The luggage had been packed the night before. We were ready to begin the next leg of our journey as we went down to breakfast and noted that there were two additional places set. As we began with our coffee and fresh croissants, another couple came into the room. They had a brief conversation with our host, in French, and then introduced themselves. Americans currently living in Paris, Alyse & Peter were delightful breakfast companions and we had a wonderful conversation. They both speak French fluently, and provided several helpful tips for our future travels. After breakfast they thoughtfully suggested that we share a taxi to the train station as we were all on the same train to Paris. We made our farewells with Mireille and departed. Though we were in separate train cars for the journey we met up again outside the train in Paris and said our good byes to Alyse & Peter.
We then had to negotiate our way from Gare Saint-Lazare to Gare du Nord for the train to Brussels. The two train stations are a distance away, and we decided to negotiate the Metro in spite of the mass of luggage we were hauling. There was a labyrinth of escalators, elevators, and tunnels to take. After a few wrong turns, we finally arrived at the Gare du Nord. Our high speed Thalys International train was waiting and we boarded the first class car with our luggage.
Arriving in Brussels, we took the taxi to the hotel. However it wasn’t the right hotel, there are two Best Western hotels with very similar names, so of course we went to the wrong one first. Ultimately we got settled in to the right hotel and went out for a good meal at “Nuetnigenough”, a great little brasserie off the beaten path. Our friends from Denmark, Niels and Jette would join us tomorrow afternoon, but for today we were exhausted and full, so we walked back through the town that was still bustling with activity (or more likely just getting started), and turned in.
The next morning began after breakfast with another long walk into the old town areas. Along the way was the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, a marvelous structure that took about 300 years before it was completed in 1519. (It has the most comfortable wooden seats I have ever experienced in a church.)
From there we wandered along the ancient streets passing chocolate shops by the score and just as many cafés touting waffles [gaufres] and places selling Belgian fries. As we entered the Grand Place or Grote Markt it was a spectacular sight. The entire square is surrounded with elaborate and ornate buildings that were at one time Guild Halls built mostly in the 17th century. The Hôtel de Ville or City Hall, with its soaring bell tower, was built in the early 15th century and is the most famous landmark of the Grand Place.
There were people everywhere, and even though the primary tourist season was over, we could hear many languages being spoken. Streaming in and out of the large square, people were constantly moving about. Many of the streets all around the Grand Place are pedestrian only, making walking easier and safer.
As the lunch hour approached, we decided to begin looking for a place to eat that was not only out of the tourist area, but also featured traditional Belgian food. Jeannie, being quite good with the internet applications Yelp and Trip Advisor located us a small place not too far away.
We navigated the side streets to the “‘T Bolleke Restaurant”, a wonderful find in terms of both service and food. Small and unassuming, this restaurant is run by a charming couple, Florence and Thibault, which we were able to chat with, as we were the last customers of the day. We ate there twice, and had we been in Brussels longer we would have eaten there more often.
Later that afternoon, our friends, Niels and Jette arrived having flown in from Denmark. Jeannie and Niels both worked on a project for a Danish telecom company over 20 years ago, and we have been fortunate to maintain a friendship over the years.
After they had time to settle in, the four of us wandered to dinner at a small, but crowded local restaurant where we ate well, drank freely, and conversed the evening away.
The streets all around as well as the Grand Place itself were still crowded with pedestrians as the four of us made our way back to our hotel. Where after a bit more conversation we retired to our rooms and slept well.