It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...
After a very early morning flight we arrived in Brussels Charleroi airport. First thoughts - so cold! This airport is not Brussels main one and, therefore, further out. But, after some research, we found it was a lot cheaper to fly here and get a shuttle bus, rather than flying direct to the more central one. Due to us saving some money on the flights, we decided to increase our accommodation budget. We ended up getting a good deal at the Renaissance Hotel, part of the Marriot chain, paying £112 each for 3 nights. It is a beautiful hotel and rather posh - we did feel quite out of place in it! To be fair, as nice as the hotel was, we could have got somewhere cheaper that was still nice and probably a lot closer to the things we wanted to see and do. School boy error on our behalf.
Thanks to the trusty [i]Lonely Planet[i] book my friend had borrowed to us, we had a general idea of the things we wanted to do. Seeing as we could not check in till 3pm (it was only 11am when we reached the hotel!) we set of in search of the centre of Brussels.
One main thing that has to be seen in Brussels is the Grand Place. It was about a twenty minute walk away from our hotel. We knew straight away when we had reached it because we could see the tall buildings with gold on the front of them. You can walk into the centre of the square, which is pretty big. There is currently a huge Christmas tree there, as well as a nativity scene in the centre complete with live sheep! We did walk through the square when the square was all lit up and it was a lot prettier and very festive. On our second night, by sheer luck, we walked through the square whilst there was some music on. We quickly realised that the buildings were being lit up in different colours at different times to match the music. Adam and I were truly mesmerised and stood there watching for quite some time. It was quite magical! I would definitely recommend going around then to see the Grand Place. Next to this is also a chocolate factory that we visited. It was quite interesting and did not take up too much of the day - plus you got to sample lots of chocolate!!
There are two statues in Brussels that I was keen to see; Manneken Pis and Jeanneke Pis. On the first day we went in search of the most famous one, Manneken Pis. We used the map until we started seeing the signs directing us to it. All of a sudden these signs stopped and we were a little baffled, until we realised we were there. The statue was a lot smaller than what I was expecting. It is of a little boy that is urinating and it does have quite a reputation - the Belgians love it and you see replicas everywhere! We also walked past it the next day by sheer coincidence and it had been dressed up in a Santa outfit that had a little hole cut out for it's penis. It was very funny looking and I was glad we had seen it again!
The true mission was trying to find the second one, Jeanneke Pis - the female version of the urinating boy. We did look for it on the first day but gave up after we had walked around the same area for over twenty minutes. On our last day we had ran out of things to do, so decided to try again to find it, which we eventually did. It was rather hidden and down a small alleyway. Not all that great or as funny as the first one, but I was still happy we eventually found it!
One of the best things about Brussels at this time of year has to be the Christmas Markets. There are a few stalls around Grand Place, but for the full Christmas experience you need to head to St. Catherines. The market here is huge with loads of different stands selling all sorts of things. There was also a big fair and an outdoor ice-rink (we were so cold and out legs hurting that we ended up not going on!). It was good fun to walk around and we spent an afternoon in a man made bar watching the festivities. Well worth visiting!
One big mistake was made by us. We decided we wanted to go to the Atomium. After walking a few miles already to get to St. Catherines, Adam concluded we were looking at around another two miles - so off we went. What a trek! It was horrible - my legs were already hurting from the previous days adventures and it was so much further than what we had expected. It took hours. We barely spoke to each other the majority of the journey as we just kept our heads down and kept ploughing on. The building is huge and it was miles before we could even see it - then we still had to get to it! A few hours later we finally got there and I did enjoy it. The view from the top was amazing - you could see most of Brussels and throughout the rest there were some interesting displays. The structure of the building itself was very cool. It is worth a visit just make sure you get a taxi! Safe to say we did not walk back...
My highlight - had to be the waffles! Oh my they were so good! The best one that I had has got to be one I got from a place called "Australia" that was covered in melted white chocolate, seriously tasty. The Belgians are certainly known for their waffles for a good reason.
My lowlight - Not necessarily a low point exactly, but I did find that by the third and final day we had ran out of things to do. Perhaps two days would have been enough time?
It was overall an enjoyable trip and one that has definitely left me in a Christmassy mood