Currency Tips for Travel

If the last time you left the country you used Travelers Checks, or it’s your first time traveling abroad - this post is for you! A common question I get asked is how to pay for things outside of the US - so I’m happy to share my best information to help make your trip as stress free as possible from a money stand point. I do most of my travel in Europe so will be focusing on the Euro, but these tips apply to almost anywhere you are traveling to on your trip.

First a little information on the European Union - which consists of a total of 28 countries. I’m not going to list all 28, just suffice to say they are the most commonly traveled countries in Europe. While the countries are independent this union allows them to operate as a cohesive economic and political block. If you want more information or to see pictures of their headquarters in Brussels just click on the archive on the main page of my blog and see my Brussels post dated 5/29/19. I just visited there! The vast majority of the EU members use the Euro as their currency, but there are 9 that still use their own currency. The 9 are Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Sweden and the UK. So depending on where you are going you may need both Euros and the country currency. It’s a lot easier when they use the Euro but all the information I will be sharing applies to either. 

What to take:

A Debit Card, 2 Credit Cards with Chips and  some US currency preferably $20 and $1 bills. How much US currency? Not much. Five $20’s and 20 $1’s is plenty. Why do you need US currency? Well in a pinch people will take US currency. I’m not talking about being able to buy a cup of coffee or a meal with it, but if you land and have no local currency and need to give someone a few dollars for helping you carry luggage or get directions giving them US money is better than nothing. You will need to get local currency soon after landing and I’ll cover how to do that.

 Call your bank affiliated with your Debit card and make sure you will be able to use it where you are going. Make sure your pin will work there - most likely it will. Let them know your dates of travel and where you will be. 

Should you exchange US dollars for Euros or the local currency in the US before you leave. NO! Well you can if you don’t mind paying quite a bit more than you need to, but it’s very easy to get currency after you land and why not save your hard earned money and spend it on your trip? Don’t exchange currency at the airport when you land. That’s the most expensive place to do it and totally unnecessary. Most flights from the US land early in the day, so once you get into the city or town where you are starting your trip you can just find an ATM - one preferably outside of a bank - during regular banking hours - and get some money. It’s best to use an ATM during the day for a couple of reasons. Better for safety, and just in case the ATM doesn’t return your card - which has never ever happened to me - you can go right into the bank and get help. I’ll suggest later in this post how much money to withdraw.

 Credit Cards - why two? Take two because if you only take one and it is compromised in some way, that’s a problem. Why not more than two? Two is plenty and why take a chance on having to keep track of more than two cards. What kind of cards? Well they MUST have a chip. Cards without a chip will not work in Europe. And you should make sure your credit card company does not tack on a foreign transaction fee. This is important and you must ask the company specifically. If you don’t ask then you could be in for a bad surprise when you get your credit card bill upon your return. They will have added a fee every single time you used the card. Foreign transaction fee is not to be confused with a cash advance fee. I strongly discourage you from taking cash advances from your credit card at an ATM instead of using your Debit card for cash. If you get a cash advance they charge interest on that money from the day you get it until you pay it off compounded daily. Don’t do it! Make sure you call the credit card companies and let them know the dates of your travel. You can typically do this easily and often just by following the prompts when you call the customer service number on the back of the card.

What to use when. Should you pay cash or use your credit card. My recommendation is to use your credit card for almost all transactions. The exception would be very small purchases ie. coffee and a croissant, snacks, postcards or small souvenirs. Pretty much anything you buy on the street from a vendor will need to be in cash - for everything else use your credit cards. Why? Well for one credit cards are safer to use in Europe than the US because the card never leaves your sight. They always bring a machine right to your table to run it. And if there were a problem ever it’s resolved typically fairly easily with the credit card company, and why risk carrying lots of cash with you when the most common crime committed is pickpocketing.

How much money to withdraw from the ATM? Withdraw enough for 3 to 4 days of small purchases. Your bank will charge a small transaction fee each time so minimize that by withdrawing enough so that you’re only having to find an ATM a couple of times on your trip.

Another suggestion I have is to download a free APP to your phone that will convert US dollars to other forms of currency. Currently the exchange rate is very strong comparing the US dollar to the Euro. As of today 1 Euro is equal to $1.13. I have been to Europe when the exchange rate was 1 Euro equal to more than $1.50, so not as much buying power. So with the ratio being so close to 1:1 you may not even need to do the conversion. But say you’re going to Croatia where the currency is the Kuna. 1 Kuna is equal to 15 cents. So 17 Kuna is $2.59. Good luck figuring that out in your head! You might see an entree on a menu for 200 Kuna and think wow pricey! In fact that would be about $30. There are lots of free APPs available so just pick one.

