Last year we decided to spend Christmas πŸŽ„ somewhere warmer and where things are actually working for Christmas. We had no plans except it should be in Europe. πŸ™‚ After a few Google searches it seemed that Brussels is the only available and affordable place so why not (except it’s not really warm) πŸ™‚

If you are planning to visit Brussels this Christmas, make sure to check this post as we really explored the city properly, mostly due to some insider infos that we had. πŸ™‚

We got up at 4:30 AM and at 5:00Am we were on our way to the airport. Everything went nice and smooth and at 9:00 we were on the Brussels Airport. Young border control officer was trying to make fun with every single person arriving and since he wears a beard it was easy for him to complement my beard tail and promise that he will have one in two months. Well I told him it will take just a bit more but, OK. :)) It’s good to be different. πŸ™‚ Outside of the customs it was all packed with people waiting for their loved ones. Suddenly two people run by us and into a hug with confused young friend yelling in Croatian – Welcome darling, you’ve made it. And she replies in Dalmatian accent – I guess, I don’t know, I’m tired and confused – I got so drunk last night. πŸ˜‰ Ah πŸ™‚ That’s the spirit! πŸ™‚

Anyway, we caught the first possible train and at 9:45AM we got off the train at Brussels Centre!

When we climbed the stairs up the city surface it was obvious that we brought the Irish weather with us. It was overcast cold and windy with a lovely drizzle. Luckily we are well equipped with waterproof clothes that we tried to ignore it. πŸ™‚

A big Smurf greeted us, and we’ve learned that Smurfs are actually made here, in Belgium. It was my favourite cartoon, or one of them, but I never actually paid attention to it’s origin. It’s actually a magnet for tourists as it’s located just in front of the Moof Museum, but it was closed at the time of our visit. (Sadly)


In front of the station everything was ready for the Christmas celebration except the fact that we came to early and shops and bars were just getting open. Even the wishing tree was turned off. πŸ™‚


We were hungry and needed a coffee so we headed to the “Grote Markt” – Main city square.


Square was empty and beside us, only a few lost tourists were there looking at the Christmas decorations and this big Nativity scene.


Luckily, one of the places on the Grote Markt just opened, and we were able to get our first Waffle! Yes, Belgium is well known for a couple of things. Diamonds, chocolate, beers and waffles. In case that you are there you have to try them all, maybe not in that particular order. πŸ™‚


We enjoyed the view of the Grote Market for a while and by the time we finished our breakfast and freshened up a bit, the square was packed with people. From there we decided to visit the main happening place, famous Christmas Market that is placed just beside the Saint Catherine church.


As you can see, it was again a bit too early for something to see, but we decided to wonder through all important locations in order to enjoy them in the following days.


The only thing that worked was a fish market with loads of fresh fish, crabs and mussels. I was not properly informed by that moment, but Belgium is known for mussels too!


From St. Catharine we strolled all the way to the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula.


Cathedral hosted an interesting Nativity scenes collection from all around the world. I took a picture of almost every single one, but it makes no sense to bug you with 40 different photos on the same subject, but I was quite surprised by Eastern ones. Like, this one on the photo below came all the way from Korea.


Waking early and walking almost 6 kilometres around city centre called for a quick break, and I had to have one of my favourite meals. French onion soup. Interesting fact – my first onion soup was actually not French. I’ve heard from my ex French colleagues that it’s awesome and that I should try it, but impatient as I am, I couldn’t wait for my next visit to France, so I’ve made it on my own. Even more interesting fact – it’s so easy and delicious that I really wonder why did I prepare this soup only two or three times so far. πŸ™‚


Oh yes, that Kwak was a perfect match with my soup.


After lunch in this Opera place, we run into a French patisserie chain “Paul” and I had to have the biggest macaroon ever.


Since we had a rendezvous with friends arranged for later that evening we stopped at the hotel to take a quick nap, and relax a bit. By the time we woke up it was pitch black and business building opposite to our hotel looked weirdly different.


Same as the town hall, that was in special Christmas lightning mood.


Since Lucia lived in Belgium for a while (and in the meantime she moved back again) she did the reservation part and told us to come to place called “Chez Leon”. Apparently the best place for mussels in Brussels. πŸ™‚ Well, we trusted her choice and she was absolutely right.


Mussels are so good that even Dina tried them, but she played the safe game and tried the other local delicatessen. Sausages served with “stomp”. Stomp is like enhanced mashed potatoes as it’s mashed with various vegetables like brussel sprouts, carrot, parsnip etc. However, two days later after our trip to Bruges, we had to stop by Chez Leon once again, and Dina had her first (and so far only) full portion of mussels. They are so good that miracle happened! πŸ™‚


After a great dinner, we tried to have at least one of local beers in world known and most famous place with the biggest beer selection ever. But, since it was Christmas eve it was closed.


