Day Six: Lille to Brussels

Up early today so Jip could get to his conference on time. I looked on Google for opening times for local museums and the Royal Palace but everything didn’t open until 2pm. I dropped Jip off at his conference centre on the other side of town and headed for Brussels.

About 30 minutes into the trip within the Belgium border, I stopped at a highway service station to eat some breakfast and paid 70 eurocents to use the bathroom.

I continued on to Brussels and found the hotel very easily but I couldn’t find parking easily. The streets are mostly one way roads and there were heaps of roadworks thus making me do two loops to get back to the Novotel hotel; each taking 7 minutes to complete and I was still unsuccessful at getting a spot. I parked on a one way street for €2 whilst I made my way back to the hotel. I must have looked frazzled as the receptionist asked if I would like to check in early. I parked the car underneath the hotel and went up to my room on the forth floor. It’s a lovely room with a spacious bedroom area, desk, mini fridge and a large bathroom. Only negative was that the shower head faces sideways and not the length of the bath it is situated in.

Whilst relaxing in the room, I went to do some internet research on places to see close by to the hotel but I eventually bought a chocolate tour starting at 2.30pm in the Grote Markt (Grand Place). It was a 25 minute walk into the centre of the city but I took a bit longer as I first bought a croissant to nibble on and then went into some quirky stores along the way; one was a second hand book store and I bought an English/Dutch dictionary.

The Grand Place has been known as the Europe’s best city square and it does not disappoint. It is rather hidden and can be found down one of six cobblestone laneways that lead from major roads. Majority of the buildings were beautiful in beige with gilded features in contrast with the charcoal coloured cobblestones within the square.

Hotel de Ville stands on one side and the Gothic looking at City Hall on the other. Hotel de Ville was built in 1444 and was the target for the French army as they were hoping to divert Allied troops from the Siege of Namur by threatening to destroy the building. Ironically, every building within the Grand Place was damaged or destroyed except for the hotel.

After a little look around by myself, I soon joined the tour group for the chocolate. We firstly went to the Galeries Rosales Saint-Hubert which is an arcade built in the 19th century. We stopped into two chocolate shops.

The first one, Neuhaus, was the first maker of praline chocolates in Belgium. The founder initially was a pharmacist and sold his praline along side medications as it was known that chocolate has an ‘aphrodisiac’ effect. This particular store was very expensive so I didn’t purchase anything!! Our second store was called Mary. In 1919, Mary was the first European women to own and run a chocolate business and this was most important post-war. Her truffles and pralines are all made by hand on the outskirts of Brussels city centre and is officially the chocolate supplier for the royal family. The Royal family have a list of 30 different truffles that they kindly ask for on different occasions. Back in the 1930’s, Mary used to individually paint each box that the chocolate came in and to this day, the chocolate shop uses the same designs but obviously not hand painted.

We went to three other stores and each chocolate definitely tasted differently and had a unique mouth feel. Along the way, I started chatting with some of the others and after the tour, four of us went for a drink at a local bar. The girls were from Northern Ireland, Edinburgh and Seattle respectively. After our drink, we all exchanged numbers and hoped that we could all get dinner tomorrow night after our outings in either Antwerp or Bruges.

Back at the hotel, I dropped my things off and walked to the train station to find out where I had to go for tomorrow. At the time, I bought a couple of groceries and got a burger for dinner. Trying to have an early-ish night.