A break in Brussels

I don’t want you to think of me as some cosmopolitan, Starbucks-chugging, Eurostar-hopping, pan-European socialite. It would be true, but equally the label isn’t flattering. However, the basis of such a label in factual reality stems from mine and my friend from home, Harriet’s, weekend city break in the capital of Europe – Brussels.

I have never been to Belgium before, and why we even decided to go is a bit obscure, but a major factor in the decision was the price. Anyone who knows me knows I am a notorious penny-pincher, but when Harriet told me that we could get return Eurostar tickets and three nights at a four-star central-Brussels hotel (breakfast included) through a reasonable package deal, I was impressed. We booked well in advance. When the time came, I had only just returned from 10 weeks in China before I was hastily whisked away for a long-weekend away on the continent, but then again, I wasn’t complaining.

Our Eurostar left fairly early on the Friday morning, so we stayed at my student house in Oxford and got up before dawn for our commute to St Pancras. Naturally upon arrival at the international terminal, I proceeded to spill my Cafe Nero cappuccino down my white Hollister T-shirt; spoiling any air of grace or elegance that I pretended to espouse. I was not impressed.

The train journey itself was alright. Nothing too impressive – the only occasional disruption was my tendency to fall asleep. I was exhausted, come on. We arrived in Brussels before lunch and proceeded to take a fresh, sprightly walk to our hotel. The lack of internet date on our phones was an immediate problem, but after loading the hotel location on Apple Maps on a wifi hotspot in the station, we found that our phones automatically plot and follow our location on the map, through wifi hotspot triangulation through networks we weren’t connected to. A fine example of Big Brother helping us out.

But OMG. Our hotel. You would not believe. So we were heading down the Rue de Luxembourg, which perfectly frames the European Parliament, when we were told to turn right by Apple Maps. There it was, less than 100 meters from the European Parliament, in the centre of Brussels: the Leopold Hotel Brussels. You could tell how it earned its stars. Our shared room featured a king-sized bed, a flawless en suite, complimentary coffee, a 40 inch flat screen TV, the list goes on. I was suitably impressed.

That afternoon was the only prescribed event on our itinerary: a tour of the European Parliament. As politics fanatics, this was something me and Harriet were both quite excited about. We emailed our Member of the European Parliament well in advance, and because it was a Friday that we intended to visit, she couldn’t herself show us around, but instead we were shown around by her wonderful aid, who showed us all the best bits – including the hemisphere debating chamber. Please find the attached excited selfie.

We didn’t fancy doing that much that evening as we were pretty exhausted, so we reclined to our king-sized bed. On Saturday we set about Brussels, as a platonic couple of leisure, at a leisurely pace. Aimlessly wondering and enjoying the sunshine, popping into chocolate shops, exploring the Parc de Bruxelles. It was just really nice to explore the city on our own, with no plans, just a vague idea of what we wanted to see.

We dined that evening in the Grand Place while the sun was setting – ordering vegetarian food was simple enough – before heading back and posing for photos outside the Royal Palace of Brussels. The next day we returned to the European Parliament to check out its museum and gift shop; which did not disappoint! For pro-Europeans like me and Harriet, we had an amazing time. After catching up on the history of the European Coal and Steel Community, we went all out in the gift shop, where we both bought “I (*European Union star circle*) EU” T-shirts. We loved it!

On our second evening, as part of our package deal, we had a beer and cheese tasting, before a three-course meal and drinks (naturally). After “mini-pres” in our room, we ventured out into the nightlife of Brussels. As we were ultimately tourists, we headed to Delirium Cafe – the world-famous beer bar just a minutes’ walk from the Grand Place. Neither me nor Harriet are big beer drinkers, so after a hasty pint, and also because it was unpleasantly loud and busy, we left. Alternative venue of choice was a local gay bar, where we danced with a 50+ year old drag queen and downed double-vodkas to the sound of indistinct gay classics. The walk back in the rain was not ideal.

On our final full day we headed to the Atomium and the Mini-Europe Park (right next to each other) on the outskirts of Brussels, but they were easy to get to on the easy-to-use metro. They are both definitely worth a visit. However, the Mini-Europe Park may leave you with feelings of solidarity with our European neighbours, so it is not recommended for Europhobes or UKIP members (although I’m sure Brussels is probably not the number one destination for any UKIP member).

Before returning to the UK on our last day, we overloaded on the hotel breakfast (which every day without fail took me to a new level of euphoria) before heading to the shopping district and breaking for coffee and more truffles. Before long, our time to leave had arrived and we made our way back to the Eurostar. Despite this, we both knew that we were about to leave the real Euro star: Brussels. I highly recommend.