January 2010

The Grand Palace
My Singaporean friend Benny has been living in Brussels for just over 2 years. And the oddest thing is that I still meet up with him in Asia, rather than closer to home. He’s returning to Asia soon, and I was determined to meet up with him, to say farewell to my good friend.

From Cardiff with KLM, this was to be a quick flight to Brussels via Amsterdam. You may have noticed before that I haven’t had good words to say about KLM, but during my recent trip to Zurich I was pleasantly surprised. This time a comfortable flight, friendly staff. An hours delay at Amsterdam for ‘technical’ reasons; which meant that my friend Petrus would be waiting at Brussels airport for me a lot longer than at first anticipated. Finally got to Brussels to a busy, bustling airport, quite quaint in style, and a damn sight nicer than London airports.

Benny was unable to meet us, but gave very good instructions to get to Brussels main train station. Rather than try to walk to our hotel we got a taxi. It was dark and beginning to snow - and we were tired and disorientated.

This was my first taster of Brussels hospitality. Not sure of my Euro coins I just handed the money to the taxi driver to sort. He just took the lot which I now know was well in excess of the fare.

To Brussels Marriott which was located right by MacDonald’s - and what a lovely experience. The Marriott staff were so nice, and our room beautiful.

We unpacked our things, freshened up and prepared to go out.

It was bitterly cold with snow falling. We recognised the building ‘La Bourse’ and walked towards it taking the left hand side and soon ended up in the big square of The Grand Place. And in the snowy atmosphere with it’s night time lighting it was a beautiful sight.We were looking for somewhere to eat, and wandered down a large arcade full of various shops, mainly chocolate, and up in the high ceiling were some impressive hanging lights.

Off to the left we walked outside down an alley way that was full of different restaurants, mainly sea food that I’m not too keen on.

This statue is in a lane just off Grand Place. Tradition has it that you run your hand the length of the statue from head to foot while making a wish.

I think the name of the alley way is Rue de Bouchers 18, 1000 Bruxelles.
Here was the most amazing restaurant
‘Chez Leon’.


But we came across a restaurant that was a bit daunting from the outside, surrounded by scaffolding. It was Chez Leon. A good beer ‘grand leon’ while we examined the menu.

We liked the look of the menu and went in. It was the best decision we had made on that bitterly cold night. The interior was surprisingly large and well supported by local people (which is usually a good sign!) the decor, while simple was traditional and very relaxing; I was impressed by the high proportion of waiting staff to customers.

I went for the Filet de Cheval (21 euros) while Petrus went for the spaghetti Leon (15 euros).

It was such a nice eating experience.

What seemed rather nice was the individual glass provided for each different bottled beer. I’m sure in the U.K. the bulk of them would be ‘acquired’ not to be seen again by the bar management!

Also noticeable was the relaxed attitude to smoking. Thankfully not in the restaurants, but smoking is still allowed in the bars.

In the U.K. smoking is something that is banned in public places, and I was now reminded why.

Stinging eyes, smelly clothes..... If we want to discuss individual freedoms, I like my freedom not to smell, and suffer from sore eyes..... Particularly noticeable at the end of the night back at the hotel putting clothes away in the wardrobe. The smell!!

Sorry to go on then ...

The beer, both bottled and draught was a very reasonable price; I paid about 4.5 euros for my Chimay and Petrus’ soft drink.

We walked about again, and came across a rainbow flag. We tried a few bars , I think it was in Rue des Pierres. Settling in a bar called ‘Wind Surf’.

It was ok, seemed quiet, but the barman was friendly and very patient with my attempt at communication (only speak English!)

It’s surprising how the time had passed, and realising we had a day of travelling/sightseeing the next day we headed back to the Marriott, and a good night sleep.

Back out into the cold night air, but feeling content!

We seemed to walk for ages looking for ‘rainbow’ flags. But without success. Hearing some music from a bar ‘In the Navy’ by Village people, we thought this must be for us. Very pleasant inside, but not really what we were looking for. My friend Bill said I should try some Belgian beer, but the popular beer ‘Jupiler’ I found a bit disappointing for draught beer. So I turned to bottled beer. Much of the bottled beer seemed rather sweet, and maybe a bit sickly, but I found the one for me - ‘Chima’ strong tasting, quite palatable.

