A Weekend In Brussels

Processed with VSCO with hb1 presetTraveling to Europe during the holidays is always a magical experience. Between winter markets, dustings of snow down historical alleyways, and all sorts of seasonal culinary specialities, there really are endless excuses for journeying across the pond in December. A city that I have managed to get to know quite well over the years, thanks to a program in university, is Brussels. And fortunately, schedules finally aligned with my mother and I, that we were able to travel around the holiday season together. I was so excited to show her my old stomping grounds, including watering holes like Delirium Cafe and Madame Moustache, a small but amazing sandwich shop that I still don’t know the name of where I ate literally three times a week, and the architectural beauties of the city from the Galerie St. Royal, Grand Place, and several churches – one that was even host to a royal wedding.

The thing about a quick trip to Europe is that you need to stay centrally. While this might be a splurge up front, it saves you tons of time, allowing you to see more during your brief journey. We were lucky to be able to snag ourselves a room at the Hotel Amigo – a Rocco Forte property, right next to Grand Place. We didn’t know when we booked, but the hotel ended up being home to many dignitaries during a meeting at the EU Parliament. We obviously became quickly aware upon our arrival as we were greeted by the Politie along with the bellman, but this didn’t disrupt our stay in the least. A few other celebrity sightings ensued during our stay, further solidifying we made the right decision when booking for our quick trip. Because everyone deserves a little luxury every now and then, amiright?!

Processed with VSCO with hb1 presetOur plans for the weekend were as follows: drop our bags in our room and explore Brussels ’til we dropped on Day 1, book a train for a quick day trip to Paris on Day 2, do a half day in Brugge on Day 3, and sleep like babies on the plane home the following morning. Aggressive, I know, but when you can only take so much time off, you work to pack everything in. My mom says it’s a ‘marathon and a sprint’ all at the same time. She got used to this pace of travel on our last trip to Scotland, so when I invited her, I swear she knew what she was getting into.

After dropping our bags in our gorgeous suite, and doing a quick refresh, we were ready to hit the cobblestone streets running. We started by grabbing a quick lunch at Au Vieux Saint Martin. This is truly a local spot, and a hell of a place for me to brush up on my French. The waitress was patient with me, and thankfully we didn’t get too many weird looks from neighboring tables. After some tasty nourishment, we took by foot around the whole city. One of the great things about Brussels is that it is quite easy to see by walking. There are a few things like the Atomium that are a little more out of the way, but a lot of the heavy hitting sites are all in one place.

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The Brussels Museum in Grand Place.
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Galerie St. Royal looking extra glittery during the holidays.

If you just have a day or two in Brussels, I would recommend seeing:

  • Grand Place – The light show during the holiday is super entertaining, and all of the building could be stared at for hours!
  • Cathedral of of St. Michael and St. Gudula – Belgium’s national church, and a site for royal weddings and funerals.
  • Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon – Also, take a lunch or dinner in the neighborhood, there are so many tasty places to go like: Lola, San Sablon, COCO Donuts, and and Chez Richard.
  • The antique shops in Sablon – There’s all sorts of fabulous jewelry, a few historical maps if you can find them, and bronze decor items – amongst many other things.
  • The Atomium – You will have to take a car out of the city center, but it really is a cool museum, and a great spot to see if the weather isn’t so agreeable.
  • Cinquantenaire – Another great park for lunch, but only really when the weather is warmer.
  • Belgian Comic Strip Center – If you’re looking for a more modern take on Belgium, this center is quite famous and really interesting for any art buffs.
  • Galerie St. Royal – For tasty treats away from the elements and window shopping.
  • Christmas Markets – If you are there during the holiday season, grab a cup of hot wine and explore local vendors for stocking stuffers.

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Our blessed lady of Sablon in all her glory.
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Inside the Cathedral of of St. Michael and St. Gudula.
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Grand Place just casually taking my breath away.
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Mom at the Christmas market with a hot wine – customary for all attendees.

After many hours of exploring, we headed to Delirium Cafe (a must-see if you are in Brussels, and where I spent many nights as a university student living in Brussels) for a couple of beers, and ended up eating at a bit of a touristy spot around the corner for a quick dinner before heading back to the Hotel Amigo. We had a massive day ahead of us, so thankfully we made it to bed somewhat early. Have spots on your list that I didn’t list that are a must-see in Brussels? Comment below, so I can add them to my list for my next visit to the European Capital.

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What to Pack for Winter in Europe

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In less than two weeks, I will be heading to Brussels and Paris for a quick weekend getaway with my mom (yay!). As it gets closer to the holidays in Europe, I think the cities become so magical and it always worth a trip! Skipping the summer months for a winter weekend in Europe isn’t only cheaper, but you get to see a little more of that local flair. However, I know the promise of colder weather might initially deter you from booking that flight, but I wanted to share a few of my tips for dressing warm – and fashionably – in the winter which will make sight seeing enjoyable, and you’ll still be camera ready!

Practical(ish) shoes. 
Yes, when walking around Europe, you can typically expect some cobblestones, so stilettos are out, but that doesn’t mean you take heels off the table all together. The Jeremy Campbell booties I added above are a perfect example of a boot that you can rock in the winter time on European side streets. I actually have these myself and they’re super comfy and sturdy. A great pair of sneakers, with a hint of embellishment is also a good option. Gucci is having a total moment right now with their sneakers; I think they’re a super fun splurge. But, if you’re looking for something a little friendlier on your wallet, a pair of white chucks or Stan Smith’s should do the trick.