Well, at least one of the most important things for tourists was easily accessible. Jeanneke Piss statue that is in the same street with Delirium bar. Yes, if you never heard of, there are three statues laid around Brussels city centre that form a set. Little boy pissing, girl pissing and a dog pissing. Apparently Manneken Piss is emblem of the rebellious nature of the city. Girl and a dog were added recently for the enhancement of touristy things and have no particular meaning except to make you circle the city centre. πŸ™‚


Since it was Christmas eve, and places were closing their business earlier than usual we almost had no chance to have a pint and talk a bit. Luckily, we ended up in an Irish pub. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say it out loud, but I think it was the only open place just due to that rebellious spirit. Not a single pub would be open in Dublin at that time. πŸ™‚

Our friends had an early start to USA next morning and we were tired too so we called a night.

On the Christmas day we woke up again too early. We walked from the hotel towards the centre searching for any open place for a breakfast. Luckily a few places opened much earlier then the rest of the city. We figured out that running or rushing will not bring us anywhere, so we slowed down and enjoyed it a while. Croissants in Brussels were as good as those in France. πŸ™‚


Our next destination was that famous Manneken Pis. On the way we’ve past by this funny Fries statue. Yeah, that’s another thing Belgium is famous for. Fries. OK, I have to say it now. In Croatia we do have potatoes. They are maybe the best in the world since our land is of good quality. You can choose potatoes from MeΔ‘imurje or Lika region. But we consider it … “just potato”. There’s nothing noble in our seeing of this lovely vegetable. And then we moved to Ireland which praises the potato on daily basis, and then visiting Belgium it is all brought to an even higher level, where fries are “invented” and should be considered “from Belgium” and not called “French fries”. Don’t get me wrong, I love potatoes, but honestly there are far more important dishes. πŸ™‚


Anyway, we arrived to the famous Manneken Pis, but he was officially dressed as Santa that day. According to the information available on-line, this little boy has more than 800 different dresses in the museum in Brussels, and it’s dressed differently a couple of times a week. There’s even an official schedule available somewhere. πŸ™‚ Not only that, it’s replica exists in cities that are friended with Brussels and on several places in Belgium. So you can find it in Japan and Brazil. πŸ™‚


Well, we did not see it naked, but we’ve seen enlarged version made out of Belgium chocolate.


On the way to Palaise de Justice (Palace of Justice) we’ve noticed the weirdest art shop ever. I still don’t understand why. Would you buy one for home? I think it glows in the dark. πŸ™‚


And just before we reached the Palaise de Justice this terrible shop made us stop and think a little. A friend of mine told us that it’s the best chocolate in Brussels. Well, the shop looked promising so we came closer.


And the window looked even more inviting so we had to get in. It’s one of the best shops I’ve been to. It’s like “Apple store” in chocolate world. Exclusive “models” available in store only, shaped like diamonds. Expensive, but worth trying while you are there. πŸ™‚


With sweet package in our tummies and our backpacks we arrived to the Palace of Justice. It offers one of the most interesting views of the city.


And besides you can see various green things growing on the local windows.


But, even if it might seem that this building dominates in this part of the city it does not.


There’s one more important place and that’s the royal palace or Palais De Bruxelles.


And in front of it the weirdest thing I’ve seen so far in Europe. I mean, Italian old van, parked in front of the royal palace with cockpit filled with animal sculls. My brain simply refuses to even try to understand if this has any logical explanation at all.


Confused and slightly disgusted we continued our way to the most important building for all us Europeans. EU Parliament.


That area was nice to see, but closed and quite boring. Well, it was Christmas day, and we all know that politicians rarely work in general. πŸ™‚ We walked around the area and we did again almost 10 km. And we were still on the breakfast power. Since it was lunch time, we grabbed a metro back to the centre, where I’ve noticed best wishes from Manneken. πŸ™‚


During the lunch we looked at the map. We’ve seen everything that was planned for that day. Palais Poelaert (justice), Petit Sablon, Place des Palais, Rue du Luxembourg, Espace Leopold, Schuman, Maalbeek, Parc du Cinquantenaire all the way to Merode. Since it was more than planned we decided to find the third, missing statue.

