In the spirit of taking full advantage of long weekends and holidays, I recently ventured to Belgium in search of chocolate, Trappist beer, mussels & frites, and of course, waffles. A few years prior while backpacking through Europe, I skipped the opportunity to venture around Belgium because I wasn’t sure the detour was worth the funds or time. Thanks to JetAirFly, a roundtrip ticket from Casablanca to Charleroi was under $100 and I quickly learned that Belgium is a worthy detour (even though the Euro continually destroys my budget-minded intentions).
I hadn’t realized how much I missed Christmas until arriving in Bruges. I’m sure Bruges is lovely in the Spring and Summer, but if spending a weekend sipping muddled wine and perusing the Christmas markets sounds appealing, Bruges is a worthy winter destination. The small cobble stone streets were filled with holiday shoppers and the sweet smell of hot chocolate brewing and warm Belgian waffles.
After spending some time wandering and stopping at a Christmas market booth to learn all there is to know about foie gras, I wandered over to “Secret Bruges” – aka Bruges sans the crowds. After reading about hand crafted meatballs on the MessyNessyChic Blog, I of course had to make a pilgrimage to Balls & Glory.
The countryside just outside of Bruges amazed me with its neat and proper organization of tree-lined paths.
Without enough time to get lost around Belgium in search of Trappist breweries, I opted for a craft beer tour through Brussels that stopped at the Cantillon brewery founded in 1900….sometimes being a proper tourist is necessary.
The Christmas markets in Brussels are of course much larger and much more crowded than in Bruges. Wandering through the food stalls, I tried the steaming potatoes made with a white wine cheese sauce, sautéed mushrooms, crepes, and of course more muddled wine. After stopping at a stall serving mussels (I wasn’t leaving Belgium without trying them in the country that made them famous) the attendant told me they were sold out and proceeded to try and convince me that a large plate of sardines would be preferable. Unconvinced, I turned down the sardines and found a sidewalk café serving mussels & frites with champagne – hard to go wrong with that.
Before catching an afternoon flight, I spent the last morning wandering through this farmer’s market in Brussels. I managed to find a Christmas tree wholesaler who agreed to sell me a noble fir branch which I successfully smuggled back to Morocco in my suitcase. I later realized that they sell Christmas trees in Rabat, but that is besides the point…
I chose to use Brussels as my base for taking day trips to Bruges and Ghent. Brussels is a difficult city to find a reasonable priced hotel and I found myself (even in the dead of the winter travel season) wavering between paying what I considered to be high end hotel prices and schlepping it at a hostel-like accommodation. After a bit of searching, I found the FunKey Hotel, a budget friendly option with an alternative boutique feel. Location-wise, FunKey isn’t near much, but navigating the city via public transport is simple. This place also stocked just about every board game from my childhood and left bowls of milk and dark chocolate out throughout the day – this may be good or bad depending on your caloric intake preferences. I personally thought it was delightful and may or may not have made up reasons to walk past the kitchen on multiple occasions to take just a few more pieces.
Ghent was a last minute decision. After chatting with the owner of the FunKey who told me it was his favorite city in all of Belgium, I decided to spend my last full day wandering the streets. With plenty of people watching, tea shoppes, and small pubs, it was the quintessential end to a weekend in Belgium.