It’s been a very busy couple of months for us, but before we say “Salut” to Summer, I need to finish my recap of Spring in Brussels, which was set aside momentarily allowing for some other important May happenings (more to come on that…).
If I were asked to describe how Europeans celebrate the arrival of Spring, I would explain that on a warm and sunny Saturday, you would find them enjoying lunch outdoors at a corner café, sipping on beer or wine while sprawled on the grass in a park, or partaking in a bike ride. Spring in Brussels is truly magical. Yes, it still rains, but when the showers cease, bright purple blooms fill the trees lining our street, fragrant floral notes waft from the park that has extended open hours, and the neighborhoods come alive with people gathered for late, outdoor dinners.
We’ve been loving the warmer weather and clearer skies in Brussels, but even more so, welcoming a number of visitors who included Belgium on their Euro vacation itineraries. Back in early April, it was great getting dinner in city center with Andrew and Sarah, who share an appreciation for Belgian beer. Then came Lauren and Alex, who stayed with us for a night in order to get their fill of frites, with plenty of mayo of course. Finally, we greeted Christine and Ben, who stayed with us for a long weekend, which allowed for ample time to explore outside the city as well.
Our Friday Belgian style dinner at Restobieres, and drinks at Au Bon Vieux Temps, was followed by a French-inspired Saturday brunch at Chez Franz, croissants NOT optional. We then headed to Rochehaut in Wallonia so I could share the ladder hike with Dan, Christine and Ben. I had done the hike back in November with Caitlin and Claire when they visited, and wanted to share the game of chutes and ladders with others.
Back in Brussels for dinner at our favorite pizza place across the street, we dined outside while debating how you would split the country of Belgium into North, East, South, and West quadrants (we’re nerds). It all started when I commented on how our hike near Rochehaut was in the southwest of Belgium and Dan “corrected” me, explaining that it was in fact just the south. The debate got so heated we even requested the unbiased opinion of an impartial party- our waiter. Our discussion was apparently so amusing that this waiter now knows us by name and has since waved at and greeted us when we’ve passed by- not a bad friend to have!
Sunday arrived warm and bright and we kicked it off with a run through the Bois so we could show off more of Brussels before heading to the Easter church service. Our afternoon was spent strolling around Brussels and stopping at the always popular Brussels Park beer garden. We called it an early night after dinner at Café Whitlock in anticipation of an early departure the following morning.
Easter Monday, as it’s referred to in Belgium, is a national holiday, which was a perfect occasion to make the two hour drive to the Netherlands to celebrate spring in one of the most iconic and cliché ways- seeing the tulips of Holland at Keukenhof. Saying that the tulip fields of the Netherlands are a tourist hotspot is an understatement. During the approximately two months of bloom annually, Keukenhoff, one of the world’s largest flower gardens, draws in over a million visitors, who arrive in Lisse by tour bus, car, and bike. I know at least one person in our group was skeptical that a day spent looking at flowers could be fun, but by the end of the afternoon, there was unanimous consensus that these tulips don’t disappoint.
It’s 18 Euros to visit the botanical gardens, but after parking our car in the already crowded lot, we bee-lined it to the bike rentals, hoping that we could distance ourselves from the crowds in the gardens while partaking in a self-guided tour. In the course of three hours, we planned to leisurely cycle past not only tulip fields, but also through the sand dunes along the coast. Bikes can be rented for an hour if you only want a taste of the tulips, or longer if you want to do a couple laps like we did. The rental company has friendly staff who recommend a route for you based on how much time you have and what you want to see.
We may have made a wrong turn at some point, but it didn’t stop us from enjoying ourselves while we cruised past tulips, and then made our way to the coast, stopping along the way to watch glider planes take off in a field. Our arrival at the coast also coincided with lunch (maybe more brunch) for which Ben had already scoped out Hoogies as the spot for delicious crispy chicken sandwiches and frites. Don’t tell Belgium this, but those may have been the best frites I’ve had to date!
Fueled up, we headed back out for more tulips, and it wasn’t long before we found a small crowd lined up on a narrow street admiring the rows of bright red, white, yellow, pink, and orange blossoms. Careful not to be run over by slow-moving cars and other distracted bikers, we parked our bikes on the shoulder to admire the immaculately maintained fields.
We didn’t know there was much more to come, and in fact too many fields to stop at each, but it’s just as enjoyable to pedal past them while day-dreaming about this route becoming part of your daily commute. It’s also imperative to note that while the temptation may be to frolic amongst the florals in the fields, it is important to be respectful of the farmers’ livelihood and admire without intruding or trampling. Considering the number of visitors who pass through the area each year, I can appreciate the request for respectful enjoyment so the town can extend their warm welcome annually going forward.
Arriving back at Keukenhof, we returned our bikes and headed into the botanical gardens. Already having paid the entry fee, we finished off our visit by viewing just some of the seven million bulbs that have blossomed into tulips with names like “Orange Sunrise” and “Burning Heart”, to name a very small minority. By early afternoon though, the grounds felt more like a crowded amusement park than a peaceful garden and we decided that our bike excursion had already afforded us the best viewing so we headed back to Brussels after parting with Christine and Ben who journeyed on to Amsterdam.
A visit to Keukenhof is highly recommended and while the gardens can get crowded and a bit overwhelmed by selfie-sticks, a bike ride around this part of Holland is a fantastic way to get in the spirit of spring!