47th Country: Belgium – Mussels & Chocolate

Our last stop of the trip – our 47th country – Belgium. It was a 5 hours drive from Colmar to Brussels so I picked a place to stop along the way for lunch – Dinant, this small Belgium town has been on my list to visit. We parked near Le Wiertz Restaurant where we had our lunch. I was so hungry that I forgot to take note of the parking cost oops!

I am not a seafood person, but I love a few: shrimp, lobster, crab, and mussels. When searching for restaurants, I couldn’t believe that mussels are quite famous in Belgium. Mussels are typically an appetizer but in Belgium, it’s a main course with at least 10 flavors to choose from, sounded crazy right? We got this pot to put the shells, that gave you a hint of the portion…

I ordered the curry flavor while Jason ordered the traditional garlic in white wine sauce. Here came our pots…OMG…

The curry really hit the spot in terms of spiciness and the coconut milk flavor, I didn’t expect Belgians to make a such good curry. The only thing that is missing is a bowl of white rice!!!

The mussels were cooked perfectly; I was almost able to finish the whole pot by myself 😛 Each pot is around €25-28 and well worth it!

After lunch, we took a quick stroll around Dinant, starting with the main street where the Notre Dame de Dinant is located. Along this street, there are a few Chinese fast-food restaurants!

Notre Dame de Dinant:

We walked to the street behind the church and there was nothing interesting: supermarkets, bookstores, no souvenir shops. Then, we walked across the bridge for awesome views of the town along the river. You can see how low the water level was when we were there, those docks are supposed for river cruises.

What caught our attention were those colorful saxophones along the bridge in different colors, patterns, artwork and each representing a country. This blue one is for Austria:

Notre Dame de Dinant along with the line of colorful houses and the Dinant Citadel in the background:

I love exploring cute towns like this away from crowded big cities!

This is the postcard-perfect spot where I waited for the sun to break through the clouds to light up the town.

While we were waiting, we helped an Indian family to take a photo of their family on their phone. In return, we asked for help too, although not great…

Continue down the riverbank, there’s the Dinant sign:

The street across the bridge is more residential area:

We finished our walk and decided time to go as there’s really not much to do in Dinant. Look at this plant post in the parking lot, pretty cool!

It was an hour drive to Brussels from Dinant and the traffic in Brussels is terrible, one of the reasons that I don’t like the big city!!! We stayed at the Hilton Brussels Grand Place for $461.7 for 2 nights and it was confusing to locate it as no traffic was allowed into the square so we can’t drive to the front lobby. We parked in the Interparking Brussels – Parking Grand Place right underneath the hotel but finding the exit to the hotel was a maze. It took us some time to orient ourselves to locate it.

Our room was spacious, nevertheless:

The bathroom was clean and big:

I picked this hotel for its location so that we can walk to most of the sights and being a Hilton Gold member got us free breakfast. It was time to explore Brussels and as soon as we stepped out of the hotel, the streets were smelling like urine ewww and were filled with broken glasses on the floor! I didn’t feel safe walking around with my DSLR camera so we decided to use our phones to take photos instead to not attracting attention!

The street looked old and gloomy!

This narrow brick building looked squeeze into the two:

Church of Our Lady of Victories at the Sablon:

The interior of the church, nothing spectacular:

Egmont Palace, it’s actually a conference center:

Typical European buildings but I hate the fact that modern tall skyscrapers nested in between the old buildings.

Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, Europe’s oldest shopping arcade with many Belgian famous chocolate shops all in one place! Belgian chocolates are expensive (at least €2 a piece) but the best I had so far (I love that they are not too sweet), I was having a chocolate shopping spree to try out different brands. They make good Christmas presents! My favorites are Mary Artisan Chocolatier and Wittamer! Note that save yourself time and money if you are flying out of Brussels Airport, you can buy those chocolate brands in the airport for less with duty-free!!! I didn’t know that until we got to the airport 🙁

For dinner, we dined at the famous Lobster House. We were able to get a table without a reservation. Being from Boston, it’s silly to order Boston lobster at a premium price. Instead, we ordered other seafood dishes. I got a lobster bisque (€13), it was creamy and rich but not the best I ever had:

Jason ordered a fish soup (€12) and it was average.

Jason ordered the Spanish paella with shellfish and safran (€25), big portion, taste was good and not as salty as the paellas we had in Spain. The quality of the seafood was just average.

I ordered the seafood spaghetti (€25), lots of noodles, and the sauce tasted the same Jason’s paella LOL. Looked big but not that much seafood, there was no my favorite Mediterranean shrimps 🙁

I wasn’t impressed with the dinner given the thousands of 5* reviews; I had higher expectations for its rating!

Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert looked prettier at night!

