Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New Year's Eve in Brussels

We spent the last day of 2011 in Brussels! Our hotel reservation wasn't made until the last minute but we still managed to get an affordable rate at a nice place in the heart of the city. Dinner reservations were more difficult to obtain. All of our first choices were already booked or too expensive. After several hours of emailing and calling restaurants in the vicinity of the Grand Place, we finally reached a friendly host who penciled us in for 7:30.

The drive to Brussels from our house is only about an hour and a half. Unfortunately the weather forecast for the day was rainy, windy, and chilly. The good news is that I think I'm becoming accustomed to this. Back home, I would never usually venture out if it was gloomy and raining. Here, that is so often the case that you might as well get your umbrella and go outside or risk being trapped in your house for days.

We arrived around 2pm and immediately found our hotel. Impressed with ourselves, we decided to continue driving just to see some parts of the city we wouldn't have time for during this trip. We planned on just going a little further down the road and turning around so we could keep our bearings. This little side-trip was a mistake. Six confusing roundabouts, a couple tunnels, and 30 minutes later, we finally made it back to our hotel. Thankfully, we were able to check in with little fanfare.

Our room was very nice! Windows filling an entire wall looked out upon a little park that was lovely even in the rain. I made my way over to the bathroom to check it out and when I tried the lights, they didn't work. I pressed the switch several more times and blindly felt my way around the dark room, still unable to determine how to use the lights. I called my husband in for reinforcement and he proceeded to do the same things, shrugging his shoulders at the end of his futile attempt.

He went into the bedroom and tried the television and other lights. They also did not work. "Someone must have blown a fuse," he said.

He called the front desk and was advised to place a room key in a slot by the door. Once we did this, all of the lights blinked to life and we remarked how efficient this hotel must be regarding energy savings. I haven't yet encountered a hotel like this in America.

We set out to begin our rainy walk to the Grand Place. I loved the narrow side streets filled with tiny cafes!

Finally we arrived at the Grand Place (Grote Markt) and it was breathtaking! I think it's the most beautiful square I've seen so far.

Standing in the middle of this square made me feel small and very young. The earliest known written reference to the Grand Place dates back to 1174. 

After walking around and taking lots of photos, we decided it was time for the magical combination of pommes frites and Belgian beer. We went to a quaint pub off the beaten path and my husband tried a traditional lambic while I had a Hoegaarden Grand Cru. I've certainly had Hoegaarden in America but this was not the regular kind. It is much tastier, as all of the beer in Belgium is. And it boasts an ABV of 8.5%. I certainly needed some pommes frites afterward. Sadly, the kitchen at this pub was already closed so we found another place and had mussels.

We spent some more time walking around the city and then went back to our room to get ready for the evening's festivities. We were very excited for dinner and it did not disappoint. The menu was prixe fixe, with three choices for three courses. At just 59 Euro each, it was a steal. Better yet, it was delicious! The location was also perfect, at just a minute's walk from the Grand Place.

Our Restaurant for New Year's Eve Dinner
By the time we left, it was nearly 10pm and we only had two hours to wait until the countdown. We stopped into several more places, toasted each other with champagne, and ended up back at the square for the fireworks. 

After standing around for several minutes, my husband consulted his watch and noticed we were only a minute away from the stroke of midnight. Hearing no official countdown, we began to wonder if we were in the right spot. Suddenly fireworks began bursting and lighting up the sky but our view was blocked by buildings. The crowd rushed forward and began pushing and shoving toward the display. We were herded along with everyone else and I tripped, fell, and scraped my knee. Luckily no one ran over me as I dramatically crumpled on the cobblestone. My husband pulled me up and dragged me to safety. In our champagne-induced euphoria, we kept moving and managed to catch the tail-end of some fireworks.

Despite missing the majority of the fireworks show and a bloody, scraped knee, it was a very happy new year for us in Brussels. We are already wondering where we'll spend our second New Year's Eve in Europe!

Here is one more photo of the crowd. This is my favorite because of the kissing couple. 

Hello, 2012!

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