Welcome to Belgium, Family!

The past two weeks flew by thanks to visits from family who were stopping by Belgium for the first time! We were excited to welcome both Dan’s and my family to Brussels and have them staying at our apartment, which should really be called the Dan & Kaitlan B&B by now.

But first, it’s been awhile since I shared a funny “Kaitlan blooper” so I think I’m overdue. On the previous blog, I was reminiscing on our visit to Turkey, but what I did not divulge at the time was that following the trip, I spent my initial 24 hours back in Brussels, in the apartment, without power. We had arrived to long customs lines in the Brussels airport on Sunday afternoon so Dan ended up with about a half hour to come home, re-pack his suitcase for a work trip to Poland, and then go back to the airport. After dropping him off, I had returned home excited to hang up the new mirror that we had bartered for in the Istanbul bazaar and was committed to finding a great place to display it. In our living room area we have a wire that comes out of the wall with nothing attached to it and I figured it would be a good spot to showcase the mirror, so I attempted to affix the mirror to the wall using the metal loop on the back of the mirror. The second the metal loop hit the wire, I heard a whoosh and then all the power in our apartment went out. Turns out that wire sticking out of the wall was LIVE and when the metal loop on the mirror touched the wire, I cut out the power to our apartment. Fortunately, the mirror itself is wood so no harm was done to me, but I spent the evening and next morning in the dark after unsuccessfully attempting to flip the switches in our fuse box. I did also confirm that this mistake of mine had only affected our apartment and luckily that was the case so I didn’t create any enemies in our building. Our landlord is very responsive and had an electrician visit the next day to resolve the power outage by showing me where in the basement of the building I could find another fuse box for our apartment. It took him all of 5/10 minutes to restore our power and I crossed my fingers he wouldn’t tell our landlord about my faux pas.

Fortunately, the power outage didn’t last long because our first visitors arrived on that Friday morning- Jane and Randy, with Thomas following on Saturday morning. They were able to see our neighborhood and explore Châtelain on Friday before dinner, and on Saturday, we made time for a walking tour of Brussels city center, including a stop at the Delirium Tremens bar. Dan found a new restaurant for us to try and it turned out to be such a hit that we brought my parents back there a few days later. Restobieres nails the ambiance and serves delicious bread and incredible Belgian meatballs (among other tasty dishes). We happened to be walking through the Grand Place on our way from Restobieres to grab a post-dinner drink, and were able to show our guests the Place when it’s all lit up, which is perhaps even more impressive than seeing it in the daylight.

The beautiful Grand Place of Brussels at night

On Sunday morning I picked up my Mom & Dad and despite their visit to Belgium falling at the end of their Euro trip, they were ready for more action. It was looking like Sunday would be the nicest day of their visit so we headed to the city center via my, you guessed it, walking tour of Brussels, making sure to stop during the tour for chocolate from Neuhaus and beers at the Delirium Tremens bar. After snacks and drinks they were up for plenty of walking so we also made a stop at the Lakes of Flagey on the way back to our neighborhood where we had dinner at our local pizza place.

On Monday we made the drive to Ghent so they could get a feel for the Flemish side of Belgium. We kicked off the afternoon with a stop at the Ghent Belfry, where we climbed to the top for a great view of the city. After the Belfry climb, we decided to pop into St Bavo’s Cathedral and quickly learned that we had made a wise decision when we found out that this cathedral is the home of the Ghent Altarpiece. Maybe you’re not familiar with the altarpiece (I wasn’t at first), but what you likely have heard of is the movie Monuments Men, which is based on the Allied group assigned to locate and safely return the art that had been stolen by the Nazis during WWII. The Ghent Altarpiece is one of the more notable pieces of art that was stolen during WWII while in route to the Vatican in 1940, and hidden at Neuschwanstein Castle by the Nazis before being recovered by the Monuments Men and returned to Belgium. The twelve panel altarpiece measures 11 ft. x 15 ft. and dates back to the 15th century- seeing it in person is pretty incredible. A few panels of the altarpiece are undergoing restoration, but we were able to view the majority of this enormous work of art and I would highly recommend a stop at the cathedral to see it for yourself if in Ghent. You are not allowed to take pictures of the actual altarpiece but they have a mini replica you can reference outside the exhibit (see picture below).

