Belgium: Beer For Breakfast, Chocolate For Lunch

Short European city breaks, an increasingly popular type of holiday, are a great way of forgetting about the stresses of University life and delaying the onset of those looming deadlines or exams. They’re just as fulfilling as the sun and sand alternative, which is good given that Belgium is completely land locked.

Belgium, the home of the EU, is easily overshadowed by its neighbours France and Germany and isn’t even in the top 15 most visited countries in Europe. Shame.

The lure of vast Christmas markets in the capital proved too much and eagerly my girlfriend and I boarded the Eurostar, bound for Brussels- its furthest destination. The absence of a plane journey was refreshing. London to within sniffing distance of fresh waffles in just two hours.

The hotel was stunning (particularly for the price- although that probably has more to do with than anything else). Labelled a quaint boutique affair and in the heart of the business district, this place really had itself sorted. Particularly the restaurant. The Belgian’s don’t do food by halves, as it turns out.

Bearings acquired, we headed back along the wide cobbled roads which stretched between the Parc et Palais de Bruxelles, bound for the warm embrace of a mulled wine, cider, or something similarly indulgent and inappropriately boozy.

The Palace is jaw dropping, as is all of Brussels’ architecture, old or new. The white brickwork adorned with gold detailing and carefully cultured shrubbery of the many vast and regal buildings wouldn’t look out of place in a live action remake of Cinderella, whilst amongst the older crooked terraces that laced the backstreets an appearance by Belle and Garson wouldn’t be too surprising. 

Wrong country I know, but you get the picture. The other half of the city is adorned with blue tinted glass and brushed stainless steel office blocks, many of which are emblazoned in brilliant coloured neon come sunset.

The markets blanketed the city centre. My favourite stretch was one of the longest sections. Raised on a red carpeted stage, the stalls stretched from the foot of a cathedral to a huge ferris wheel in the distance, with enormously scaled up snow-globes and carousels in between. These are the prettiest carousels that I have ever seen, by the way. The traditional wooden horses replaced by incredibly detailed biplanes, and steampunk rocket-ships- all of which children could climb inside and peer out of little glass port-holes at bewildered tourist who were wishing they were young enough to have a go. 

The food around the market was… plentiful. All the usual hotdogs and burgers, a sea of Belgium’s famous twice cooked fries with a plethora of sauces (including the traditional andalouse- a mayonnaise based sauce containing tomato paste and peppers) and more… Belgian waffles with cream and ice cream and chocolate. Truffles. Hot Chocolate mixed with pretty much any liquor. AND… stands dedicated to grilled salmon, steaks and more.

At night, the staggeringly complex walls and towers of the town hall played stage to a tastefully animated light show, and from the top of the ferris wheel you could see landmarks like the famous Atomium and Palace on the hill top by our hotel. But Belgium still had more to show us.

After a short train ride (which after some mild confusion turned out to be included in the price of your Eurostar journey), we arrived in Bruges. Without the necessity of modern buildings to house politicians and businessmen, this entire place was a fairytale. Here the markets in the square were smaller, but the tall pale green and brown buildings were straight off the postcards and there are enough cobbled streets to bring the residents of Wetherfield to their knees and the prettiest maze of canals that you could possibly imagine. 

Bruges’s beauty was far less of a surprise, however, than Brussels. The capital of European business and politics has a much warmer personality than you’d ever believe unless you visited the place. The parks are amazing, the buildings better still. The residents are friendly and speak refreshingly little English, which was a bit of a surprise but you can still get by.

Thank you Christmas for taking me to Belgium. Next time, and there will be a next time, I’d like to see Antwerp too. Put simply: Go to Belgium.