tom911 goes to Brussels and Amsterdam

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  1. tom911
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    tom911 Gold Member

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    SUNDAY

    This trip started Sunday afternoon with a 65 min CRJ200 regional jet from Sacramento to LAX (50 seats in economy). Flight time was 65 mins. Hard to keep the plane cool even when in the air. I'm on a $688 sale fare that I purchased 9 days out.

    Arrived at the remote terminal for AA at LAX and made my way by shuttle bus to T4. Walked into the Flagship Lounge for about a 90 min visit. While there I enjoyed Pellegrino water, a Sam Adams beer, and two ham and cheese sandwiches on very good rolls.

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    The 5:45pm flight to London was full. Every seat in business was occupied and there were only 2 open seats in coach. I watched one Liam Neeson movie (he’s killing people in this one, too), and there were over 100 classic and new movies to choose from. Tried to sleep during the 10 hr 15 min flight and probably got 4-5 hours in. Dinner was chicken or tortellini. I asked for the tortellini and opened my entree to find it was chicken. Too late now as they were well past my row. Really didn't matter.

    MONDAY

    Raining at London Heathrow and we circled for about 25 mins. Our gate was occupied and we had to wait for that flight to depart and the alley to clear. I originally had a 90 min connection which I knew would be tight, as you have to walk to a bus transfer center, change terminals, reclear a ticket check, and then security screening. Things seemed to move along until I was put in a security screening line with about 25 people ahead of me. They seemed to make good progress, though, until I had to be patted down because my watch set off an alarm. Arrived at the gate to find my Brussels flight in the middle of boarding. I jumped into the elite line and left everyone else behind me.

    Only disappointment was not having time to visit the BA first class lounge for a drink and snack, but even if everything was running on time knew that visit would be short.

    While on the ground I found a foot on my armrest. It was a child sitting on the person’s lap behind me. I told him I did not want to share my armrest. Child retaliated by kicking my seat. I moved to the empty middle seat. Child moved to the middle seat. I needed out. Flagged down a flight attendant and moved to an open row. Enjoyed the hour fight to Brussels. We had to make a few turns en route to avoid storm clouds.

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    Looked at the train schedule on arrival at Brussels Airport and it looked like there wasn’t direct service to the station near my hotel (Gare du Nord) so went outside and checked on buses. A bus with that exact destination was arriving in two minutes. Took about 30 mins to get into the city with pretty heavy traffic. Fare was 3 euros ($3.45). Arrived in a very light rain and walked a block over to my hotel and entered via the rear entrance.

    Crowne Plaza upgraded me to an executive room with more space and a city view (not much to view except the Sheraton across the plaza and a big construction zone out front). Three free drinks in the refrigerator (water, Coke, beer). My rates here is 93 euros a night with breakfast (was 10-11 euros less if I didn't want breakfast - I did).

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    Took a 2 hour nap and was out at 8. All the shops along the pedestrian area into the city center were closed. A light mist was falling and that eventually became a moderate rain. A local hamburger place had just closed at 8:30. Just wanted something small so got two hamburgers at a McDonalds (1 euro each, $1.15). I have the hotel breakfast buffet in the morning and that will hold me until then.]

    Leonidas chocolate shop window nearby:

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    Walked over to the nearby train station for a quick look at train schedules and prices, then back to the hotel just before 10 for the night.

    Brussels photos (not too many yet) start here:
    https://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Europe/2015-Brussels-Belgium/
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2015
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  2. newbluesea
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    Brussels is nice city. I found the area near Sablon with lots of restaurants, boutiques and the weekend antique markets more to my liking......especially after one has seen the Grand Plas
    One word of caution about the Grand Plas area is that the quality (of the food in the) restaurants improve dramatically the further one moves away from the main square.
     
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  3. euromannn
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    NO Belguim ales to report?
    How are you getting access to the lounges? Amex or Citi Prestige card to Priority Pass?
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2015
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  4. euromannn
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    Maybe you should eat closer to the Le Mannequin Piss statue?
     
