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September 4, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Belgium

Grand Place Square

My favourite place in Brussels had to be Grand Place square. It was just incredible and something that I never took for granted despite walking through it multiple times a day. There was always a buzz in the square, day and night and we got to see the famous Flower Garden (photos below) where they cover the centre of the square in Begonias flowers. There are so many stories you'll hear about this square, most are rumours. One very popular story which isn't true is about the town hall (second & third photo). The main tower isn't centred, it's more to the right. When the architect came back and saw this he went to the top of the tower and jumped off. What really happened is that it was originally built correctly, at the time having a centred focus point was important but then they needed to expand to be able to hire more people and collect more money so they could only expand the left hand side making it uneven. Another thing I noticed is that the centre point on the door doesn't line up correctly if you follow it up the tower, that really annoyed me once I spotted it as then I couldn't not see it!

Monument Everard 't Serclaes, walking down to Grand Place Sq, yummy Belgian Waffles, Manneken Pis, amazing food in The Blank Sheep in Flagey

We lived very close to Manneken Pis and passed it daily. The crowds were always insane and it's so hard to believe at first but people really love this little guy. There's loads of stories about him too! The statue regularly got stolen and so the original is stored elsewhere. You'll notice in the photo of the statue in my previous post that theres a sign saying security camera with an empty bracket haha. They dress the statue up every so often which is always fun to see. Monument Everard 't Serclaes is right beside Grand Place. Aparantely if you rub his elbow you'll come back to Brussels again in the future so we all made sure to do so. One thing I'm really going to miss is the food, I haven't dared weigh myself but we both know we gained a few pounds. I'm going to have to invest in a waffle maker and find some Belgian chocolate so I can make my own Belgian waffles. God, they are just so good. One of my favourite places for takeaway waffles was Island ice-cream just opposite the entrance of Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert on Rue du Marché aux Herbes. I got a milk and white chocolate waffle with strawberries which was freshly made. Yum! When the boyfriend moved from Mons to Brussels, he started out in The Black Sheep located in Flagey. We loved taking trips out there, it has a square which is gorgeous during the summer and a lovely park with a lake where we had picnics. I might be bias but The Black Sheep was one of our favourite places for food and drink, just around the corner from the square. I definitely recommend a visit out there, there's loads of places with a great atmosphere to have a drink!

Grand Place Begonias Flower Carpet, Manneken Pis statues, Ixelles Ponds in Flagey, Brussels Town Hall in Grand Place, Murals + Street Art.

Murals and street art are all over the city and they are beautiful. The murals are done by artists who are commissioned to create them. I tried to see most of them and posted two others in my last post including a very famous and controversial one called Broussaille Mural which shows a couple walking arm in arm. There was outrage as it looked like two males, the artist was called back to make the dark haired person look more feminine and now sits the mural in the middle of the gay district. The street art shown in the last photo above I don't believe was commissioned (the murals all have signs with details) but if you look close the artist signed it and added his number. I'm not a big graffiti fan but when it's actually "Art" and not someone scribbling their name or tag then I can appreciate it. It's pretty impressive and a very large space in real life.

Shortly after my parents and brother left we decided to book a holiday home. We booked our plane tickets to Dublin for a two week visit. The next day we realised that two weeks wouldn't do as something had come up and it was probably a sign that our time in Brussels was up, we were meant to move home. We'd wanted to stay longer but as they say - life had other plans. The next few weeks were a whirlwind really. My best friend from home came to visit, he spent 6 days with us and we filled him with waffles and beer before he went traveling himself for a few days and he came back to spend a couple more days with us on his way home.

We had a leaving dinner with a good friend of ours who treated us to a gorgeous meal. We visited Mons where the boyfriend first lived, it was so nice to finally see the place he was when I was stuck in Ireland and meet his friends there who I had heard so much about. We then packed up, said our final goodbyes, hauled 7 months worth of belongings through Brussels and got on a plane. I'm glad I have these posts to look back on now, it was such a great way to spend my summer after graduating. We do still have our return flight so who knows what might happen! We're quite happy to be home (and have an oven to cook with) although it is weird. We settled in really easily in Brussels and we'll really miss our life over there (and living together) but here's to the next adventure in a few months!


