather literal symbol of progress and development. Connected with escalators and elevators hidden in pipes each sphere is 18 meters in diameter. I enjoyed the sight of it but felt as though the surrounding was not that pleasant.

After lunch we travelled by metro to one of the most well-known symbols of Belgium – the Atomium. Built for the first postwar Expo in 1958 the steel structure has become an unmistakable trademark of Brussels. In the shape of iron particle enlarged 256 million times, designed by Andre Waterkeyn and architects Andre and Jean Polak, Atomium is 102 meters tall and is a rather literal symbol of progress and development. Connected with escalators and elevators hidden in pipes each sphere is 18 meters in diameter. I enjoyed the sight of it but felt as though the surrounding was not that pleasant.

Used as a museum, exhibition center as well as a viewpoint the structure is a great place to explore. We did not enter inside as the tickets were rather pricy (20 Euro per person) and the weather wouldn’t allow us to appreciate the view anyway. If you ever visit Brussels and the sky is clearer visiting interiors of the Atomium is an absolute must!

Dinner and Belgian Ale

In the evening we returned to the Grand Place for dinner and drinks. We started out in the restaurant called Chez Leon, as we did not have to wait long to be served. We ordered seafood (of course!) and a bottle of cooled, white wine. I really enjoyed the food, although if I knew while ordering it would be covered in cheese I would have probably picked some that was not. We have also visited Delirium Tremens, most recommended bar in Brussels, but it was way too crowded for us and we finished our evening with some beers in a bar next to our hotel.

Autoworld

Visiting Autoworld was one of the main points of our trip to Brussels. Displaying more than 250 cars the Automotive Museum was one of most entertaining museum I’ve ever been to. I learned a great deal about the history of automobiles and discovered various trivia. Did you know that in 1955, during a race a car crashed and it’s scattering particles killed 82 people? Considered as the worst crash in motor sports history, it happened during a Le Mans 24-hour race in France. The accident was so tragic both France and Switzerland banned motor racing, the latter still holds the ban active today. You can read more about this here.

After visiting the museum we had only one thing left on our “to do list” before catching a bus to Charleroi Airport. WAFFLES. I could not leave Brussels without the famous chocolate! Therefore, we returned to La Grand Place, visited the oldest shopping centre in Europe and devoured delicious waffles!

Overall, I really enjoyed visiting Brussels and I would recommend a weekend trip to anyone. It was safe, beautiful and the food was quite delicious. I really enjoyed museums, historical buildings as well as modern parts, with bars and fancy restaurants.

Have you ever been to Brussels? Did you enjoy the city? Let me know in the comments!

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The importance of travelling

As the proverb says: travel is to live. Since I started travelling often I realised how true this motto is. I tend to measure my time from one trip to the other, so when my day at work is particularly hard I’m motivating myself with simply stating when I’m going to visit some great place. Right now I’m counting days until my next adventure: I’m going for a weekend to Brussels, Belgium with a couple of friends and that is exactly what makes me endure some tough moments.

The impulse to travel is one of the hopeful symptoms of life.

So why is it that sometimes we forget travel makes us happy and instead we rot at home? Mostly it’s the amount of chores we impose on each other, deadlines, sometimes feeling overwhelmed with social issues and workload. I know that when I become corporate robot I forget about anything really and simply sink in all the chores. If you’re in the same place right now where you walk and walk but you’re always in the same spot and feel zero motivation to move and drive anywhere really, here are several reasons why you should keep going and never give up on travelling.

1. Travelling broadens horizons and makes you a better person

It sounds strong, doesn’t it? Like getting into a car and driving to a nearby city for a sightseeing tour would make you truly a better person. And yet… It’s true, or at least I believe so. Going on an excursion always broadens your horizons. Even if it’s very short, to a place you’ve already been to, it’s still going to teach you something. It’s going to build up your experience and simply make you wiser. Example? Visiting another nation and learn about their culture.

Bonus anecdote: When I moved to Portugal (for my Erasmus) I was pretty much disgusted with all the people simply snapping their fingers to call a waiter at a restaurant. I thought it’s so rude! And yet… it’s normal there, so I learned that when I’m in Warsaw, I don’t have to get all airtight and silently rant and rave on their bad manners, but rather understand they might come from a completely different place than I do.

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A photograph of Prague, Czech Republic 2018

2. You can learn another language and improve your CV (resume)

Learning languages is vital. I don’t think I can stress enough how amazing it is to be able to communicate in a foreign language wherever you go. Right now, I’m using skills I learned years ago and can (hopefully) successfully communicate with you, my dear Reader in English. Before I moved to Portugal I used to learn the language from books and some additional classes, but only when I moved my knowledge of Portuguese sky-rocketed. Knowing languages can improve your position in applying for a job or even grant you get one!

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Nazare Beach in Portugal, 2014

3. Travelling makes you stay younger

Ok, I might not have any scientifical proof that it’s true, but I do believe travel makes you more active and therefore younger. Constant planning and plotting stimulates the brain and sightseeing is a great way to reach your 10000 steps needed for a healthy lifestyle. Moreover, when you spend so much money on plane tickets and hotels you just can’t afford food anymore… Just kidding, although it might be true in some cases. For New Years Eve this year I travelled to a city of Torun in Poland. Just for one day, a very short trip. And during this day I visited so many places, I walked more than 20 km in less than 10 hours!