But, in order to manage it we had to get some extra power. Yes, this is the expression that explains it all. πŸ™‚


We struggled a bit finding the dog, and by the time we managed to it was too dark for a decent photo. πŸ˜€ Trust me, we managed it. But, since it was a Christmas evening and we are here to enjoy one of the best Christmas Markets in Europe we headed there. I’ve noticed the small sign about Escargots and I had to try them straight away.


However, what I did not know is that Belgians have a weird special recipe. Escargots are boiled in peppery water with just a few spices. It’s peppery and chewy. πŸ˜€


But as you can see, I’m not the only one who tried them. All these little dots on the floor are actually snail’s feet.


Escargots were just to try, more like a teaser for the main thing. Alluring smell of La Crosyflette was too strong to resist. And it’s awesome. It’s a special type of pasta “Crosy” with cheese, wine, ham, onion, and cream baked all together into a perfect harmony. It is so good, and it smelled so good that even a couple of vegetarians came to ask if they are allowed to eat that. When guy told them that it’s ham that smells so nice, they suddenly figured out that “Oh, we are not allowed to eat that, it’s weird, meat never smells nice to us.” Yeah, right! πŸ™‚


Shots of Rakomelo, apparently the famous thing, were OK, but please do visit Istra (Istria), my home region and try to get home made “Medica”. Rakomelo would be served in kindergartens in Istria, as it’s diluted and it’s almost alcohol free. Technically it just tastes a bit like honey. Medica or medenica tastes like real deal and it can be as strong as whiskey.


On the way back to our hotel we had to take a de-tour several times as some guys decided to run around. At one point we had to be part of the Christmas Maraton as there was no other way around. πŸ˜€ You know us, we end up on all the good places where ever we go. πŸ™‚


As we reached our hotel it started to snow. Somewhere in the middle of the night temperature dropped substantially to freeze everything. We headed to the famous Atomium that morning, but walk from metro station to the Atomium was longer than expected. Everything was covered with a couple of cm thick ice and it was quite tricky and dangerous. Luckily we managed to get there. As a gift from above we got one perfect sunny day to take a couple of great photos.


Since Mini Europe is next to the Atomium building we visited it, but more than half exhibits were covered by snow and ice. Only the higher ones were visible. Well, this is one of the nicest churches in Europe due to it’s original roof, and it’s from Croatian capitol Zagreb. πŸ™‚


We had enough time to visit only one more thing that was on that part of the city. Famous Basilica Koekelberg. We expected to eat somewhere in that area, but by the time we arrived in that part of the city, we figured out that the whole place is built on a small hill and surrounded by huge parks.


We almost wanted to turn around and try to find a restaurant as we had no time to go back to the centre, have late lunch, and then back to the hotel for our suitcases. Moments of panic and hunger but we decided to go in the Basilica and see it, and ask there if there is a restaurant close to it.

It ended up being the best move of the weekend. In the basement of the basilica there is a Cabaret “Le Basilic”. The weirdest place in the church basement, all surrounded with red curtains and shiny things. A couple of people with wigs that looked like local actors were there and everything looked suspicious. We were prepared for terrible scenario of expensive and poor food, but we had no other options.


We ordered once again local specialities, two from the list of “must try” in Brussels. Steak Americain and Carbonnades Flamandes.


While we waited for our food we were watching people. 8-10 couples came to the entrance of this place, made the “what the heck” face and left as fast as they could. A few couples got courage but mostly after seeing us there and they set down too. It was really the weirdest place, some crossover of a “porn bar” and a cathedral.

And let me surprise you. Food was not the best we had in Belgium, but it was decent. It passed all expectations, and in the end the bill was 50% less then in the city centre for the similar food quality.

Well, If you decide to visit Brussels for Christmas, I invite you to go to Le Basilic and send me the photos and impressions. I’m glad that I was on such crazy place. πŸ™‚


After late lunch we’ve stopped in our Hotel to pick up the luggage and left towards the airport and back home. Off course, on the airport we re-filled our chocolate stocks and tried one more thing that is available in Belgium only. Cuberdons.

Sugary sweets filled with artificial juices with some artificial taste. Well, if you are like me, you will try them, but I will not judge you if you skip them. πŸ™‚

During my travels only France and Belgium were unexpected positive surprises for me. I was aware that I’ll be impressed by Australia and Japan, but I thought that nothing can surprise me in Europe. I was wrong. Brussels, Antwerp, Gent and Bruges are truly best kept European secrets, but are places worth visiting. Brussels is rated as one of top five places to spend Christmas and so far I think it is in top three on my list.

If you have a chance spend Christmas in Brussels, and I hope I’ll also be able to see it during some warmer part of the year.

Till the next one.

Happy holidays. πŸ™‚


By adminko

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