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August 14, 2014

On the Walking Tour of Brussels

Manneken Pis, Mont des Arts, Royal Palace of Brussels, Bourse Stock Exchange, Broussaille Mural, another Mural, La Cycliste Statue Outside Scott's Bar

On Wednesday my family arrived in Brussels, and so did the rain. It's been gorgeous weather so far with the odd bit of rain here and there but this week was cold and rainy...they brought the Irish weather with them. They had such an early morning landing in Brussels at 9:30am. My brother stayed with us instead of getting a hotel room which was really nice to spend some extra time with him. We brought them back to see our little space we're calling home and then headed to Scotts Bar, where the boyfriend now works which luckily meant we passed 3 tourist attractions - Manneken Pis, Grand Place Square and Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. After a coffee for my mam and a few beers for the lads we headed out on a walking tour. Walking tours are free in Brussels but they do ask for a tip if you've enjoyed it. We know some of the guys who work the walking tour and it's been something we've wanted to do but decided that we may as well wait for my parents. The tour was three hours long with a quick break in Scotts in between. It brings you around the main Brussels Central for the first half and then down to the Royal Palace for the second half. I highly recommend going on the walking tour if you visit Brussels, to learn about the history of Belgium and the different stories and rumours about the city. There's more information about it here if you are interested.

The Atomium, Close up of Atomium, 360 views, Mini Europe, front view of Royal Palace of Brussels, The EU Council building, Hôtel Chamberlain by Paul Hankar, Grand Place

The next day we did the bus tour, it has two lines bringing you all around Brussels. To be honest it wasn't as good as the walking tour but it was nice to sit down for some of the day while being able to see some new places. The most impressive was the Atomium. I've wanted to go since I arrived in Brussels myself but everyone had already been so I was delighted to go with my family. The Atomium is a statue type building that was constructed in 1958. It's over 100 metres tall with spheres rooms and tubes connecting them. You can get a lift up which takes 22 seconds to reach the top and then you have a 360 degrees view of Brussels. It was gorgeous! Beside it is Mini-Europe which we didn't get a chance to see that day but we saw it from the Atomium and it looked pretty cool. I'll be going back in the next few weeks! Later that night we went to Brussels Grill on Place Debrouckère, incredible service and even better food. I definitely recommend going for a bite to eat some evening. 

Brussels Town Hall in Grand Place, Grand Place Square

Friday was a more relaxed day, we did some shopping, ate lunch, drank coffee.... My boyfriend managed to get his shift switched so instead of being off at 4am he was off at 7pm and booked a table for us at Hemgie's, we had heard rave reviews about this little burger and steak place so were dying to try it. We left with clean plates, full bellies and no complaints at all, it was delicious! It is recommended that you don't go if you are in a rush as they don't rush their cooking. We spent the day in Bruges on Saturday, which you can read all about in this post that has so many photos of the beautiful city. My brother and I headed back to Brussels for the night and while on the way out for a drink we walked through Grand Place during a light show. It was amazing! Standing in the middle of the square while on the buildings light up in a sequence which went to the music being played. Grand Place has an incredible atmosphere at the weekends anyway with everyone sitting around with a few drinks but this took it to the next level. I posted some videos over on my Facebook page here. I shed a tear leaving my family at the train station to the airport, it was so nice having them here and showing them around where we live. We're hoping to have a visit home in a few weeks so I won't have to wait too long to see them again!

August 13, 2014

A Beautiful Day in Bruges


My family were over last week to visit us in Brussels. We had a jam packed few days and on Saturday we decided to go to Bruges since the weather was a little nicer. Bruges is such a gorgeous and charming little city with so much to see. Bruges (or Brugge as it's known by the Dutch) has been almost entirely untouched since medieval times making it a very picturesque place. We started in one point and made our way slowly around the busy streets to see each thing. We visited the Basillica of the Holy Blood, the Belfry tower - the famous octagonal bell tower that rises to a height of 83m, the Markt which is the main square, Begijnhof, Gruuthuse Museum and several others before then taking a 35 minute boat trip down the Groenerei Canal which was a great way to see the rest of the city. If you want to take a trip up the Belfry/Belfort tower I recommend getting there early, between 9am and 10am as they stop allowing people in the late afternoon and it tends to be pretty busy. 366 steps take you to the roof to see some great views over the city. The tower features in the movie "In Bruges" with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.

They say you can do Bruges in a day, but if you are going to visit (which I think you should) take at least 2 days to really enjoy it. There is so much to see and do! I was there for a day and although we got loads done I unfortunately didn't get to enjoy the restaurants, bars or the shopping street. It takes about 40mins by train to get to Bruges from Brussels, they run regularly and weekend return tickets are the best value. The lovely people over at SANDEMANs Free Walking Tour in Brussels also do day trips to Bruges if you're looking for a guided tour or I've heard the circle tour is also worth a try. There's hundreds of places to eat and drink while looking out onto the streets but keep in mind that Bruges is a little expensive.

Have you ever been to Bruges?