Brussels with Beth & Richard!October 13, 2017 in Belgium
We were so excited! Not because we were about to spend 2 days in Brussels, the European capital city, but because we were going to see Will's daughter Beth and our son in law Richard!
Not having seen them for more than 15 months, we wanted to spend as much time with them as possible and so we went to pick them up at Brussels airport- something easier said than done in a large camper van. After studying the guidance, we knew there was no pick up point and all of the short stay car parks had height restrictions. We headed for the open air car park P4 but found that bollards at its entrance were placed too close together for us to get through. We couldn't stop anywhere else so drove around while Beth and Rich, unable to see any sign of the supposed shuttle bus, made their way to the car park on foot.
We were all a little flustered when we finally met, but it was nonetheless wonderful to see them again. After navigating a complicated set of motorways we stopped for lunch in a car park surrounded by autumn trees. After proper hugs it wasn't long before we relaxed into each other's company as if we'd not spent the last 15 months away.
It was Friday afternoon and Brussels city centre lived up to its reputation as one of the most congested in Europe. At least the gridlocked roads gave us an opportunity for some sight seeing as we passed a modern glass fronted European Commission building and a huge ornate stone arch with fountains as we drove in to drop Beth & Richard off at their hotel.
It was finding our overnight parking when the fun really began! There was no official van parking within easy reach of the centre and the Youth Hostel that allowed vans to stay in their car park had big event on. We'd found a garage that rented out parking spots for camper vans through ShareMyPark website and exchanged several emails to reserve our spot. On approaching the residential area we saw there were massive roadworks whose diversions took us the wrong way along one way streets. After driving around in circles (for the second time that day) and becoming increasingly stressed we turned down a blocked off road where we saw the large green and blue garage door that we were due to park behind... on the other side of the blockade, in the middle of the road works, with an unsurfaced road outside it. We got the feeling this wasn't going to work out and the friendly loc residents confirmed there was no way in, before 'helping' Vicky do a 3 point turn, arms waving everywhere with good natured thumbs up.
Although still stressful, the drive to the residential street Will had found on Park4Night got easier the further we drove from the centre. We parked at the top of a narrow cobbled U shaped road between a park and a communal food and medicinal plant garden. It was on a slant but away from traffic flow and wonderful for Poppy. Downloading a Brussels Transport app, we found the nearest bus stop and discovered there were very frequent buses to the city centre, just a few hundred metres from the hotel. It wasn't what we'd planned but at just €9 for a full day's parking we'd found a workable solution 2.5 hours after setting off from lunch!
It was Beth's birthday weekend and they had booked a nice hotel. We met Richard downstairs and after climbing the polished stone spiral staircase with hardwood banister, rang the doorbell to their suite. We were all blown away by its grandeur, the old wooden beams and furniture, original paintings, ornate blue pottery urns and plates. We enjoyed lounging on the sofa and armchairs with a drink before heading out in search of the traditional Belgian moules-frites. By this time it was dark and gravitating towards a narrow cobbled alley (Rue de Bouchers) lined with eateries selling our desired dish we were literally, grabbed from left and right by people trying to persuade us (in English) to eat with them. We extricated ourselves and found a slightly quieter corner restaurant called Au Coin Gourmand where the staff didn't seem quite so desperate and Richard assured us the Trip Advisor rating was higher than 2/5! Choosing from the set menu, we ate our moules-frites along with starters and a desert of crepe at an outdoor table accompanied by a charismatic cat with a stump of a tail. The atmosphere was light hearted and fun and to chocolatier Beth's delight we were seated opposite Elisabeth's chocolate shop!
After Beth and Richard had bought waffles from Elisabeth's, we wandered along the lively streets until Beth spotted an interesting and brightly lit building at the end of a side street. Rounding the corner, we discovered it was part of Grand Place, reputedly the most beautiful square in Europe. We just stopped and stared, we were so taken aback. All around us were grand old buildings, tastefully lit, some with gilt detail shining out from their facades. It was one of the most complete squares we can remeber seeing, the imposing Hotel de Ville drawing our eye as a focal point.
Rounding the night off with a glass of wine in the hotel suite, we caught the bus back to the van, which we were relieved to find undisturbed, despite the number of cars parked nearby emitting loud 'boom boom' music and the giggles and shrieks of late night revellers in the park.
Although we'd faced difficulties taking the van into Brussels, we'd had the best evening in a long while and were looking forward to a full day in the city with Beth and Richard tomorrow!Read more