And lastly my suggestion is to bring something with you to keep your cash, debit card and credit cards secure. I have used a money belt previously and didn’t find it to be very comfortable or easy to access. My choice is a travel purse that is very secure but also comfortable. It is a cross body bag so I keep it in front of me at all times. The straps are slash guard and it has turn and lock security hooks, plus snap and lock mechanisms on all the zippered compartments. The purse is lined with RFID safe fabric which keeps personal information from being scanned. If I were a guy I would get something similar but more manly. Putting your wallet in your back pocket is a terrible idea. I get the majority of my travel items from a great website www.ebags.com. Never pay full price for anything. Go to their website and sign up to be on their email list. They will email you ever day with a discount coupon usually good on anything you want so I find them to be very reasonable and they are easy to work with on returns.

I hope this is helpful! If you have any questions just let me know. Enjoy your trip!

My purse!

My purse!

Top 10 Tips for Visiting Paris

I’ve been to Paris 5 times and am planning to return for number 6 soon. Call me crazy but I just love it. I never feel like I have enough time to do, see and eat everything I want. I learn something new every time I visit and wanted to share what I currently consider the best tips I have either picked up, read, or just figured out myself. If you have your own best tips I would love to hear them as well. Just reply to this blog and I will get them. Sharing is caring!

* If you are planning to see even just 3 or 4 of the major museums buy the Paris Museum Pass. It will save you time and money. You can buy it for 2, 4 or 6 days, and it pays for itself with just a few visits to the places you want to go. The pass must be used on consecutive days so planning your itinerary is key. In addition the pass isn’t active until you make your first stop. Decide what is important for you and check the schedule for that museum. For example the Orsay is one of my favorites but closed on Mondays. If you have a two day pass you wouldn’t want to start using it on Sunday and wait till Monday for the Orsay. The pass covers about 30 different places - even Versailles, Louvre, Orangerie, Picasso, Saint-Chapelle etc. It does not cover the Eiffel Tower. I usually buy the pass at the TI right at the airport when I land. There is usually no line and then I know I’m ready to go on the planned day. You can also wait and buy at the first museum you go to, but you almost for sure will be waiting in a line to do it and wasting valuable time. By having the pass you skip right to the security line which is typically much shorter - instead of waiting in the line to buy a ticket and then again waiting in the security line. Make sense? Most sites have free entry for those under 18 so no need to buy passes for kids.

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 * Take public transportation starting right at the airport. It is the cheapest and most efficient way to get into and around Paris. The traffic is crazy and getting from the airport into the city could cost 80 or 90 euros. You can take the train for under 12 euros and get there in less then half the time. When you’re in Paris buy a carnet (10 transportation tickets) good for the metro or the bus for 14.50 euros - cheap! I love the metro. It’s very clean and I always feel safe. It’s the way Parisians get around and will make you more familiar with the city.

* How to navigate around? Use your Google or Apple Maps on your phone and click the metro icon. You will have step by step instructions that even include which exit to take from the metro to be closest to your destination. Take screen shots of the entire route so that if you lose cell service at any point you will still have photos of the route. I use my phone a lot while traveling so I carry a small portable battery to always make sure I have a charge.

* Staying in an Airbnb and need a place to store your luggage until you can check in? The answer is Eelway! Most flights from the US arrive in Paris early in the morning, and if you don’t have a place to leave your luggage you’re stuck hauling it around with you for most of the day - bummer! With current security being what it is there are lots of places that don’t allow luggage so you could be stuck sitting in a cafe for a chunk of the day and losing valuable site seeing time. Eelway is like Uber for luggage. They will meet you anywhere - even right at the airport and store your luggage for as long as you need. Then deliver it to the location you designate at a specified time. It worked like a charm and they are expanding rapidly to other large cities.

www.eelway.com

www.eelway.com

* Always make two photo copies of your passport and bring them on your trip. Leave one copy in your suitcase, leave your original in the hotel or Airbnb, and bring the second copy with you always. If you make any purchases that qualify for a VAT refund you will need a copy of your passport in order for the paperwork to be filled out, and it’s best not to risk losing your original. Along those same lines - I always make sure I have the address and phone number of the US Embassy in all the cities I am visiting just in case. If you were to have your passport stolen or lost that’s where you would need to go for help. Best to be prepared.

* Planning to visit the Eiffel Tower? Of course you are! It’s best to book a ticket online in advance, but it’s not as easy as that sounds. Start checking three months in advance of your visit date at www.toureiffel.paris. There is no set schedule of when they open upcoming dates so you just need to keep checking. If you are unable to get a ticket through the website all is not lost. You can try just going to the Eiffel Tower and buying a ticket but you could find yourself waiting in line for hours. Your best chance is to get in line 30 minutes before they open, or later in the day - after 5 or 6 at night. If it rains it is much less crowded and we were able to get in right after a rain with almost no waiting. And even if you can’t go up in the Eiffel Tower it’s beautiful to at least go see it and you get a fabulous view from Place du Trocadero.

