We arrived in Brussels on the train from Amsterdam on Wednesday night at Central station. We weren't sure where to go and as it was an unfamiliar city, we decided to go to the taxi queue. It was rush hour and we weren't sure but it seemed like the taxi driver took us a long way around but what can you do? Now that we are familiar with the immediate area, we know we could walk in about 15 or 20 minutes but when things aren't all that straight forward, taxis are the easiest. The driver was very congenial and chatted to us about things to do and see in the city as well.
We checked into the Ibis St. Catherine. The check in person was a bit off putting, i found, maybe there was some communication issues, i don't know. They weren't rude but they weren't exactly bend over backwards helpful either, compared to the staff in the Tulip in Amsterdam who handed over maps and brochures unasked. We also asked if breakfast was included and for some reason i thought she said it was and told us the hours. Turns out it wasn't and we were charged 15 euro per person for the two mornings we had breakfast in the hotel. Ah well.
Our first order of business was to walk out and find Grand Place, the main square with the grand Town Hall and all the marvellous guildhalls and buildings. We walked out into Place St. Catherine with it's old and sooty church stands. Seemed to be lots of restaurants there which we kept in mind for later.
It wasn't too far to a main street and we saw a big building that looked impressive with a large front staircase and arches all over. Turns out that used to be the Stock Exchange, called the Bourse and now houses the Bruxelle museum. This is on the corner of a little street that leads into the Grand Place and which is lined with shops and cafes. Plenty of touristy type souvenir shops in this district as well as shops with lace and chocolate and beer.
We made our way over the cobbled streets and entered the square. Wow!!!! The Stadhuis (town hall) spire soared over us and the buildings all around the square had gilded touches and decoration. Many of them are from the 17th and 18th century. The large structure facing the Town Hall is the Maison du Roi and the stone work almost looks lacy! There were lots of people of course, most of them looking up and taking photos. You want to watch your possessions as there are plenty of pickpockets around here. Many of the guildhouses have restaurants in the main level. The Town hall has a tourist information centre in it as well. By the time we got there, that was closed as it was around 6 p.m. or so.
We took many photos and then decided it was time to find food.
We walked around a bit but ended up at a cafe right on the main street by the Bourse. Probably a real tourist trap but Le Grand Cafe had a good menu and it wasn't *too* expensive and it was convenient. (see review). We enjoyed our meal and then decided to go back into the Place to see the square all lit up after dark. Even more wow!!! Very impressive! We had to admit we were far more impressed with Brussels' main square than with Amsterdam's Dam Square.
We aren't spending a lot of time here. Tomorrow we're spending the day in Bruges, which everyone says is amazing. Friday morning, we're visiting the Museum of Musical instruments and if there's time, taking a city bus tour.