Today we had the adventure of a life time. We woke up early and headed for the train station. We had no prior arrangements or plans, just the idea that we would spend the day in Brussels, Belgium. After transferring to a larger train station we bought our tickets for Brussels and set out on our way. Much to our dismay, the train was packed and it looked impossible for our party of nine to sit together. We walked through train car after train car and then finally gave up hope and sat in various seats. Sam was sitting in my lap and I was not happy about the prospects of holding a five year old in my lap the whole two hours. Each time the train stopped a few passengers got off and we would jockey for better seats closer together. I almost had to smack down with two Old Dutch ladies trying to squeeze Josh and Helmut out of the seats they had OBVIOUSLY been waiting for. By the time we reached The Netherlands border we were all sitting together and enjoying our train ride to Belgium.
We arrived in Brussels with no map, just a Europe travel book with a very small Brussels section and the name of a location for the “famous” Christmas market. No problem…we are grown people and can figure things out. We marched ourselves out of the Brussels Central Train Station (which is horribly disgusting and dirty by the way) and found a map of downtown Brussels. I couldn’t help thinking, “this is what it would be like if I was ever on The Amazing Race” (minus all the kids).
We wandered into a hotel gallerie of shops and looked around at all the upscale shops and chocolateirs. The kids were starving so we started to search for a place to eat. We passed a charming alley lined on both sides with restaurants, French, Asian and otherwise. A man dressed in a chef’s smock approached us to explain a fabulous three course lunch menu they were offering for just 12 euros a person. I resisted the urge to carry on until we found a McDonald’s (I wasn’t sure I could face Helmut’s ridicule) and the group agreed to eat at the Lobster House. The roaring fire was toasty and the food ended up being super tasty.
The Christmas Market was located near the Grand Place which is the town square surrounded by an old cathedral and beautiful buildings built in the 1600’s. At this point we realized it was freezing outside and none of the kids had gloves, scarves or hats. Perhaps I tried to pack a little too light for this trip. Sadly, the Christmas Market was not all I had imagined. There were a few stalls with European Christmas decorations, but the rest were mostly cheap crafts and trinkets. There was a few that sold yummy smelling local cuisine, but we were full from our stop at the Lobster House. Don’t get me wrong, it was still fun to look around and the kids had no problem finding something to spend their money on. We bought a few interesting chocolate desserts and then gorged ourselves on hot homemade Belgium waffles.
No trip to Brussels is complete without the purchase of some authentic Belgium chocolates. We headed back to the hotel gallerie and chose Corne chocolates to buy from. The shop was full of delicious looking chocolates…with no labels. The grumpy looking shop owner walks up to the counter and asks, “Wha wooood you liiiike (must be said in your best snooty French accent)?” Ummm…we didn’t know because we weren’t sure what they had. “Do you have lemon truffles?” NON! “Do you have caramels?” NON! We muddled through selecting 500 grams of chocolate and walked out of the shop less than satisfied. Even worse the chocolate doesn’t even taste that good. URGH!
Sam’s hands were close to frozen off, so we decided to head home an hour early. We all trudged down into the train station and patiently waited for our train to appear on the board. No problem…we were certain the train to Amsterdam would leave from platform 5 at 4:44. The trains were running late, but we sat and waited. 4:44 came and went. We finally asked a man if he knew when the train to Holland would be coming, “it left four minutes ago.” Evidently all that French gibberish over the loudspeaker was more important than we realized. We trudged back upstairs to the information booth and we were assured the next train did not leave for another hour, but would say Amsterdam on the board (yeah right). We boarded a train headed for Antwerp Central at 5:39 and crossed our fingers we were on the right train. This train was new, nice and clean and we settled in for a comfy ride home…until the train stopped and then turned off a few stops later. What??? Evidently we were supposed to switch trains at the previous station. Clearly we did not ask enough questions or the right questions at the ticket booth. We waited for the train to power back up, rode it back a station, disembarked and waited for our next train. Long story short (or not so short) we arrived home six hours and eight trains later.