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  5. tom911
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    I walked out of an Italian restaurant over by the Bourse last night that looked really nice. Could just wait so long for service before I reached my breaking point and bailed. I ended up at a Greek place on a side street not far from Galleries St Hubert (had planned for Greek when I left the hotel, but the Italian place looked interesting). Glad I have the new TMobile plan with unlimited international data as I used Yelp to point me to the location when I had given up trying to find it. I was only a block away so had got pretty close.

    Do the shops close here at 6 or 7? I popped into the three story mall across the street from my hotel just after 7 last night and everything was already closed. I remember my first trip to Switzerland in the mid-90s where all the shops closed at 6 there, so would not be surprised if it's 6 here with one late day a week.
     
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  6. tom911
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    I had a Leffe brown beer last night which was a little sweet and want to try Chimay next. At a concert during the day they had Jupiler on tap. I'm not a big beer drinker (just as happy with a Diet Coke) but I know I need to sample beer here. I'll probably only have the one each night with dinner. If I was traveling with friends, which I will be on a return visit in December, I'd be having more.

    My lounge access comes with One World Emerald (AA EXP).
     
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2015
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  7. pshuang

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    I was told when I had some business trips to Belgium that Leonidas was... OK, not great. For example, I wouldn't be impressing anybody if I brought a box of Leonias to a social gathering. On the other hand, I liked being able to buy a small combination box, and leave the chocolates I didn't like as much half eaten with no sense of buyer's remorse.
     
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  8. tom911
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    TUESDAY

    Was up a 5 and worked on my photos and trip report. Down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast at 7. It’s buffet style with an assortment of juices, cheese, sliced meats, muesli/various yogurts, scrambled eggs, beans, bacon/sausage, rolls/breads, and, of course, Belgian waffles.

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    Was on the street at 9am and worked my way through the shopping district past the Royal Theatre and the Bourse (stock exchange). Popped into an area church (Notre Dame du Finistere) just as the doors opened at 0930.

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  9. tom911
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    From there a quick stop at Saint Nicolas, past all sorts of chocolate shops, as well as one shop specializing in beer, as I headed towards Grand Place.

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  10. tom911
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    Grand Place contains the Town Hall and various buildings originally built for different craft guilds. The square also is home to a couple chocolate shops.

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  11. tom911
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    From here off to the Galleries St. Hubert which is an arcade type structure with a glass ceiling. Along the way I passed a shop offering chocolates on one side and beer on the other.

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    My favorite chocolate shops, in terms of artistic displays, are in here. Mary’s had their version of mallomars which I grew up with. I spoke with the clerk there who said that those and some fruit gem items are summer features. The mallomars here are filled with egg whites where the ones I've had in the U.S. years ago were filled with marshmallow.

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    From Mary's:

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  12. tom911
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    Last edited: Aug 27, 2015
  13. tom911
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    From another shop it's clear the Smurfs are still in style:

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    And I enjoyed a tour group marching in delaying my photo opportunity for a few minutes until they marched on (this in front of the Neuhaus chocolate shpop, one of many I took photos of in the Galleries hall).

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    Up the hill to St. Michael’s Cathedral. The site dates back to 1047 with various additions over the years. Lit two candles for friends. Lots of stained glass here. I went to Mass in a side chapel for a few minutes but it was in Flemish and I was completely lost and left.

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  14. tom911
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    [​IMG]

    Lots of stained glass:

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    Nearby is the central train station which is different than the north train station by my hotel.

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  15. tom911
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    From there, several blocks to the Belgian Senate, and from there I entered the Parc de Bruxelles and found a welcoming bench to sit a while.

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    Continued through the park towards the Royal Palace and heard music. Stumbled upon a concert on a hill. There were some vendors and I had a Jupiler beer on tap for 2.5 euros ($2.90). Stayed for about 30 mins. They did sing two English songs, one of which was Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, and had some violinists working very hard. Hundreds of people around me. I did see some collection canisters for Doctors without Borders so it might have been a charitable event.

