It is very evident that the summer holidays are over and people are returning to their normal routines in Brussels. The day that I dropped Brynn and Scott off at the airport, was the first day of school in Brussels and because of this I have once again adjusted my perception of what “traffic congestion” means. On a twice daily basis, I grit my teeth and prepare for the worst on my commute to and from work, sometimes in Brussels and other times in Antwerp or Ghent. I’ve accepted that on most evenings when I’m returning home from the Brussels office, it doesn’t make sense for me to leave before 7pm, unless I want to sit in stop-and-go traffic so snacks and Waze have become my best friends. I still hate it when Waze decides that my best route is to turn left then right then left and then left again repeatedly on small city roads for 40 minutes, but I am slowly adjusting to this new norm and at the suggestion of Dan, embracing the audio book commute life. Earlier this week, Dan’s commute to the office, normally about 25 minutes (to go ~11 miles), took him 1 hour and 20 minutes due to an accident in one of the key tunnels out of the city!
Dan also made a less eventful drive to Rotterdam for an over-night work function so he now has bragging rights that he has visited a new city that I have not yet. After his return on Saturday, the evening was spent in the Brussels Grand Place sampling a handful of the 150+ brews with ex-pat friends as part of Belgian Beer Weekend. There were tents set up in the Grand Place and each stand offered a few selections from both small and large Belgian breweries. A new favorite for the both of us was Gouden Carolus, so when we tire of the Trappist tripels, this will be a go-to.
On Sunday, we returned from a weekend trip to Paris where we stayed in the Montmartre area between the 9th and 17th arrondissements. This is a part of Paris that was new to the both of us so we were looking forward to seeing an area of the city that is known for artistic history and some well-known landmarks like Moulin Rouge and the Basilica of the Sacré- Coeur located at the highest point in Paris. Last time we were in the city we stayed nearer to the Eiffel tower, which was great because it was more centrally located to what we were visiting at the time, but we were looking for a different experience this time around so we decided that the Right Bank in the northern part of Paris was worth a try. We also don’t mind walking a lot (especially in this city), but if you visit Paris with the intent of maximizing your time at the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre, etc., there are more centrally located arrondissements (neighborhoods/ districts) at your disposal.
We boarded the train at Brussels Midi station and arrived at Paris Gare du Nord in just over two hours- a very quick commute that makes a weekend trip quite easy. We stopped at our AirBnB long enough to drop off our bags and enjoy the view of the Basilica from our balcony before starting our visit with brunch. Dan’s very Parisian meal included plenty of pastries, cheeses, charcuterie, and yogurt. Mine was a delicious, but not very French, avocado toast; fortunately Dan was willing to share his chocolate croissant with me. Fueled by cappuccinos and café crème, we started our stroll up Montmartre towards the Basilica. I’m pretty sure we made it about 10 minutes before Dan spotted a patisserie with rows of macarons in the window. I think it goes without saying that it didn’t take much convincing on his part to get me to stop, and so with macarons in hand, we walked up to the top of the street and admired a limited, but nonetheless unique view of Paris.
I was hoping that in staying in the Montmartre area we would be avoiding some of the heavier tourist traffic, but it turns out that the Basilica is rated as the #2 most visited monument in Paris and alas we found our fellow tourists atop the hill. No surprise that with this district’s ties to art, there are a plethora of street artists selling their works and others walking around who are very willing to draw your caricature. The caricature I was not as interested in, but the view from the top of the hill is pretty spectacular. The only real disappoint is that your view of the Eiffel Tower is obstructed by a few trees and buildings, but I presume that if you actually go up into the Basilica, this would not be the case. Instead of paying to go up into the Basilica, we walked all the way around the hill on the outside of the Basilica and appreciated how large and sprawling Paris really is. It was fun (for nerds like us) to test our knowledge of geography and history while identifying landmarks like Notre Dame, Hôtel des Invalides, and the Louvre, all of which appear to be reachable by a short walk but in reality are not. The view offers an excellent perspective of everything this city has to offer (and that’s coming from someone who knows little of Paris’ secrets and hidden gems) and I would highly recommend a visit as it is also easily reachable by the Metro and an elevator.
