31 Hours in Brussels

**For the "Cliff Notes" version watch my "Beer: A Love Story" Movie.**  (Click Here)

Saturday, February 2nd. On that frosty Netherlands early morning, my wife, Vicki, and I began our 3 hour trek to Brussels, Belgium by train.  I know what you're saying.  I'm going to stop reading this if this American expat goes on about how fabulous it is to be able to jump on a train and be in a wonderful European city in just a few hours.  Relax, that's all been well documented so I'll spare you my take on how fantastically awesome it is to travel Europe by train.  Still reading?  Whew...thanks!

Our Journey: Oss > Roosendaal > Antwerpen Central > Bruxelles Central/Brussels Central

Vicki at Antwerp Central Station

It turned out to be one of the most logistically perfect events, Brussels Central train station was directly across the street from our hotel, the Le Meridien.  Great hotel, convenient to everything.  See my full review on TripAdvisor or  yelp.  We didn't waste much time at the hotel, after all there were things to see and things to drink.

First stop in Brussels, the Manneken Pis (literally "Little Man Pee").  It's a famous Brussels landmark and tourist attraction.  They even dress him up on special occasions. Keep scrolling to see what he was wearing the next day.   

Manneken Pis, 

Lunch time.  For those who know me, I can tend to get a little moody when I'm hungry, it was getting to be that time so we walked across the street from Manneken Pis to a recommended beer bar, Poechenellekelder.  

Interesting place, decked out in puppet decor.  Kind of reminded me of the Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo.  See for yourself here.  

Me and the Creepy Puppets of Poechenellekelder and Leroy

                                                                       Now, I'm not sure if it was the creepiness of the puppets or just the mystique of my very first Brussels beer bar, but I had a moment of panic when I looked at the beer menu.  Despite, my advanced research as to bar's beer offerings and some basic knowledge of Belgian beers, I was still overwhelmed.  So when the waitress came over to take our order for the second time, I simply pointed to a beer listed on a special red sheet, asked if it was sweet, she said "Yes" then I said okay, I'll have that.  "Is this sweet?"  What the hell was I thinking, I'm not a fan of too much sweetness, I'm more of a bitter Hop Head.  Oh, and the name of the beer was "Christmas Leroy."  Who the heck was Leroy?  The kid born in the stable next to Jesus?  I'll never know, but he made a decent beer.  It was similar to Troeggs Mad Elf, just not as complex and less ABV (7.5%).   

Vicki's Forrestinne Nordika

Vicki really enjoyed her Forestinne Nordika.  She loved the taste and the fact that it came with a cute little elf girl on the glass.

After a little Leory, I was able to gain my composure and focus less on the marionettes and more on the menu.  I decided what better place to have my first Chimay than Brussels right?  I went with the Chimay Blanche (White), or Chimay Triple.  It was fantastic.  

My First Chimay

Next stop, the Grand Place or Grote Markt.  Pictures do not even come close to doing this beautiful square justice.  Luckily the weather cooperated with our photo shoot, well sort of. Check out the video:

We were meeting our Beer Tour group at Grand Place at 2pm.  Yup, I said "Beer Tour," did I mention I was falling in love with this city.  I found out about it through my good friend, TripAdvisor.  We visited two very different bars and a functioning brewery. 

Our first stop was, Au Bon Vieux Temps, a 300 year old bar that had some great character, delicious trappist beers and home to the "Best Beer in the World", the Westvleteren 12; at least according to RateBeer.com and our tour guide.  

Scenes from our Beer Tour w/ Cesar

We then visited Cantillon Brewery to learn about spontaneous fermentation and to sample their Lambic "from the barrel" (really from a cermaic jug).  We were also given our choice of one of three other selections.  I went with their Gueze, my first of this type, truth be told gueze beers are SOUR, but I enjoyed it.  Vicki opted for their Raspberry Lambic.  

PRO TIP:  Visit Cantillon's website and print their walking tour from Grand Place to the Brewery.  

Our final stop on the tour (and I highly recommend this place) was Moder Lambic ("Mother Lambic").  A very modern bar, very different than our first stop, with 46 beers on draft. They even leave some malted grain on the table for snacks.  We sampled two more beers here. 
A blonde, from Brassier de la Senne. Very refreshing after the sourness of the Gueze and the Lambic at Cantillon. We were then given a choice of either a smoky, bacon flavored Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier from Brauerei Heller. My personal favorite of the day. My wife opted for the other selection, her favorite of the day, the Bink Blosesem from Kerkom.  

How I felt post beer tour, blurry.

How to spot a tourist trap
After the tour we took a stroll down Rue des Bouchers.  This is a tiny little street lined with your typical tourist type restaurants.  You know the ones, overly eager doorman sticking a menu in your face, white linen table clothes with origami napkins, gigantic displays of seafood out front and roaring gas fireplaces inside.  I heeded the warnings and didn't eat in any of them.  However, there was one place, Chez Leon, that I was interested in, simply because the reviews were so mixed.  A friend of ours had suggested this place too, so we tried the moules & frites/mussels & fries.  My overall impression, it was not a tourist trap, but more of a tourist restaurant.  Prices were fair and the food was appetizing, mussels a bit sandy, but they hit the spot.  In addition, their house beer was good and "free" with the mussels & frites platter. Yup, you guessed it,  I did a full review here and here.  

