September 22, 2017 – I think this might have been our earliest day of the entire trip and it just happened to be our last. We were up by 4:00 am to make sure we could get to the pickup spot for our ride to the airport by 5:00 am.
We grabbed our things at 4:45 am and made our way up to the spot where we had been dropped off just a few days before. It was so dark and this time we had to go up a bunch of stairs with our packs on.
We made it to the pickup spot right on time. A car pulled up and the driver asked if we were staying with Old Oia Houses. We found out during our stay that our Airbnb was part of a group of homes collectively called Old Oia Houses, so we said yes and got in. I guess since it was so early we were the only ones going to the airport so we just got a car this time.
Our driver got a call from someone just as we started our journey to the airport. We couldn’t understand what was being said, but all of a sudden he made a U-turn and went back to our pick up spot. We were extremely confused. Did we get in the wrong car? What was going on?!
We were sitting there waiting for the guy to tell us something, but he didn’t and just kept receiving angry phone calls. Finally, some other people walked up to the car like they were going to ride with us. The lady refused (I guess she was too good to share a car) so the guy got back in and angrily drove off.
We concluded that 2 other people were supposed to ride with us, but they were late getting to the pickup spot. When they finally showed up, someone called the driver to tell him. But when he got there the people didn’t want to squeeze into the car with us and decided to wait for another. To be honest, if I was that driver I would be mad too.
We made it to the airport 40 minutes before our flight along with everyone else on our flight. The check-in process was long but simple. They took our bags and then we walked a whole 20 feet from the check-in counter to security. After security, we walked about 10 steps to where we would have to stand to wait for a bus that would take us to our plane. It was weird being in an airport where every single person there was on your same flight.
Boarding started just as the sun was rising. The sunsets on Santorini were beautiful, but watching the sunrise from the plane over the Mediterranean was incredible.
We landed in Athens after about 30 minutes in the air. It was so early when we left that we didn’t eat or drink anything. We knew the Athens lounge would have something for breakfast so that’s where we headed to wait for our flight to Brussels.
If you remember the first time we went to the Athens lounge, we were met with espresso and cookies; not a very substantial breakfast. It was more of the same this time. I think they had some fruit and yogurt though so at least there was a little more. These lounges were a blessing with each airport we went to. We never had to buy food or bottled water whenever we had a flight.
At our flight time, we headed to the gate. Again, the gate was close by so we didn’t have far to walk. We got on and found our seats.
The flight was uneventful and beautiful. We flew directly over the Dolomites and the Alps. It was incredible because we were at a very high altitude, but at some points, it looked like the mountain peaks were fairly close to us.
We landed in Brussels around 11:00 am and got our bags. Then we headed to the train inside the airport to get to the city center. We had already done this once before when we had to go to Paris so we knew where to go.
When we went to Paris, we bought our ticket to Brussels city center at a little kiosk by customs. This time we stopped by a ticket window to ask about a 24-hour ticket. They didn’t have a discount, but we were able to go ahead and purchase our return at that time so we wouldn’t have to worry about it in the morning.
We got to the city center and walked over to our hotel, Novotel Brussels Grand Palace. It was super close to the train station; less than half a mile. In fact, I think it was maybe a quarter of a mile. Perfect for a long layover.
It was odd going from Greece to Belgium because of the temperature difference. It was so hot in Greece, but when the train pulled in to the center of Brussels we noticed everyone wearing peacoats and scarves. I was nervous that we underestimated the temperatures there. We hadn’t been outside yet, but surely it wasn’t that cold. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. These Belgians were crazy. I was fine in my light Columbia fleece jacket.
We knew check-in wasn’t until 2:00 pm, but luckily Novotel had a bag room where they could securely keep our bags while we explored the city. So we left our things with them and went on to be tourists for the last time (for this trip).
