Day 2 - "The Walking Dead" - Brussels
June 11, 2013
The day started...or really just continued as we never had a chance to sleep. Luckily the Executive Decision was made before we left to set up a car to take us from the airport to the hotel. I've been struggling with some decisions since the planning began. "But I wouldn't hire a car if Adele was with me..." This phrase has gone through my brain (or various phrases like this) in multiple stages of planning. No, Adele and I would have probably used the Metro and navigated it directly to the hotel. Which would have been easy enough. And we would have saved some money. But with a kid who hasn't traveled abroad before and the exhaustion I knew we'd be dealing with, I knew that phrase had to leave my brain if I was going to stay sane in the trip.
We met up with our driver as we left the confines of the airport. He was a really nice guy (the owner of the hotel, we later learned) and mentioned bits and pieces of what we were seeing in Brussels as we drove by (" Hey look, kids!! Parliament!!"). I had decided on the Welcome Hotel in Brussels. Every time I went looking at hotels, this one jumped out as the one to use. Not only was it less expensive (for Brussels...holy lord hotels aren't cheap here), but it had a great theme. The owners liked to travel, so every room of the hotel is themed for another location. We even found out that Samantha Brown stayed here when she was filming Passport to Europe. Yes!! We checked in and found ourselves in the Istanbul room. Which was quite fitting, considering my last trip abroad.
The other owner (the wife of the driver) told us to go upstairs and sleep for no longer than one hour. So we did. Kind of. After unpacking, we laid on the bed for a bit of time. I don't think any napping happened, but we at least relaxed. And that was needed. By this time it was noon. We needed to find some food.
We knew there was a Le Pain Quitoden near our hotel. I'd eaten at one in Moscow and had good memories. Samantha Brown ate at one here and loved it. So Elias and I stepped out of our hotel to find one. We had a map and a general sense of where to go. Sure, we ended up down some random streets, going the wrong direction, but we were still within the right area. So we sat down and started eating. Now Le Pain Quitoden is a cute little sit down restaurant. It has sandwiches/tartines, salads, soups and glorious looking hot drinks. We had two tartines. And Elias couldn't have liked the food any less ("I think I don't like organic food too much"). My tartine was fine. But I also think I was just tired. It didn't sit too well. I don't blame the restaurant. I blame us.
Sophie, the owner of our hotel, gave us a map and a route to see the sights. Who were we to go against her wishes?? So we walked down the street to find the first sight. The Brussels Stock Exchange is housing an exhibition about DaVinci. We didn't stop in, but we walked by. It was on our way to the Grand Place. We had found our way to one of the streets that took us basically everywhere. As long as we kept on the main drag, we would be fine.
The Grand Place is what you expect when arriving in Brussels. Ornate buildings in a square. The same kinds of buildings you see everywhere in a square in a city with some history. This was the marketplace back in medieval times and where folks were publicly executed. Hopefully not at the same time. There was a fire in the 1600s during a war, where much of Brussels was flattened. The city rebuilt the square in the Baroque style, which is why there is so much freaking gold leaf all over the buildings in the square. They are very impressive. There are so many statues on the buildings. You just can't take it all in. We sat on the curb for a while and just looked around. There were flower vendors (it was a marketplace back in the day). Kids were playing and running at the pigeons (which skeeved out Elias). And people just wandered the streets trying to figure out which chocolate shop to enter. They lost cool points if they went into Godiva. Not that Godiva is bad in any way, but we have that crap at home. Why not try something new??
Close-ish to the Grand Place is one of the symbols of Brussels. A statue of a little boy peeing. Manneken Pis is the statue of the boy who peed on a fire to help put it out back in the day. The Rough a guide says that may not have actually happened, but that the statue is a symbol of the "irreverent spirit of the city" I kind of hope some kid pissed on a fire. Sometimes, Manneken Pis is dreessed up in a costume that people have sent his way. Today was not one of those days. Kid was a naked as he could be. And there he was...peeing into a fountain. And there we and all of the other tourists were. Watching him. Oh, Brussels, you're so silly. We celebrated the silliness by grabbing a waffle. When in Belgium...
After a few loops of the Place, we walked through what could be considered a mall. Kind of. Saint Hubert Galleries is kind of an open air market, but kind of a mall. We walked through and sampled a few chocolates. Then made a stop at Longchamp so I could say hello to my bag's family.
We walked out of the "mall" and turned right to continue along the path our hotel owner gave us. The next stop was the Cathedral in Brussels. It seems to be known as just Cathedral. I keep wanting to find another name to go with Cathedral, but it doesn't seem to have one. It was Elias's first time in a massive cathedral. He's been in a few churches before, but none compare to this. It was beautiful.
By this time, we were pretty spent. It was only 4p or so, but the day had definitely been enough. Combined with the jet lag and the lack of sleep on the plane, we weren't doing so well. So we figured out how to get back to the hotel. First, we toured around Saint Catherine's Square, where our hotel lives. We found a cute little chocolate/tea house that we wanted to hit tomorrow. Today was not an option.
The idea was to park it back at the hotel, then get some dinner later on in the evening. It wasn't until the second hour of Elias's nap when I realized we weren't leaving the hotel anytime soon. He was out like a light. The nap ended up taking three hours. There was an hour of awake time before he went to bed for the night. I know this is not how you're supposed to deal with jet lag, but who cares. As long as we don't wake up in the crazy early morning and can't get back to sleep, we're fine. No matter what, it's always fine.