We took a bus (which took a ridiculously drawn out four hours) from Amsterdam to Brussels and were lucky enough to be able to be greeted by a sort of familiar face! Despite the last time he saw him being at around 10 years of age, we were generously welcomed to stay with Barry´s family friend Robert Thomas, who was a close childhood friend of Barry´s late father Stephen. Robert, his wife Lisa and their daughters Carla and Emma took us in and certainly gave us a great sample of the good things Belgium has to offer, including the obvious, beer and chocolate!
We were treated to our first home-cooked feed in a long time as well as a few of their favourite local beers. Despite Robert´s best hints to encourage Barry to rise at 6am and watch the Collingwood game live online it wasn´t happening, and we spent the Saturday there exploring the Brussels city centre including the plethora of chocolate, waffle and beer shops and restaurants pushing local specialty, moules aka mussels. Grand Place and the very odd but famous statue, Manneken Pis, were must-see highlights. We also hunted down a bar which has the world record for most beers commercially available in one venue, 2004, of which we managed to leave 2002 unturned, damn.
Robert and Lisa took us out for dinner to a local favourite where we got our first taste of Belgian moules, which turned out to be so good it wasn´t the last in our days there. We also got a night time look at Brussels version of the Arc de Triomphe, which while a rip-off of the Paris icon, was much bigger and more spectacular.
The following day we visited a comic book museum, which had its moments but was a bit tough as very little of it was in English. Afterward we headed out to Atomium, a space-age looking monument built for the World Expo in 1956. While we weren´t forthcoming with the nerve or money to partake, we were also amazed to see people abseiling from the top of the 102m high structure.
For our final day in Belgium we took the highly recommended journey to Brugge, reputed by many as the ´Venice of the North´ mainly due to it´s similar canals. The scenery alone there certainly made the trip worthwhile. To get around we hired some bikes and proceeded to be fair novices on them, lasting about 50m before some local cursed us for apparently riding to close to the kerb. A visit to the town´s chocolate museum was fairly enlightening while a tour and tasting at a local, small scale brewery again proved to us noone makes it better than the Belgians.
Another feed of moules later and it was back to Brussels for our last night there, where we said our goodbyes to the Thomas family over even more chocolate! The next morning we were on the train to cross yet another border, excited for France but at the same time left with very fond memories of Belgium. The visit was much more enjoyable being looked after and given great advice by the Thomas family, so a big thanks to them, especially Carla for giving up her room for four days and cooking us lasagne one night!