Our lunch in Ghent consisted of waffles, chocolate, and of course, cuberdons, not all that surprising considering the many sweet teeth in our family. I was surprised that they didn’t find the cuberdons all that unbearable, especially since when I tried one for the first time a few months ago, I couldn’t even finish eating it. We spent the rest of our time in Ghent walking along the canals, passing through the graffiti street, and seeing the Gravensteen, before heading for the car stocked up on chocolate for the drive back to Brussels.

Ghent graffiti artists showing off their work

The plan was to spend Tuesday on the Wallonian side in the Ardennes Forest but when we woke up to wind and rain, I cancelled our original plans and decided that Bruges was a great alternative considering it was supposed to be warmer and drier to the north. We opted for the Rick Steves’ walking tour of Bruges, but before we could even make it to the famed Bruges Markt, we had to stop TWICE to satisfy somebody’s sweet tooth for chocolate! The Chocolate Line shop won us over with their unique flavors and Twix-like chocolate bar concoction, but Neuhaus is still a favorite with their classics and friendly service. We started our tour of the plazas and bridges, but it wasn’t long before it was time for a waffle-to-go from Chez Albert. I finally heard what I thought I never would, “OK, I think I’ve reached my waffle capacity for the trip” from my mom. The rest of our visit to Bruges ended up consisting of a stroll through the many sites in the center that, this time around, were not as crowded with tourists, making it a more enjoyable visit than when Dan and I had visited in July (peak tourist season). I actually highly recommend the Rick Steves’ walking tour in Bruges as it’s an efficient but leisurely way to make it to the most notable sites.

Our last views of Bruges on the way out

We capped off their last evening in Belgium with dinner at Restobieres so they could try more Trappist beer and Belgian meatballs. On Wednesday morning, they got their last taste of Brussels traffic on their way to the airport ahead of their flight back. They may not have had the best weather of our guests to date, but they certainly got a true Belgian experience. It was wonderful to welcome these two to Brussels and show them around our neighborhood. I’m glad we were able to incorporate some new-to-me sites in our tours and that they are always game for a lot of walking.

Showing off their Belgian beer selections at Restobieres

At the end of the week, we welcomed Jane, Randy and Thomas back to Brussels for a night after their week in Germany. We enjoyed dinner at Chalet Robinson that evening, a restaurant located on a tiny island in the Bois, which requires a short boat ride to access. The food was good, but the unique location made the experience memorable. The three travelers headed to Paris on Friday morning while Dan and I took care of “fun” ex-pat administrative tasks at our local commune, but we joined them in Paris later that evening for dinner. On Saturday we were up early to stop for a deliciously French bakery breakfast of croissants, baguettes, quiche, and éclair on our way to the Eiffel Tower. We avoided the crowds at the Eiffel by purchasing our tickets online ahead of time and therefore made it to the top very quickly. We celebrated with a glass of champagne while enjoying the 360-degree view before taking the elevator down to the second floor, which really is more like the 30th floor, so we could then walk down the stairs to the base of the Eiffel. It’s a long walk down the stairs but a cool way to experience the Eiffel Tower.

Making our way down the never-ending stairs of the Eiffel

Our walk across the city (literally) took us from the Eiffel to the Louvre, then over one of the many bridges over the Seine to the Île de la Cité to see Notre Dame and stop at Berthillon’s for Dan’s favorite ice cream of all time- salted butter caramel. There are a lot of monumental sites in Paris, but a trip isn’t really complete without a short wait in line at Berthillon’s for a dish or cone of their very popular ice cream.

It was a perfect day for ice cream and exploring so we continued our walk, making our way towards Montmartre to see the Basilica Sacré-Cœur that Dan and I had visited a few weeks ago on our own trip. The view at the top of the hill was no less impressive, or crowded, and this time Dan and I did go inside for a brief visit where we were impressed by the mosaic on the massive dome. We ate an early and light dinner of baguettes and cheese + frites in Montmartre in order to catch our train back to Brussels that evening. Owing to an event that closed down a couple of the bridges and created quite the traffic jam, we came closer than we wanted to missing our train, but once onboard were able to relax on the way back after our 15+ miles of walking that day.

It was a successful week of hosting our visitors and we’re glad they were able to make the most of their stay while here in Belgium for the first time- thanks for visiting us! Belgium is a quick stop over for a lot of other destinations in Europe, so if it isn’t on your radar, we think it should be! Plus we’re getting better and better at this hosting gig and would love to show you why we love it here so much!

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