To avoid some of the tourist crowds, we wandered down the north side of the hill to find a café to grab a drink and plot our next stops. After our rosé and Affligem, we intended to make our way to the hidden vineyard of Paris, Les Vignes du Clos Montmartre, but on the way we got sidetracked by a beer bar, which in this city of wine, seemed like an anomaly too good to pass up, especially for Dan. The beer and company were good, and with no real agenda or set plans for this weekend, we relaxed for a little while before deciding it was time for more macarons! I was particularly interested in trying those from Christophe Roussel as I had heard they rivaled the famous Ladurée macarons. I suggested we get one of each flavor, and so it was that we walked out with two dozen macarons in flavors from pistachio cherry (my favorite) to caramel (so good), and even passionfruit tarragon and rosé (neither of which were my favorites). The final consensus was that Dan’s favorites were the first round from earlier in the day because their classic flavors were phenomenal, and my favorites were those from Christophe Roussel because they were so unique. I think this means we need more for a re-match!
We did eventually make our way to the vineyard, but it turns out that you can’t actually tour the vineyard, so we found a seat outdoors at La Maison Rose just up the street, after all we needed another refreshment to wash down our new macarons. It wasn’t until after we left La Maison Rose that I realized this café not only has a prime location, but also an iconic history, with visitors like Picasso frequenting the spot which has housed a coffee shop, boarding house, and restaurant over the years. Upon reflection (and in writing this post), this whole day sounds like Le Tour de Refreshments, but this really was a great way to explore the Montmartre neighborhood while also relaxing, which is why we planned this short weekend trip in the first place. Especially in Paris, you can find yourself constantly going from one site to the next, so with less than 36 hours at our disposal, we decided that our Saturday would be focused on relaxing and enjoying ourselves while taking in new scenery.
Speaking of scenery, that balcony sure came in handy while we killed some time before dinner. Our fifth floor view of the Basilica was pretty spectacular and with such perfect weather in Paris, it was almost hard to remove ourselves and head to dinner. We ended up eating Italian at an outdoor high-top table at Tentazioni, which although not Parisian, was fantastic, and as an added bonus those carbs served us well for our 7.5 mile run the next morning.
Our ½ marathon training is in full swing and we are trying to be diligent about putting in the training to prepare ourselves, which usually means finding time for a long run on the weekend, even when we travel. Fortunately for us, Paris offers excellent routes for runners where there is no shortage of sites to keep your mind off the mileage, but our favorite route certainly is a run along the Seine River. We passed by the Eiffel Tower going west and then looped back and headed east to take in the gardens near the Louvre before heading back via the massive Place de la Concorde with its Egyptian obelisk. We weren’t the only ones who had this same idea, and because we cut ourselves some slack and slept in a little, both sides of the river pathways were filled with runners, walkers, bikers, and even roller-bladers, out for exercise. Running really is an efficient way to see a city, especially one this size, and has been one of my favorite ways to explore new spots- bonus points if I can find my way back without a map! I’m glad that Dan also appreciates this mode of transportation, especially since we’re motivated to find a way to beat our highest recorded number of steps in one day, which fittingly occurred in Paris on our last visit two years ago.
We were successful with our morning run, but knew that by the time we got out of the apartment and fed ourselves lunch, we would have a shortened day of touring. Sadly, that meant scratching our plans to visit the Louvre and partake in the Jay-Z and Beyoncé tour on this visit (see their latest music video), and opting to head on our own Paris walking tour instead. But first, lunch. While the lunch spot may not have been anything special, the food and service were good, and the crepe that concluded our meal almost put us over the edge… but who says no to a crepe in Paris!
We were then reminded that with or without full stomachs, walking from Point A to Point B around here usually takes longer than you think it will, however, we managed to swing by the Louvre grounds and Notre Dame before it was time for us to make the long trek back to the AirBnB and then to the train station to catch our ride home.
Our laid-back weekend flew by, but it won’t be long before we are visiting Paris again. We’ve got more trips and VISITORS coming our way in the near future, but we’re also looking forward to experiencing fall in Brussels and by that I mean hopefully cool, comfortable weather sans rain.