September 11, 2019 – Day 1, Brussels, Belgium
After travelling for 11 hours (with 1 stopover), we arrived at Brussels airport. Serpentine queues and 2 hours later, at 9.00 a.m. in the morning, following our Airbnb host’s directions, we made our way to our Airbnb. Following several failed attempts to book our train tickets, finally, our adventures in Belgium began. The Belgian rail staff assured us that Brussels Midi and Brussels Central are in fact the same (when in fact Brussels Midi is the next stop after Brussels Central), and so after making our way to the platform and missing a train, and a detailed examination of the train timetables on the platform, we realized we needed another ticket, and lugging our heavy bags proceeded up the stairs to pick up one more.
It costs about 11 euro to get from Brussels airport to Brussels Midi (from where we had to board tram 81 to Lombardie). Mind you, the tram station at Brussels Midi is not the most wonderful sight to behold when you get to the city – it is as basic a tram station as you can get, and a bit dirty and spooky. Two kiosks stand on either end of the two platforms (with trams coming and going in opposite directions). The kiosk machines take some getting used to (and after again an unsuccessful attempt), we realized that selecting options involved turning a knob (as opposed to pressing a button). A day ticket costs 7.50 Euro and can be used across all modes of transport in Brussels, except trains.
Lugging our overpacked suitcases (as usual –because my obsessiveness made me pack for every contingency possible) into the tram, and doing a balancing act whilst the tram swerved around never ending bends, we reached Lombardie. It was gloomy, raining, cold and cloudy (quite unlike the weather we are used to when we usually visit Europe). Getting off at our stop, like clueless tourists we wandered around being pelted with rain ringing on wrong doorbells, till we finally managed to get in touch with our host, Luci. Our Airbnb apartment was located in the ground floor of a three storey building, and the houses were parallel to the tram tracks. Luci, our host, was an absolute delight and gave us about a million recommendations on local restaurants, markets and the like, and then invited us to see her apartment, make pizza and have dinner at her house (which were the two storeys above us). Luci’s apartment was positively delightful with white walls interspersed with wonderful artwork, cozy sofas and a fully equipped kitchen and fridge. Our apartment bedroom opened up into a beautiful garden and a nice seating area where you could eat (when the weather is warm). The only sounds you could hear in the garden were of nature, Loula’s (Luci’s adorable Australian shepherd) occasional bark, who is absolutely delightful.
Bursting with enthusiasm and hunger, we ventured out to the Brussels streets, following our host’s directions in search of food. Luci’s apartment is around Saint Gilles (which is touted to be a trendy artsy area in Brussels). The area around Saint Gilles is made up of hills, and jet lagged we wandered around in circles till we stumbled on Luci’s recommendation, La Cigale. A locally frequented restaurant and bar, it was delightful to get into warmth after the rain and the cold outside. As I discarded my jacket and scarf and sat down to feast, I was reminded of a TV show I have been watching recently people remove their woolens once they get in (which seemed alien to me at this point, having always lived in tropical Mumbai for all my life thus far). We ordered the specials on the menu (with my limited knowledge of French), and of course, being in Belgium, we ordered the fries. La Cigale is as local as you could get with zero wifi and the entire menu in French and Flemish (both of which are spoken in Belgium), with quaint interiors, and you feel like you have walked into an English pub. The food was freshly made, cooked to perfection, and it felt like we were in food heaven with perfectly cooked meat, crunchy salad, and a sort of vegetable and bacon wrapped in cheese filled dumplings.
Stomachs full, we layered up and prepared for the cold assault on our senses (well, I am kidding, being from Mumbai, even 13 degrees Celsius is cold) as we explored Saint Gilles and stumbled upon lost gems. Saint Gilles’ streets are replete with tapestry shops, book shops, comic book stores, cafes and bars and you could see the odd spattering of tourists and locals stepping out. Brussels is a comic lover’s heaven, and we visited this enormous comic book store running across 4 floors with books loaded from top to bottom and every comic book hero you could think of – stopping to make our purchase of the local favourite – the smurfs (for those of you who don’t know, they are these delightful blue and white pixie characters of various shapes (mostly on the plumper side), and now have movies made after them).
4 P.M. beckoned and it was pizza making time with Luci, Loula and Kiki (the big white cat). Loula is about 2 years old, and she was so excited to play she couldn’t stop jumping up and down and reminded me of Piper (my brother’s dog). Pizza making finished, we decided to venture to the city centre and explore a bit before dinner. Dinner at Luci’s was a delightful affair. Sitting across her open kitchen, we had drinks and cheese whilst the pizza baked, and Luci and Alessandro (Luci’s husband) entertained us with stories their life in Brussels, and general information about Brussels and the people. Luci and Alessandro are both Italians having moved to Brussels, and the pizza and the chocolate cake Luci baked was delightful. After a hearty dinner, and delightful conversation, and several belly rubs for Loula, we called it a night and went home five steps below.
For Luci’s airbnb, you can check out the following link: https://abnb.me/8Hqw41mRe1