This time last year, Alex and I went with my brother for a trip to Belgium. I wrote last year about our weekend at the Belgian Grand Prix (part 1, part 2, part 3). But Alex and I stayed on for a few more days to explore other parts of Belgium.
Day 6 continued
After our epic weekend watching the Belgian Grand Prix, we spent the Monday in and around the town of Spa itself. In classic fashion, while I came to Spa for the racing, Alex wanted to go Spa for the… spa. We went to a spa bath that was up a funicular railway. The trade-off was, Alex could go to the spa, if I got to go on the funicular. Winning at life.
There were some pretty good views up there. Belgium may have a reputation as a flat country, but this particular area is very hilly indeed.
Refreshed and relaxed from the spa, we treated ourselves to our first restaurant meal of the holiday. I got the giant plate of spaghetti with mussels. Clearly in my element here.
Drive-in beer shop
Of course, one of the great reasons to go to Belgium is for the beer! While in Spa, I looked on Google Maps to find a nearby beer shop. Drive-In Andrien had great reviews and looked like a good option.
To our astonishment, when we arrived, it genuinely was a drive-through beer shop. It’s one of the most extraordinary shops I have ever been in. It was like being in the Costco of Belgian beer. They had everything you could imagine, and then some — and piles upon piles of all of it. With your car surrounded by it. This place has to be seen to be believed.
I think we were probably annoying the regulars, who seemed to be in and out in a snap, returning empties and quickly collecting their next order.
Best of all, the beer was all incredibly cheap! Gordon bought a boxful of beer, and upon learning the total price decided he was going to get a whole bunch more! We were still making our way through all the beer we bought here, well into 2019.
While Alex and I would continue in Belgium for the rest of the week, Gordon returned home. After dropping Gordon off at his Brussels overnight Airbnb, we headed for the campsite we had booked. It was in a slightly unappealing suburb called Grimbergen, a 20 minute drive from Brussels city centre.
While its location wasn’t fantastic, this was nevertheless probably the best campsite we’ve ever been to. We were slightly apprehensive, because some of the reviews reported an unwelcoming attitude from the site’s father-and-son owners. However, we found them delightful.
I was also impressed to witness the son seemingly fluently speaking at least four different languages with his customers. Although perhaps he was just good at camping speak, I was nevertheless impressed. It was lucky for me, because by this stage I no longer knew whether I was supposed to be speaking French or Flemish.
The facilities there were impressively clean. This was a great relief after enduring the grim portaloos for the past few days at the circuit campsite.
The only real downside of the campsite, is the fact that it’s directly underneath a flight path. That wasn’t the only noise I had to endure. The other-side-of-middle-aged couple in the pitch next to us spent lots of the evening (and early hours of the morning) very loudly sexing each other.
Day 7 — Brussels
From Grimbergen we took the bus, then the train into Brussels, a journey that took about an hour. The train stations were surprisingly run-down and unpleasant.
On arrival into Brussels, we made our way to Grand Place.
Then we went on the hunt for Manneken Pis. We were surprised to discover that, although he was still pissing, he was fully clothed. I didn’t know this before, but apparently he is dressed for various publicity purposes throughout the year. The day we saw him, he was dressed up as a lawyer for young lawyers day.
I’m always keen to see modern art, so we made our way to the Magritte Museum. Unfortunately, most of René Magritte’s most famous works were on loan to a museum in San Francisco.
Their places were taken by works by the contemporary artist Nicolas Party. I think the idea was supposed to be that Party’s work is inspired by and similar to Magritte’s. But in truth, the Party pieces stuck out like a sore thumb to me. Alex prefers Party, but it’s not really to my taste.
Musical Instruments Museum
Visiting the Musical Instruments Museum was one of my favourite things in Belgium. They have a huge variety of musical instruments on display, and if Alex wasn’t hurrying me along I could probably have spent all afternoon in there.
For a small fee, it is possible to rent an audio guide that contains clips of all the instruments on display in the museum. This is what makes the visit so time-consuming. But it is what also makes the visit. If you go, you must get the audio guide!
As you might expect, there are a lot of instruments designed by Adolphe Sax.
But my favourite room was the first one we entered, in the basement, which contained the collection of mechanical and electronic instruments. I was delighted to see an ondes martenot.
But the coolest display was the equipment from the IPEM studio, with an accompanying mindbending audioguide clip, Polyfonium composed by Lucien Goethals.
Our guidebook told us to visit this bakery. Unfortunately, this may have been one of those places that has been rather destroyed by being featured in guidebooks. We found the service incredibly slow and shaky, and the food not that much to write home about.
So we made our way to Cafe Leffe for a couple of beers to kill a bit of time before our next appointment.
I had booked us dinner at the Atomium.
We decided we needed to go here, because we regretted not going to the top of the TV tower in Berlin.
Every time we told someone we were going to dinner at the Atomium, people told us how poor value for money it was. But we enjoyed our meal there.
For one thing, booking the restaurant gets you to the top of the Atomium when the rest of the building is closed. On this Tuesday evening, the restaurant was relatively quiet, so we more or less had the run of the place.
Needless to say, the views are rather impressive.
The food was good, but maybe a little on the expensive side for what it was.
By this stage we were entering the final stretch of our holiday to Belgium. In the next post in this series, discover what we got up to in Bruges and Flanders.