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  16. tom911
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    Did walk by the Royal Palace, and then the gardens below it on the way into the city center, on the way over to see Mannekin Pis.

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  17. tom911
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    From there, back to the hotel, about a 20 minute walk, arriving back at 4pm. Can’t recall my feet being so sore once I took the hiking boots off. Too much cobblestone today.

    Along the way another beer shop:

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    Lots of shoppers on the trek back to the hotel:

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    Back out at 7 for dinner and nighttime touring. My first dinner choice was Prego, a nice Italian place by the Bourse with the walls lined with bottles of wine and a varied menu. Sat down and it took 10 mins to get a menu. Waited another 10 minutes and got up and walked out (and I was so looking forward to four cheese gnocchi at 14 Euros/$16). They weren’t busy with less that a dozen patrons with a large seating area.
     
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  18. tom911
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    Tried unsuccessfully to find the area near Galleries St Hubert with Greek food, but all I kept running into was alleys with mussels and steak and fries. Broke out the cell phone and they came right up on Yelp and I was only one block away. Enjoyed a gyros-style plate with yogurt and salads/fries for 9 euros ($10.25) and a Leffe brown beer.

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    Walked through Grand Place with a stop at a chocolate shop nearby and was back at my hotel at 10pm. Watching the BBC 11pm news as I finish writing this (no CNN).

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    New photos start here:
    https://tom911.smugmug.com/Travel-Europe/2015-Brussels-Belgium/i-8PFM3WH
     
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  19. tom911
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    Most of the shops will let you pick out your own chocolates to fill a box. Leonidas is around 13.20 euro for 500g (about $15 for 1.1 pounds). Some of the other shops I went into are 2-3 times that price, so you can pay a premium depending where you go.
     
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  20. dhammer53
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    I'll trade you a seat on the next Brooklyn Tour (BRT) for some chocolate. :D
     
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  21. euromannn
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    One simple hint when traveling:
    DO as the locals do!

    Good to sample things ONCE....if you don't like what the locals do you have 30 years of stories of how bad stuff was!
     
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  22. euromannn
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    Now you've found the boy peeing, try to find the girl?
     
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  23. euromannn
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    try the town of Brugge on the coast,great sunsets and medieval architecture.
     
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  24. tom911
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    I've been there before, as well as the coastal city up from it (Ostend) and Ghent, when I was still backpacking (going all the way back to 1992 and been coming to Europe a couple times every year). Stayed at the YHA just up the block from the train station then. I'm back with friends in December who have never been to Belgium and we'll visit Brugge along with stops in two other countries - everything will be new to them except Frankfurt, and our Frankfurt visit will consist of only the airport until we head to Mainz and overnight there for day 1 during the Christmas markets. They have been to Frankfurt before when we trained up there from Salzburg to fly home on a sale fare, but everything else on that trip will be new to them. $800 fares make this one work (into FRA, home from AMS).

    Today I ended up in Antwerp and just back at my hotel in Brussels at 7:45.

    The hazards of traveling light. I'll barely have space in my rollaboard for a box or two for me. :cool:
     
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  25. tom911
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    WEDNESDAY

    Left the hotel after breakfast around 9:45am in search of the bus stop for my Friday trip to Amsterdam with Meinfernbus, a private bus company similar to Megabus in the U.S. I have an 8 euro fare ($9) while the train was at least four times that and even higher with some departures, so in this case didn’t make sense the take the train for the 3 hour trip. Found the stop using google maps on the cell phone, then into the train station to find the ticket machine didn’t like my credit card with a chip, so into line at a ticket window. That only took 10 minutes and I was on the platform for the 10:30 departure to Antwerp just 2 minutes before departure. 37 minute trip over to Antwerp central station at 7.2 euros ($8.20).

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    The train station in Antwerp combines old and new, with the new being a four story track building with the old being a single level departure hall and ticketing area with a high ceiling. They had one odd escalator that ascended, then went flat, and then ascended again. Don’t think I’ve ever been on one like that and it must involve significant engineering to get all that to work.

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    The top level:

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