Got to love bars that are open til 4am & 6am
Post dinner plans included a trip to the Delirium Village, just a short walk from Chez Leon.  The Village was a great network of bars/pubs stretched down a little alley way.  Each place had it's own vibe to it.  We had drinks in the Hoppy Loft and the Monasterium.  Definitely the most "chill" atmospheres of your choices.  The Cafe and Taphouse looked like a good time too, both were packed with standing room only. 

Delirium Tremens & Friend

What better way to wrap up a whimsical day in Brussels than with a Belgian Waffle with chocolate sauce.  I'm still wearing some of that chocolate today.  This little beauty came from Gaufre de Bruxelles (just a short walk from the Le Meridien). Amazing waffle!

Late night waffle

Sunday, February 3rd.  On our second day in Brussels we decided to pick up where we left off, more waffles.  But before breakfast I wanted to check this guy out.  We could see to top of his head from our hotel room.

The prettiest smurf that ever smurfed.  
After we got our Smurf on, we headed to Biscuiterie Dandoy.  I have to be honest, I had left this place off my list based on some of the TA/yelp reviews.  Seemed like all the negative reviews were coming from folks outside of Belgium, so I figured they treat tourist like crap.  TOTALLY NOT THE CASE.  We had good service and delicious waffles. (Vicki went with the traditional Belgian Waffle with fresh whipped cream.  I went with the Liege with carmel sauce.)  But the one thing reviewers of Dandoy nailed, was the price.  Cost us over €17 for two waffles and an orange juice (this alone was €5!)  But it is worth the price.  If you want to save some euro cents, try the downstairs; they have take away and stand up service.  Or if you really want to save euros there's a €1 Waffle stand right next door.  Full Review here & here.  

Warning: Gratuitious Waffle Footage

Those waffles and sour orange juice were a nice lead into our next stop of the day, Mort Subite.  Another highly recommended place on our list.  I will agree, this is a great stop on your tour of Brussels.  Very charming bar.  I had to try their Gueze which was on draft; it seemed a bit less sour than the Cantillion brew, I enjoyed my selection.  I can now taste the similarities to champagne.  Here's my  reaction:

Works of Art

                     Entering A la Mort Subite

For those wondering if we saw anything else besides the inside of bars, I bring you the Royal Galleries of Saint Hubert.  Boutiques line this covered hallway.  Plenty of chocolate to choose from too.  Nice stroll if the weather isn't cooperating.  The Galleries intersect Rue des Bouchers, that touristy restaurant street.  Just to give you some frame of reference.  Now, let's get back to the bars and the beer.

Strolling through the Royal Galleries of Saint Hubert

Something I learned about Brussels, some of the best bars are down alleys.  The casual observer might walk right past these gems, but the educated (or seemingly educated) zythophile knows of their legends and seeks them out and makes movies about them! Just click the links for my DannyZ shorts of  A la Becasse (Rue de Tabora 11) and Au Bon Vieux Temps  (Impasse Saint-Nicolas 4.) 

Beer Recommendations: 
A la Becasse: Lambic Doux Timmermans or the Lambic Blanc Timmermans (with or w/o little friend-see video).  
Au Bon Vieux Temps: anything from a Monk or if you like, the Westvleteren

DannyZ sipping on some Kwak

DannyZ commentary on Au Bon Vieux Temps

One other famous Belgian specialty has to be the frites.  I've been spoiled of late, living and visiting three countries that in my opinion are kings of the potato, first Ireland ("chips"), and now the Netherlands and Belgium ("frites").  We had tried two places while in Brussels, our first frites came on Saturday from a little corner shop, Friterie Tabors (2 rue Tabora). It seemed like a popular destination for locals and tourists.  To be honest, the fries were a bit of a let down, the real star was the samurai sauce or ‘Samurai saus’, as it is called in Dutch. Seemed like mayo with lots of paprika.  I like hot and spicy and have a fair tolerance but this stuff made my eyes water. I LOVED IT!  In retrospect, maybe the spice detracted from the fries.  

Our second batch of Frites come on Sunday (pictured below) from Fritland (49 rue Henri Maus,).  I didn't see samurai sauce  on this menu, probably because I was overwhelmed by all the other choices and distracted watching folks chomp down on sandwiches with the frites on top (like a Belgian Primanti Bros.).  We opted for the mayonnaise, yes I know for most this seems "weird" but don't knock it until you try it.  I got hooked on garlic mayo while in Ireland. I'd have to say that Fritland's Frites were much better so they get my vote as the winner.  But I believe I've only scratched the surface of  identifying the best frites in Brussels.  I'll have to do more research on this topic.  