Beautiful even in the rain.

Beautiful even in the rain.

 * If you are staying in Paris for 6 or more nights consider staying in two different areas. On my most recent trip we stayed 3 nights by the Arc de Triomphe and 3 nights in The Marais. Two totally different areas which lets you familiarize yourself with more of Paris. Each arrondissement has its own personality, shops and restaurants and I can’t really pick a favorite. 

* Go to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. If you have the Museum Pass it is covered. Go in the evening when it is much less crowded. The added bonus of going at night is that you will see the Eiffel Tower all lit up, and also the lights on the Champs-Elysees. Paris was planned with streets like the spokes of a wheel and from the top of the Arc at night you can see it.  

Watch the Eiffel Tower twinkle every hour for 5 minutes on the hour - magical! 

Watch the Eiffel Tower twinkle every hour for 5 minutes on the hour - magical! 

* Make dinner reservations. This is something I’m working on being better at myself. I get so busy site seeing that before I know it it’s dinner time and I’m scrambling to find a place to eat. The restaurants in Paris tend to be pretty small, and they enjoy the art of leisure dining so the emphasis is on quality and not turning over the tables as quickly as possible. Check out your neighborhood and stop in early in the day and make a dinner reservation for evening at a place that looks good. Check it out online if you want but make the effort at least for a few nights to have a great Parisian dining experience. We did a really good job of doing this in Belgium and it really added to our experience.

* One of the best ways to enjoy Paris is walking the streets and sitting at sidewalk cafe’s people watching. Even in the rain and winter people sit outside with awnings and heaters and enjoy a glass of wine and/or a meal and relax. Make time to do this and it might be your most favorite memory.  

This is always how they sit outside - not facing each other but next to each other. So pleasant! Cheers! 

This is always how they sit outside - not facing each other but next to each other. So pleasant! Cheers! 

I hope these tips help make your trip to Paris the wonderful experience I always have there. I can’t wait to go back again! 

Antwerp!

We had one last day in Belgium and had to decide between Ghent and Antwerp. After researching both we picked Antwerp because it seemed to offer something entirely different than Brussels and Bruges. It’s the second largest city in Belgium and is described as edgy and creative. Well I will take their word for it. I would describe it as beautiful and relatively un-touristy. Is un-touristy a word? 

We got a little later start to allow time for a stop at a coffee shop close to our apartment. This is absolutely my favorite way to start any day.

We got a little later start to allow time for a stop at a coffee shop close to our apartment. This is absolutely my favorite way to start any day.

We hopped on the train to Antwerp and had a relaxing one hour ride. I love the ease of trains in Europe. Cost effective, good for the environment and stress free in most cases. The train station in Antwerp is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world. In fact upon my return I was just reading an article on the 10 most beautiful train stations in the world and the first picture was of Antwerp! 

Built around the turn of the 20th century it’s considered to be Industrial Age meets Art Nouveau. 

Built around the turn of the 20th century it’s considered to be Industrial Age meets Art Nouveau. 

Another view of the train station. 

Another view of the train station. 

Right as you leave the station you are in the Diamond Quarter. Antwerp is one of the world’s top centers where diamonds are sold wholesale and cut into smaller pieces for resale.

Interesting but neither Julie or I had diamonds on our wish list so we kept walking. 

Interesting but neither Julie or I had diamonds on our wish list so we kept walking. 

We were heading to the main square to visit the Cathedral of Our Lady and passed quite a few large statues of famous painters from Antwerp - the most notable probably Peter Paul Rubens.

This is actually a statue of David Teniers, another famous painter. Check out the beautiful buildings on either side of the statue.  

This is actually a statue of David Teniers, another famous painter. Check out the beautiful buildings on either side of the statue.  

We made it to the square called Groenplaats where the statue of Rubens is located, but I got distracted taking pictures of the Cathedral and neglected to get a picture of it! Whoops! 

Cathedral of Our Lady. 

Cathedral of Our Lady. 

The Cathedral of Our Lady is the biggest church in Antwerp and has a 400-foot-tall spire. It’s still the tallest structure in town, although the second tower was never finished to match it in height. It was started in 1352 and consecrated in 1521, and due to a number of unfortunate events like fire and war, the second tower was never completed. Still so beautiful inside and out! We paid the very nominal entry fee and as luck would have it walked right in and onto a one hour tour of the church in English. The guide was excellent and super enthusiastic about sharing information about not only the history of the church, but the fantastic artwork it contained. The church has three huge artworks by Rubens and because the Museum of Fine Arts is closed currently for renovation some other important pieces are being shown at the church - bonus!

