Before saying anything about Belgium, I have to give props to the Crowne Plaza Amsterdam City Center Hotel! During my stay there, I slept better than for quite a while. The room was quiet, impeccably maintained, and the staff was nice. The location is excellent for an independent traveler. And, as I was charged for free internet use by a trainee who was only learning the ropes, I received a phone call a little later from the manager who was apologizing and going out of his way to make it alright again. As a result, one of the nights I stayed there was refunded, and apparently there’ll be a nice discount waiting for me if I’ll ever choose to stay in Crowne Plaza Amsterdam. Not bad.
Belgium is a wonderful country for a traveler! The distances are short, there’s a lot to see, and the food is as delicious as in the Netherlands. When I arrived to the historical city of Antwerp, which is a big city in northern Belgium, the Main Square had to compete hard with wonderful scent of food that was lingering from the cafés in the nearby alleys to keep my attention. I had had an excellent breakfast in Amsterdam in Café Tapas Bar near the central railway station before I took the bus to Antwerp, but by the time I got there, I was more than ready to have a tasty, warm sandwich. However, before I got to it, I saw a tour guide at the Main Square who was just going to tell about the history of the buildings, so I tagged along and let all the information soak in. It’s crazy to think that the City Hall was erected between 1561 and 1565, and it is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List with the belfries of France and Belgium.
My stop in Antwerp was a short one, so after the lunch I continued toward Brussels. On the way I stopped at the Atomium which is a building constructed originally for World Expo in 1958. The whole of forms the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal, except that it is magnified 165 billion times. Nowadays the building is a museum, and on the top sphere of it, there is a restaurant that has an amazing view of Brussels. Surprisingly, I didn’t eat there but just had a glass of white wine and admired the views! I had wanted to see this symbol of Brussels and Belgium for a long time, ever since I saw the picture of it back when I was still a school girl, so I was really excited to get to explore it. After all, it is the most popular attraction in the capital of Belgium.
It was already afternoon when I got to Brussels. The Grand Place was pretty packed with tourists, which is no wonder as it was voted the most beautiful square in Europe in 2010 and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Town Hall was constructed between 1402 and 1420, bust most of the buildings date mainly from the late 17th century. Its architecture is said to provide a vivid illustration of the level of social and cultural life of the period.
In one of the side streets starting from the Grand Place is a small bronze sculpture, approximately two feet tall, depicting a naked little boy urinating into a fountain’s basin. Yes, you knew it, I am talking about Manneken Pis (“Little man pee”). It is one of the landmarks of Brussels, and it is a tradition that it is dressed in costume several times a week. It is a funny little thing, and even though highly popular among tourists, it is worth checking out. However, there was also another reason why the streets surrounding it were calling my name: they were full of really cool chocolatiers selling all kinds of Belgian chocolate! I visited a few and walked out with more than my fair share of tasty little bits of heaven to bring home to my loved ones. Then it was time to treat myself with an amazingly delicious Belgian Waffle! They were sold everywhere and the selection was astonishing, so it was hard to choose what to have and where. I ended up getting one with strawberry jam and whipped cream from one of the stalls that sold them, and it was as divine as what I had heard.
Before walking to my hotel (Floris Arlequin Grand’Place), I passed the statue of Everard t’Serclaes, a lord of Kruikenburg, who lived in 1320-1388, and rubbed his arm. Locals say that the statue brings luck and grants the wishes of all who touch it. Rubbing the arm is supposed to ensure that one will return to Brussels. This way or that way, it didn’t hurt.