Sunday, 25 August 2013

Interrailing, part 3: Brussels

Grand Place
It was around the time when we headed to Brussels that we started to realise that each city had it's own little personality; rather like the people who pass in and out of your life. Amsterdam had been the educated hipsters in university, taking their bike everywhere and...experimenting. Brugge was the good girl, into reading and long walks through the park in autumn. But Brussels was harder to place. A city renowned for mixing the modern with the old it was sometimes hard to know where you stood with it. As home of the European parliament it has a sense of importance and yet at times one of uneasiness: like the high end banker with the 2.4 family who is secretly falling apart inside.

Despite this, we were won over by Brussels. At first unsure as we got to know it we found it's idiosyncrasies endearing and once we left we were genuinely sad to go.

Hostel: Sleep Well 6.5/10
This was a perfectly respectable hostel however not somewhere to go if you're hoping to meet other travellers. As we were only staying one night it didn't bother us however the place was dead considering we were in high season. It's about a ten minute walk from the central station and just down the road from a metro station so location is pretty good. The rooms were pretty spacious and what I really liked was how big the ensuite was- all rooms are equipped with their own bathrooms. There was a pretty good selection at breakfast which was included in the price and internet is available, but for a fee. There was a bar but I rarely saw anyone using it. Laundry facilities are available. The difference in this hostel compared to the previous two was the atmosphere; at times it all felt quite clinical and lacked the warmth we'd become used to. Saying that we did have lovely room mates and overall enjoyed our stay.
Beer testing :) 

The city:  The moment we arrived we set off in search of the Cantillon Brewery. We simply could NOT leave Belgium without going on a Brewery tour, and as we were arriving on a Saturday afternoon we only had a chance of seeing it if we went immediately. However it probably wasn't the best idea to head straight there as it takes you to a rather seedy looking part of town. I thoroughly suggest letting yourself see some of the more beautiful aspects of Brussels before venturing out of the centre. Once we found it things got even more confusing as you have to enter through a side door which looks like nothing more than a back alley storehouse. We happened to walk in on the end of a tour and felt like we'd just gate-crashed a private barn party! However we soon realised that we were in the right place, got our tickets and started to relax. You're given a short introduction and then allowed to wander around by yourself following a written guide. The ticket includes 2 beers at the end where you can sample the brewery's famous Lambic beer. 
The Royal Palace
After the tour we headed into the centre of Brussels where we saw the old part of the town. We passed the Palais de justice, the Royal Palace and the countless museums to offer. There are literally hundreds of attractions to see in this varied city and it's impossible to fit them all in. We ended up in the Grand Place meeting square, a very impressive and bustling area, outlines by lots of tiny streets with great places to eat. Two or three streets out from the actual centre is where you'll find the best value food. On our second day we headed further out of town to see the headquarters of the European Parliament and many of the surrounding buildings which are equally important. My favourite was the Parc de Cinquantenaire with it's massive central arc. I was honestly overwhelmed by the amount that Brussels had to offer and wouldn't surmise to even suggest an itinerary. If you only have a few days make sure you see Grand Place and the Royal Palace and after that I'll leave the research up to you!

<3 I loved this 
Tips: At one point we managed to stumble upon the red light district (yes, Brussels has one too!) and it was a very different atmosphere to that of Amsterdam. While the previous had been jovial and busy, that of Brussels felt seedier and downright sad. It's located in the north district and it's inadvisable to walk the area at night. DON'T try to see too much. It genuinely is impossible to get around even half of what's on offer. The metro is quite hard to work out at first so grab a map from your hostel/hotel and maybe ask advise at reception before stepping on. Also don't forget to get your ticket stamped before getting on, the machines aren't always obvious.

One piece of advise which applies to Brussels and Brugge is to pick up a Use-it map! They are available in other cities but Belgium was the only place we really saw them in. They are fantastic little guides which are perfect for travellers. They have an easy to use city map which is surrounded by great advise that you don't normally see in the mainstream travel guides; they're created by locals so they have all the top class secrets. They tell you where to eat, party, see, the usual but also give some more quirky ideas such as where the local underground art squat is, or where to find an all night rave once a month. They usually supply an "act like a local" guide along with quotes from young people who live there and all in a funny, honest tone- if they think something is rubbish, they'll tell you! We loved these guides and I thoroughly suggest you look out for them, especially seeing as they're being developed in many more cities.

Next post: Berlin

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