Waiting in the lobby of Marriott Hotel

Petrus went to look at the hotel gym while I waited for my good friend Benny. And out in the overcast street I could see a figure I recognised walking towards the entrance. And in through the entrance came that beaming smile guaranteed to light up any room! Benny and myself were able to catch up on our news before Petrus returned. Then out to the train station.And Brugge.

As we were approaching the main square of Brugge we were suddenly overwhelmed by a snow storm, some of the biggest flakes I’ve seen!

Fortunately it did not last, but gave us an excuse to enter the ‘House Craenenburg’ which seemed very popular. Could have been everybody had the same idea as us of course!.

Lovely food -banana waffles with chocolate sauce and cherry pancakes. About 30 euros.

We walked round this lovely little town, so full of history. I was glad Benny had brought us here.

We were joined by Benny’s friend Manuel who was able to give us incredible insight into the architectural history of Brugge, it’s story, and some of the ‘hidden’ aspects of the town. Including the Church which housed the relic of the dried blood of Christ.

Beautiful at this time of year - I imagined how much nicer it could be in the warm weather - especially Spring. It seems that due to the high cost of the area it is essentially a ‘commercial‘ district, and becomes very quiet in the evening when everyone goes home.

Sometimes dubbed ‘Little Venice’ because of it’s waterways.

And not to be missed was the bar which boasts hundreds of different beers. Although with a beer garden overlooking the river we were grateful for the warmth inside the little shop with there friendly, helpful staff.


I could happily have stayed in that little bar. Cosy, warm, and in such good company. But it was getting on in time. To the train station, with Manuel showing us, at a pace some more sights on the way to the station.
The train was quite crowded, Petrus and myself on the one side and Benny on the other.

We approached Brussels, it was dark, so we followed Benny’s lead out to the exit with Hotel Mandarin in sight. From there it was an easy walk to the hill leading down to Grand Place.

A chance for a quick snack from a roadside snack bar, Benny leading the way to the famous tourist mark that Petrus was insistent upon seeing.

The statue of the little boy ‘weeing’.

Benny would not be able to stay with us for the evening so he kindly showed us round the various locations we wanted to visit that night.

We all had a relaxing drink before it was time for Benny to depart. We walked towards Marriotts and at the substation it was time for our farewells.

It was very sad for me seeing Benny vanish down into the underground and out of sight, not knowing when we’d meet again.

Time for a quick Chinese meal and after relaxing at the hotel we were off into the night, to find our bars.

Nightmare time! We went first to ‘La Belgica’, Rue Marche au Chabon. I will say that the staff were really nice, but crowded !! It was the beginning of my experience of some of the most ill-mannered people I’ve come across - no sense of ‘excuse me’, ‘thank you‘ etc - simply barging, shoving, and an attitude of cold indifference.

Worse at ‘Le Boys Boudoir‘ where I was pushed over a table by some people wanting to get out.

In ‘Dolores‘ this was pleasant, but somehow I ended up with a bottle of water with our drinks, that I hadn’t ordered, but was charged for.

Out of the over crowded bars we went once again to ‘Wind Surf‘ where we could be guaranteed some comfort.

I wondered after being to the other crowded bars, what would happen if there was a fire..............

Sunday was really just a day to relax walking round Brussels

Lunch at a delightfully small taverna ‘La Dolce Vita’. Here Lasagne, Pizza Proscuito, Coffee, and tea came to 22 euros.

And later, after more walking round some much needed hot chocolate in one of the many cafes.Coffe Bar

Night time came, and once again to ‘our’ restaurant - ‘Chez Leon’.

In addition to the meal I had last time I also tried a raspberry beer - beautiful, but settled for there more traditional beer for the meal. I must mention the Crepes De Chez Leon.

This consisted of two layers of pancake, in between which was some vanilla ice cream. On top a scattering of mandarin slices, over which was poured some mandarin liquer, then set alight - stunning !!

Then after this beautiful meal - we endured the bars again hoping it may be more sensible on a Sunday night. Wrong !!

Monday morning, day of departure.

To the airport. A fond hug farewell to Petrus. And a challenging day for me. Flight cancelled.... bus from Brussels to Amsterdam.....flight from Amsterdam to Newcastle..... flight to Cardiff.

Thank goodness my driver had got my messages and was at the airport waiting.

So, in summary, I achieved my goal of saying goodbye to Benny. Brussels has some beautiful sights, Brugge is beautiful. To eat in Brussels a real treat ! But the bars . Hmmmmmmm - perhaps it’s because I’m British ??