Frites with Mayo at Fritland

Manneken Pis Pub
After our Fritland experience, we found ourselves back in the area of the Manneken Pis again.  My sense of direction is the worst, I don't know how I ever earned that Orientation Merit Badge in Boy Scouts.  Actually, I led us in circles alot in a 31 hr period.  Anyway, we tried this pub, which is on the opposite corner of the statue.  I had reservations about it though, considering it was so close to and named after a major tourist attraction. But it was raining and cold and they had an amazing gas fireplace and FREE WIFI! 
(w/password, 13 #1s = 1111111111111).  

The coolest feature of this pub has to be the bar itself, which has replicas of the Mannekin Pis surrounding it.  Story goes that each of the statues was a functioning fountain under the bar.  But patrons complained that their feet were getting too wet and the fountains no longer flowed.  

Funniest conversation overheard here was between the bartender and the American lad on his cell phone at the bar (pictured.)  He asked the barman "Which of these beers is the one you put the lemon in?"  Now, I'm a "Wanna Be Beer Geek," but I've learned from a German friend of mine that you never put fruit in a beer.  I'm assuming the Belgians would share the same view about the fruit.   No offense to those who drop a lemon in their Hoegaardens.  

Upon exiting we noticed something different about the Peeing Boy.  There is a tradition of dressing him up in different outfits.  There's actually a museum exhibit dedicated to his duds.  We were lucky to catch him on a dress up day.  
We caught Manneken Pis all dressed up in support of the Paralympics.

Manneken Pis Wardrobe Change Video

Chocolate Shoes by Wittamer

At this point we were getting a little, wait for it, "beer-ed out."  So we went in search of chocolate, our last quest.  We came across what seemed like the 5th Avenue of Chocolate Shops along the Place du Grand Sablon.  But instead of names like Gucci and Louis Vuitton, the names of Wittamer and Pierre Marcollini surrounded us.  We walked into Marcollini's first, it had a strange, dark and stuffy vibe so we left.  Then we walked into Wittamer. Much different, bright and smelled delicious.  Plus, they had FREE SAMPLES!  So naturally, we bought chocolate from Wittamer.  

Prior to this trip I did my research but we also received some great suggestions from friends and colleagues.  I compiled a list so aggressive that even Rick Steves on speed couldn't even accomplish. So there were many sights of Brussels that we left unseen since our time was winding down.  There was one place we were referred to to get an authetic Belgian cafe experience, Cafe La Brocante (Rue Blaes 170).  When I glanced at the map, the location only seemed like a short distance from our current vicinty.  I suggested it to Vicki and we were off.  Well short distances seem to multiply in the face of rain and wind.  But we did ultimately reach our destination, soaking wet and cold, just to find an employee locking the doors upon our arrival, they were closing.  Now what?  

We were soaked so we jumped into the next place we could find, which happened to be directly across the street called, Le Marseillais (Rue Blaes 163).  As soon as Vicki and I walked in an anxious feeling swept over us at the same time.  WE WERE IN A LOCAL BAR!  Not the "May we dance wit yo dates," juke box stops playing and everyone turns and looks at you local bar, but a friendly local bar.The bartender was pleasant and patient with us as we asked for a beer menu.  So we took our brews and huddled in at a little corner table being careful not to obstruct anyone's view of the France-Italy rugby match on the television.  It was a great time, and found myself routing for the French for a few minutes. I tried a Boon Gueze, it was delicious, possibly my favorite of the trip, but I think the environment might have affected my judgement, I don't know.  We chickened out but we knew we should have tried one of the €2.50 hot dogs that we saw coming out, they looked incredible.  

What the hell just happened?

After our "local experience" we hiked back to the Grand Place area for one last look and maybe one last brew. I wanted to find one more cool place (besides the local bar) that wasn't recommended, so I could contribute a suggestion to someone. "Cool" may not be the right word to describe the place we ended up, "peculiar" might be better. It seemed as though we stumbled upon another puppet bar, this one still functions as a puppet theater.  Vicki took a program and found out they do a puppet version of the Passion of Jesus?  What the what?    Here's the video of our experience at The Royal Theatre Toon VII (Rue du Marche aux Herbes 66).

Remember I talked about that €2.50 hot dog, well it came back to bite us again, because we had planned on grabbing something at the train station before our ride back to Oss.  However, turns out most places in the station were closing up by 7:30pm and the only choice we found was a "Belgian's Favorite."  Well, with 26,500 "giants" sold, how could you go wrong?  
A Perfect Ending. But pissed because I didn't get a flag in my bun.
That's what 31 hours in Belgium looks like.  Thanks for reading.  

Love to hear your comments.  


  1. Thanks for this blog, I was amazed on those places that you include on your blog. But I am here in Hotel Amsterdam I will visit that place after our business meeting here. You may also visit Amsterdam because they have also the best place for vacation. Click here for more information.

    1. Thanks for reading Joseph. Brussels is fantastic. Have an amazing time. If you have any questions, I'd be happy to help.