We walked back to our hotel and pass this tunnel with a massive ceiling painting of The Smurfs! After all, The Smurfs is a famous Belgian comic!

Hilton is located right next to the Brussels Central Station so it is busy day and night and filled with homeless at night. It was a long day for us, especially for Jason who drove 5+ hours and then had to deal with the busy and crazy Brussels traffic; he needed a good night rest!

The next morning, we walked over to the Grand Place, the most famous square in Brussels where, as the name suggested it, very grand buildings are. A few photographers were there with their tripods, I took those photos handheld with high ISO. The Grand Place is very busy during the day and night so the early morning is the only time that it’s quiet and not filled with people.

After the photos of the Grand Place, we walked back to the hotel for breakfast. The breakfast selection was typical:

After breakfast, we walked to Mont des Arts and it was disappointing……the backdrop buildings were covered in scaffold and a huge ad!

More street scene and also full of broken glass on the floor….

The Ferris wheel near the Palais de Justice:

We were planning to visit the Palais de Justice from the photos we saw online but when we got there, it seemed like a very busy office building where people were getting to work. We turned back and head to the post office so Jason can buy Belgian stamps for his collection. The lady said they don’t sell collectible stamps in this location and recommended us to visit the central office, she was nice enough to write the address down for us.

The central post office was near Grand Place – Post Office De Brouckere and there’s a little office inside specialized in selling collectible stamps. The guy there was awesome and a good salesman LOL he flipped through folders and folders of collections and showed them to Jason. Jason ended up buying more than a hundred Euros of stamps!!!

Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert early in the morning and they didn’t turn on the lights so it was not good for photos.

Enough of Brussels, we took our car and drove to Bruges, a 1.5 hours drive away. Google Maps tricked us again, the parking lot did not exist…at least we tried 3 times and we couldn’t see an entrance to a parking lot! After the frustration, we found a metered spot outside of the center and walked 15 minutes to Cambrinus for lunch. With over 4k reviews, this place was busy but luckily we got a table after 10 minutes of wait or so. Their menu is a book with pages and pages of beer and wine.

For the appetizer, it was highly recommended for this I forgot what it was called but it was very tasty. It was like seafood baked in cheese.

Jason ordered the mussels in garlic and white wine sauce, it was good:

After a great curry sauce in Dinant, I ordered the tagliatelle with scampi, and tomato cubes in a light curry sauce. The sauce was good but a bit heavy with the thick tagliatelle.

The lunch total was €70; it was a long wait to pay the bill due to how busy it was!

It was time to explore Bruges, often compared to Venice due to its bridges and canals. Bruges City Hall looked very colorful; its architecture looked similar to the buildings in the Grand Place in Brussels.

Basilica of the Holy Blood:

The canal…people need to stop comparing to Venice for places that have canals and bridges (Annecy is another one), they are night and day in comparison! Venice is all bridges and canals while those places have a few only! Venice is charming and one of the most unique and beautiful places that I have ever been to!

Bruges is nice, much more calm, peaceful, clean, and I felt safe with my DLSR camera than in Brussels. I regretted that we stayed in Brussels instead of Bruges!

The city center is filled with historical buildings and not high skyscrapers nested in which I really enjoyed. It was busy with tour groups so I would imagine it is peaceful at night after daytrippers are gone.

Boniface Bridge where we saw someone successfully propose 🙂

Bruges has more character and is enjoyable!

Rows of trees that turned color:

There are a lot of souvenir and chocolate shops.

Horse carriage:

The colorful Market Square; it’s beautiful!

The tall tower of Belfry of Bruges:

We enjoyed our short visit to Bruges much more than Brussels! We got back to Brussels and took the wrong exit underground, GPS wasn’t working great underground, and ended up wasting another hour stuck in traffic GRRRRR!

For dinner, we went to Gourmets Everyday, a Szechuan restaurant, and finally white rice and stir-fried vegetables!

We ordered the pepper with beef, it was good.

The eggplant pot was delicious, the sauce was perfect with white rice!

The “water boil” beef was spicy, yummy yummy!

Xiao long bao was descent. The waiter was surprised by how much food we ordered, we told him no worries, we were starving for Chinese food after a week in Europe! The dinner was good and not expensive, I don’t even remember but we paid in cash for extra discount.

After dinner, we walked back to our hotel with a stop at the Grand Place once again to check it out at night when the magnificent buildings are light up. A lot more people than in the early morning but it was very grand with the lights on.

Our short stay in Belgium was a mix….for sure, we don’t like Brussels other than the chocolate and stamps. Dinant was worth a stop for photos and mussels. Bruges was more enjoyable and pretty so I recommend staying in Bruges than Brussels. Plus, you can get all the chocolate at the airport so there’s really not much reason to stay in Brussels 😉

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