Layers, layers, layers
Investing in a body suit so you can ensure that your midriff will stay warm between picking up your luggage at the airport and sitting down at a cozy cafe is a must. Do double duty by layering a pair of winter tights underneath a pair of destroyed denim or a knee-length skirt and you’ll be good to go. Some tights you can get now are actually lined with fleece, so if you’re known to be super chilly, or are going to be spending the majority of your day outside, I would pack a pair to layer under denim or a long skirt for sure!

Colorful Knits
Come winter, expressing yourself through color gets a little trick, so I always like to mix it up with a colorful sweater. Pops of orange, red, purple, and baby blue are a great way to brighten up your wardrobe, while you stick to more of the classics in the rest of your look. I definitely recommend packing turtlenecks when you can, that way you can save space in your suitcase because you don’t need to pack a scarf. You can also have fun with color with a knit hat as well. Don’t be afraid to bust out one with a fun pom pom, so your friends can keep track of you around busier parts of the city.

A Second Coat
I always wear my biggest and fluffiest coat on the plane because packing it is a nightmare, but I highly recommend packing a second coat, especially if you plan to take lots of pictures outside, go out on the town, and think the weather might fluctuate a lot in temperature. A fab bomber is always a good go-to, and again, so many brands are experimenting with color, so you can stand out amongst a sea of black and tan.

A Couple Statement Pieces
When traveling, we have a tendency to pack sensibly, especially for trips to areas where it’s cold weather! But, I challenge you on your next trip to pack a few items that really stand out. A perfect dress for a surprise date, unexpected outing (you know, with the Queen or something), or even just for afternoon tea can work wonders. I can’t tell you how many times having a dress handy has saved my ass, especially when traveling abroad. I also always recommend one or two key pieces of statement jewelry. One eye-catching ring or set of earrings can really pull a look together without too much effort. The most obvious statement piece to pack is a great bag. I always say a bag is your best investment piece, so if you’ve got it flaunt it. However! Do not have this bag be one of your two carry-ons. Having to shove your bag under the seat or in the overhead bin on long flights is just asking for trouble – especially if it is an investment piece. Do yourself a solid and pack your day-to-day bag in a duster to pull out in prime condition once you get to your destination.

These five tips are sure to get you off to a good start on packing for a trip to Europe in winter. If you have questions or other suggestions that I may not have mentioned, be sure to leave them in the comments!

The European Capital

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 4.21.45 PMOne of the first European cities I visited was Brussels in Belgium. In my opinion, if you’re planning a trip around Europe, or if you’re looking for a long term stay in a European city, this is a great city to consider. Brussels constantly has foreigners moving in and out because the European Union is located in the city. What does that mean to you? The city is super easy to get around, most people speak some English, and there’s all kinds of offerings when it comes to cuisine, shopping, and tours. It’s clear that diversity is working in your favor.

Below I’ve listed a few of my tips if you are planning on, or thinking about visitng Brussels. If you have any other specific questions, leave them in the comments below!

GET A EURAIL PASS. One great thing about Brussels is that it’s centrally located, making it easy to head to other European cities by train. London, Paris, Maastricht, Amsterdam, and Frankfurt are all pretty close, giving you tons of opportunities for day or weekend trips. When I was there, I stayed for an extended period of time, so having that option was great. I bougth a Eurail Global Pass for the period of time that I was in Europe, which allows you to access up to 24 European countries by train. If you don’t have as much time as I did, you can grab the Eurail Select Pass, where you can explore up to 4 bordering countires.

PICNIC IN CINQUANTENAIRE. Embrace the European lifestyle and grab a fresh baguette with cheese (and maybe some locally brewed beer), and head over to Parc du Cinquantenaire for lunch with a view. The Cinquantenaire Art Museum is in part of the building surrounding the urban park, making it a perfect segway after a relaxed lunch. if you’re looking for a good place to grab a snack nearby, I recommend checking out Le Clan de Belges, Volle Gas, or L’Ultimate Atome, where you can get a delicious milkshake or crepe.

DRINK BEER. Brussels itself is a pretty quiet city, so if you’re looking for a wild, crazy time, where you can pop bottles of champagne all over innocent bystanders, this might not be quite your cup of tea. But, that’s not to say that there isn’t nightlife! If you do go out, skip the vodka sodas, and take part in one of Belgium’s pride and joy, beer. There are so many great options to choose from, but my absolute favorite (and where I spent a lot of my time in Brussels) is Delirium. With the option to taste more than 2,000 beers, good bartenders,and live music, you can’t go wrong. There’s also an awesome absinthe bar right across the lane. Some of my other favorites include Restobieres, A l’Imaige Nostre-Dame (a local favorite in Old Town), A La Mort Subite, and Poechenellekelder. If you aren’t a beer drinker (you pansy), stop by Madame Moustache for a good time and some creative cocktails.

TAKE PUBLIC TRANSIT. Brussels is a great city to walk around, but if you need to get somewhere in hurry (especially if it isn’t in the center of the city), hop on the metro or the trams (STIB-MIVB). You can board and buy a ticket for 2 euros for the above ground trains, but it’s better to buy a week-long pass at one of the metro stations. The metro only runs from 6am- Midnight, so taxis are probably necessary on nights that you are out later, and the process is pretty straight forward. Also, no need to tip your taxi driver, just make sure to carry cash.

CONSIDER VISITING THE ATOMIUM. Yep, that crazy looking sculpture is actually pretty cool. Inside is a museum and exhibition center, but I don’t think it’s necessarily worth going inside. You have to wait in line just to buy a ticket, and then another line to go up the elevator, and you don’t even get to go all the way to the top! Aside from all of that, if you do have the time, seeing this iconic Belgian monument is worth the trip outside the city center.

I could go on and on about Brussels, but I think this is enough to help you start planning your trip. If you’ve been before and think I’m missing something, let me know in the comments below!

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