And then there was one! Our last day in the beautiful country of Belgium.
With the trip coming to an end we decided it was time to pack in as much as we could with the little time we had left.
But first food!
So we set off with no activities planned. We started walking down Avenue de la Toison d'Or, the main thoroughfare through the city. We consulted Google for what to do and the royal palace was at the top of the list.
But first, food.
Walking down the road there were many, many choices of where to eat. What’s that I see, a chicken place? “Perfect!”
They had several dishes listed and behind glass. Everything from Poulet Roti, to Vol au vent and of course, American favorites like chicken tenders and nuggets. The sides were typical of a chicken joint yet very tasty. I ordered Poulet Roti, which is a simple roast chicken with fries and slaw.
I have a thing for rotisserie chicken and this one was exceptional. Even though it was fast food it was very good and juicy, taking on the flavors of the rub they used before roasting. Also available were some very good wines and beers by my standards. The restaurant was on the smaller side and had their main seating upstairs overlooking the main drag.
After enjoying our lunch, we walked another two hundred yards or so and saw a huge bronze statue of King Leopold II across the street and figured we were heading in the right direction.
Google confirmed my suspicions.
Skirting a brick wall with ivy growing up it and gates of gold, we came to the front of the Palis de Bruxelles.
Admiring the Palace from a distance, we eyed the entrance. The palace was a secure place, but still open to the public. We walked through a metal detector and had to open our bags for the security at the door.
No backpacks were allowed during the tour, so a coat check table was set up for visitors.
With our claim ticket and camera in hand we set off.
On our self-guided tour of the most opulent building I had ever seen, our day officially began. Gold fixtures and tapestries hundreds of years old were everywhere. Through every corridor was something new and even more impressive. Each room we entered had its own feel and flavor to it, from bedrooms and art galleries to the throne room, all were open for us to explore.
I even think we saw the kitchen sink.
But my favorite was the ballroom with history of the Belgian royalty and the gifts received by other dignitaries. Each item had a story and I would love to go back and spend more time learning those stories.
One of the final rooms we entered was a room for kids.
From a distance I could make out what looked to be a jade colored ceiling and chandelier. Once inside there was more jade color than I had originally thought. The coffers of the ceiling and the chandeliers were covered with the wing casings of the Asian jewel beetles. Nearly a million and half of them.
It was an awkward form of media for this artist to use but pulled off with such perfection and beauty that one could not help staring in awe at the ceiling.
We finished walking the last hundred feet or so of our tour, recovered our belongings and were at a loss of where to go next. We let our feet and sense of adventure guide us.
Across the street was the entrance to a park, guarded by twin lion statues atop of a huge iron gate, so we decided to walk that direction and came to a large but shallow fountain dead center of the park. While admiring the fountain and families enjoying the summer day we spotted another church spire and headed that way.
The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula
We found ourselves at the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula.
This was the second time I had been here, but this time I had the opportunity to spend more time exploring the cathedral. As soon as you walk in you get the feeling of something special in this place.
The sheer size and beauty is overwhelming and breathtaking. We walked down long corridors and admired gothic inspired artwork and statues, each telling a story. The place was enormous and the light coming through the stained glass gave it an eerie feeling.
It was absolutely silent; you could have heard a pin drop.
We walked around to the other side of the cathedral to a statue of one of the patron saints of the church. The statue of the Archangel St. Michael was cast out of pure gold with several candles burning with the prayers of the devout.
One thing that we had not noticed when walking in was the massive set of organ pipes, another beautiful demonstration of gothic beauty. On our way out, we noticed stairs down and decided to see where they would lead. There was a turnstile requiring a euro to pass.
I coughed up the coin and we continued down. We were greeted by stonework much different and older than what the building above was sitting on. There was a whole other history to this building and if you didn’t venture off would never discover. This was the original structure from 10-12th century, still partially intact. It's absolutely amazing how simple their construction was, and could leave an everlasting impression on the world for centuries.
Real Belgian Waffles
We left the cathedral in search of the fabled Belgian waffle, another must have when visiting.
We noticed several waffle places on our first night out and several attempts were made to get one but that was a fruitless effort. A piece of advice when you are out and about downtown, always make sure to have some cash on hand.
We found a little place called Be Waffle near another site we wanted to visit. The anticipation was killing me so I handed over my one euro and received a beautifully made waffle covered, no smothered, in strawberries. It was well worth the wait and the one euro.
Across from the shop was a small, very famous statue.
The Manneken Pis statue is exactly what it sounds like. It is a small statue of a little boy peeing into a fountain.
Definitely a unique piece of art but not the only one in Brussels. We set off in search of the other two, the Zinneke Pis, the statue of a dog peeing on a post, and Jeanneke Pis is a little girl squatting.
Very interesting sense of humor these Belgians have.
Our day was ending and we decided it was time to wrap up our adventure. We headed back towards the hotel only to be stopped by a large crowd of people entering the main plaza of Brussels.
We followed into the center through an impromptu security checkpoint which made way to a house/techno music festival of sorts. There were a ton of people dancing and people on stilts and half dressed women.
The pre-kickoff party
The whole place had a carnival midway, freak show kind of vibe.
People were waving and wrapping themselves in all sorts of national flags, some that I recognized and others I had no clue.
We followed an American flag and met a couple from Las Vegas. They informed us that the gathering was the pre-kickoff party to the Tomorrowland EDM festival which started the next day. We thanked them and wished them well and proceeded to listen and watch for several more minutes when hunger hit.
Our Last Meal in Brussels
We left the center and headed out of the mob.
We were on a familiar street, the one from our first day there with the restaurants all claiming to be the best in town. We put it to the test again and stopped so Erin could have one last “mussels in Brussels” experience.
The restaurant was not as good as the one in Bruges, but it would serve the purposes.
Erin’s tip for anyone curious to try mussels here. She eats them in a unique and strange way. She starts by opening one but not completely breaking the shell and eats the mussel inside using the remaining shell to extract the next one.
Little different but definitely gets the job done.
We finished dinner and walked off the meal on our way to the hotel. We wound down and hit the sack to awake for one more train ride and a sad goodbye to a very beautiful and cultural country.