Now, most people would travel to Brussels and stay a few days so they can see all the town has to offer, but when you’re travelling with a band of teenagers for a sports competition, that doesn’t happen. Despite this trip being a very short one, there were a number of firsts for me. This was the first time I travelled by any mode of transportation across the channel, or under in this case, and into Europe as well as my first time in France and Belgium; not that I saw much of France but a bit of Calais and the motorway. 🙂
So, the Chunnel was not quite what I expected. I did some research and given that I get claustrophobic in the weirdest of situations was a little concerned over that, the crossing wasn’t bad at all. When you arrive at the Folkestone Chunnel Crossing, you use your reservation to be admitted to the area and as a coach, we went through customs at a small services where there’s a Starbucks, a W.H. Smith, and a Duty Free shop. When the time came for us to board our reserved crossing, we loaded back onto our bus and drove through a maze to reach the train.
It’s amazing really because the coaches drive in from the end and once each car is loaded, glass panes with the train doors fold out and a metal retractable door that descends from the ceiling. There are public toilets in the first and last cars, so you can get out for those or to just stretch your legs, though you cannot walk between the cars in the event a parking brake/hand brake fails.
The descent under the English Channel is really gradual; you don’t notice that you ever really are going down or back up again other than a bit of popping of the ears. I opted to get off the coach and stand along the side because the buses tend to rock back and forth, which can be a bit like being in a boat. It was a much smoother crossing that way. Once the train begins moving, the crossing takes about 20 to 30 minutes.
Brussels was larger than I expected, though a lovely town. We stayed in Grand Place, where there you have a choice of a number of hotels as well as touristy shops for entertainment. We arrived late afternoon, settled into our room, and then decided to walk around and look for a place to eat.
Grand Place is the central market square of Brussels and has its origins dating back to the 11th Century. As early as the 14th century, improvements began being made to the square, but those were destroyed in the late 17th century and the current buildings erected. Grand Place is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you haven’t been to Grand Place, it is a rather large square which has the City Hall and several guildhalls as well as the Maison du Roi (or King’s House) which contains the Museum of Brussels. The buildings are ornate and opulent Gothic and Baroque architecture, many decorated with gold paint or material and are even beautiful at night.
Most of the restaurants in this part of town have their menus outside of the door for people to peruse, but none had a gluten-free menu available from what we could tell. After a search online, we opted for Hard Rock Cafe. I haven’t been to a Hard Rock since I was a kid, but the staff was so nice and the food was very good, so we were happy.
Once we had some fun in the gift shop, we hit the first chocolate shop we found, which fortunately had great labelling for gluten. The chocolates from Bruyere were very good as well. While they had a great deal of places to buy Belgian Beer and Brussels lace, we walked around and enjoyed the area before we returned to our rooms to sleep.
Sorry about the quality of the photos. It was starting to darken and the rain did not help!