We didn’t really have a game plan. We had a few things we wanted to see, so we quickly looked a map to figure out what made the most sense to do before check-in. We decided to go get some frites (fries) first. There was a Fritland really close to our hotel so that’s where we went. It was a chain restaurant, but the fries were excellent. We ordered ours with mayonnaise as the dipping sauce. Ordering mayonnaise with my fries made me gag a bit, but the mayonnaise in Europe is SO different. It’s really flavorful, unlike the mayonnaise we have in the US. Overall, the frites lived up to the hype!
After we were full of frites, we decided to walk over to the famous Delirium Bar.
I fully expected the bar to be packed, but to our surprise, there was hardly anyone there. We went to the bottom level first and had a beer. Then we walked to the middle level and had another beer. We were going to go to the third level, but by the time we finished our 2nd beer, it was nearing our check-in time. Delirium surprised me overall. The bartenders were some of the nicest I’ve ever met and were super helpful when we were deciding which beers to get.
After we finished our 2nd level beers, we made our way back to the hotel to check in. The Novotel was clearly geared towards business travel. They had many areas to work and more power outlets in our room than I’ve ever seen. It was the most modern place we’d stayed thus far.
After check-in, I got my nice camera and we went back out to explore. My phone had died earlier, so the only pictures of fries and beer were from Eric’s phone when I reminded him to take pictures.
Our first stop after check-in was the beautiful Grand Place. It’s considered one of the most beautiful medieval squares in all of Europe.
Then we moved on to the Manneken Pis as one does in Brussels.
What you can’t see is the massive crowd around this tiny thing. It’s really stupid, but we had to see it.
Then we moved on to buy some chocolates because if you don’t buy chocolate in Belgium, did you even go? The answer is no.
I researched chocolate places in Brussels and my goodness there are a lot of them. Galler kept popping up as a local favorite that wasn’t too expensive so that’s what we went with. They were delicious!
After chocolate, we obviously needed a Belgian waffle. I wasn’t sure how great someone could make a waffle. America does have the institution known as Waffle House… how much better could these be?
WAY BETTER!!! They are dense, unlike American waffles. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside… almost like a beignet if you’ve ever had the real deal in New Orleans. It was sweet and full of flavor. I got mine stuffed with Belgian chocolate bars because I could. Eric got a plain one because he hasn’t quite figured out how to live life to its fullest. We’re working on it.
Vitalgaufre was our waffle place of choice. Again, I researched and this was consistently a local favorite. You can disagree if you want, but you can’t deny this waffle was incredible. There were other places that made crazy looking ice cream sundaes with their waffles, but it was coldish outside and this was warm and perfect.
We didn’t really have anything left on our list so we just wandered.
We stumbled upon the beautiful St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral. The architecture reminded me of the Notre Dame. I’ve decided one of my favorite things from this trip was just wandering through European cathedrals. Each one has its own story and such interesting history. The architecture of these cathedrals was mind-blowing. The insides were usually just as stunning. If I’m counting correctly, we wandered through 8 cathedrals during our time in Europe, some of which are the most prominent and recognized cathedrals in the world.
After the cathedral, we were spent. We rarely let our exhaustion stop us from exploring as much as time would allow us in each city, but at this point ,we had seen and done everything we had hoped to in Brussels. Around 6:00 pm we decided to go to the grocery store down the street from our hotel to grab some sandwiches. Once we had those, we retreated to our hotel to eat and take showers.
We hit the hay around 9:00 pm. Our flight the next morning was at 10:30 am, but we wanted to make sure we had time to check out the Brussels lounge at the airport so we decided to leave the hotel around 6:30 am.
Overall, 24 hours in Brussels was plenty of time. We saw and did everything “major” in 6 hours and I have no regrets. I also don’t really have a desire to go back. I didn’t hate it, I just wasn’t impressed. I remember telling Eric it reminded me of a French Atlanta. I would love to go back to Belgium one day to explore other cities, though. The country is beautiful… maybe I’m just more of a small town explorer.