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Barcelona, Spain, 2014

4. You can make friends from across the globe and cement relationships you already have

Meeting people from around the world not only broadens the horizon (see point 1), but also creates connections which not only let you have so much fun, but also allow you to travel further and cheaper. I keep in touch with many of my friends from Erasmus and we’ve exchanged many trips (I travelled to their hometown, they visited mine) for a fraction of a normal price. But what’s most important? The memories, because as you know, people forget years and remember moments. All these precious moments laughing at similarities and differences between our cultures (sometimes very distant, hello, my Brazilian friends!), teaching each other various things or simply hanging around could never be the same if I only had friends from my own country.

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Porto, Portugal, 2014

5. Travel lets you experience amazing cuisines

Oh, the food… how I love it. One of the best virtues of travelling is trying out different cuisines, flavours and products. My long time dream is to visit Italy, Parma, to be exact, and try all the amazing dishes there, including pizza with potatoes and different flavours of pasta. When I visited Croatia last year I fell in love with white wine (Grasevina), sea food, eating freshly caught tuna grilled at the beach, watermelon at noon under an umbrella, and so forth. Celebration of food teaches us love of life. I also learned several tricks of Croatian and Portuguese cuisine and definitely improved my cooking skills.

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A great steak in Lisbon, Portugal

So let’s go on an adventure!

So, don’t dwell on tough times, take a look at some sites with cheap flights, bus or train tickets or even, for a free trip, pack your bag and venture to a place you’ve never visited in your city. Learn new things and don’t let work and chores overwhelm you. Travelling really is a sollution for sadness!

Do you travel often? If yes, did you learn anything interesting during your trips?

Let me know in the comments.

A weekend at sea – Sopot and Hel [POLAND]

Vacation at Polish sea is a debatable matter. I never experienced such, even being Polish and living four hours away by car, as I think it’s overpriced, not that attractive (rather cold water all year-long if you ask me) and so much less appealing than simply flying to Croatia and enjoying perfect beaches with even more ideal weather.

This year though, my future in-laws moved to Gdynia, a harbour town on the north of Poland, and I visited them twice already. Since being a blogger is all about sharing and, as a classic put it, sharing is carrying, let me share with you some beautiful places I’ve visited while on those trips.

Gdynia

Most of the time seen as the least appealing city out of entire tricity area. It’s a home of fisherman and harbour, most well known for riots that ended Communism in Poland. I really grew to love the city. It’s a part of a rather large complex, but in the same time, still a rather small town, mostly modern, due to it’s complicated history. Gdynia is a great place to visit, with the biggest, natural cliff (on the Orłowo beach), museum ships in the harbour (including a destroyer and a frigate) and a great “old town”.

Hint: if you ever find yourself venturing to the Tricity area, remember to stay in Gdynia for the night, as it’s perfectly communicated with Gdańsk and Sopot and in the same time prices are way lower!

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Gdynia is quite famous for great examples of modern architecture, such as monumentalism and early functionalism. In the same time, you can quite effortlessly find great views of the sea, long promenades, cute marinas, yacht clubs, sandy beaches and beautiful waterfronts. Let’s not forget about the most important aspect of travelling: food. I visited several restaurants and I love all of these, offering exquisite dishes in an acceptable price.

Welcome to Hel

Hel is a rather small town just at the top of the Hel Peninsula. Engulfed from both sides with the Sea, it’s one of the most climatic and enchanting places in northern Poland. It was my first time visiting Hel, and the Peninsula as a whole. Absolutely loved it. Especially for the fresh air, great views and very few tourists.

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You can take a rather long walk along the tip of the peninsula, look at the sea hitting the shore from three sides and even visit a seal center, located not far from the walking trail. It’s best to stop by the center during the feeding time, so you can see all nine to ten seals perfectly. Also, who doesn’t love those cute animals?

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You can also travel to the marina and see fisherman’s’ boats and even war ships!

Sopot

Sopot is a resort city and one of the most popular touristic destinations in Poland. The town is enchanting, sheltered from an open sea by the Hel Peninsula, which makes water in the sea a lot warmer. Clean, spotless sand of rather white gold colour creates a beautiful scenery, even in rather autumn/winter conditions.

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It’s probably most well-known feature is the longest wooden pier in the old continent (over 500 meters), which happens to be a great venue for recreational and health walks.

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Concentration of iodine in the air at the sea is doubled compared to the land, which makes it a perfect spot for health walks as well. If you are quite rich, you can always stay at the Grand Hotel in Sopot. That is a rather long-term dream of mine to stay there for a night or two. As it would probably be a financial equivalent of going to Croatia for two weeks, I never fulfilled my childhood dream, but just imagine: what an amazing feeling it must be to wake up, open the curtains and see only the sea.

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Oh, and can you imagine, sipping champagne from one of these fancy, tall glasses at the pool in a place like this? One day, Grand Hotel, one day!

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I don’t think I’m going to visit Polish sea for summer holidays anytime soon, but I do think that it’s a great destination for a weekend trip, especially with the airport in Gdańsk. So, if you’ve never had a chance, check Gdynia, Sopot and Hel out!

Dorota