Bottom right - inside the dome a beautiful painting of the Blessed Mother.

Bottom right - inside the dome a beautiful painting of the Blessed Mother.

Time for lunch! We had such good luck in all of Belgium with recommendations from Rick Steve’s we decided to go with another from him. Restaurant de Bomma, which apparently means Grandma, was excellent! Another great meal in Belgium! 

We both had the sole with leeks in a cream sauce with mashed potatoes. Apple strudel and cinnamon ice cream for dessert to share. All delicious and filling! Did I mention the food was great in Belgium?

We both had the sole with leeks in a cream sauce with mashed potatoes. Apple strudel and cinnamon ice cream for dessert to share. All delicious and filling! Did I mention the food was great in Belgium?

After lunch a stop in the Grote Market, Antwerp’s main square dominated by City Hall. The whole square was gorgeous. 

These are all guild houses celebrating the trade associations of each of the city’s industries. Each topped with a golden statue representing the guild’s patron saint. 

These are all guild houses celebrating the trade associations of each of the city’s industries. Each topped with a golden statue representing the guild’s patron saint. 

The fountain in the middle of Grote Market is of a giant named Druon Antigoon that legend has it collected tolls on the river. If someone didn’t pay the toll he would sever off their hand. His reign of terror ended when a Roman soldier defeated him, cut off his hand and threw it in the river. Pretty gruesome but kind of a cool fountain.

Travel makes me dance! 

Travel makes me dance! 

Antwerp also has a reputation established relatively recently as a fashion mecca, and is now one of Europe’s top fashion zones, so we spent the rest of the afternoon browsing the shops and trying on whatever struck our fancy. We didn’t actually buy anything, but it was still fun to check out what the fashionable are wearing. We were heading back to the states early the next morning so needed to head back to Brussels via train, so we bid farewell to Antwerp. It was definitely worth the trip and we both enjoyed it a lot. 

Well that was our trip! My love of Paris grows every time I’m there, so I hope it won’t be my last time to visit. And Belgium was even better than I anticipated, so I recommend putting it on your list of places to visit. Julie was a wonderful travel companion. She has great energy and was always up for whatever our plan was for the day. We walked a lot - averaging over 8 miles a day, but balanced that out with lots of great food and an appropriate amount of wine, coffee and croissants. 

If you’re reading this then thanks for coming along on our trip! The more I travel, meet people and see other cultures the more I find that we have so much more in common with each other than differences. I’m already planning my next adventure - check back soon!

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 I do not bring back from a journey quite the same self that I took.” W. Somerset Maugham

Bruges!

If Disney’s Epcot added Belgium to their World Showcase I’m pretty sure it would be modeled after Bruges. That’s because Bruges is an extremely well preserved Gothic city that is entirely delightful from the minute you arrive. And the tourist area is less than one square mile and contained within a canal that is actually a former moat, making it literally impossible to get lost.  

We took a one hour train ride from Brussels and from the minute we left the train were treated to amazing architecture, canals and beautiful parks. 

We took a one hour train ride from Brussels and from the minute we left the train were treated to amazing architecture, canals and beautiful parks. 

From the train station we headed toward Market Square which was an easy 15 minute walk. Our first destination was the Bell Tower which overlooks the market. We waited in line about 30 or 40 minutes to get to buy a ticket to walk up the 366 steps past the bells to the tower, as they only allow a small number of people in at a time. As soon as we got our tickets and started the climb it became very clear why. The stairway is circular (because all stairways in Europe are circular) and so narrow it was definitely a one way route. If someone was coming down you had to flatten yourself against the wall and let them squeeze by you. So it was a bit of a slow go both ways, but a nice view of town from the top.  

Top left is a view straight up of the Bell Tower. Bottom right is a picture of the carillon bell system which was actually under repair when we visited, so we didn’t get to hear the concert which typically plays frequently. Other two pictures are of the view from the tower. 

Top left is a view straight up of the Bell Tower. Bottom right is a picture of the carillon bell system which was actually under repair when we visited, so we didn’t get to hear the concert which typically plays frequently. Other two pictures are of the view from the tower. 

We hadn’t really eaten breakfast since we discovered the coffee shops all open fairly late as compared to the US - some as late as 9AM, so headed to our restaurant of choice to see if we could have lunch. Lucky for us we scored a table without a reservation, but it was a really small place and once the tables were full everyone else was turned away. As I look back on all the great meals we had on the entire trip I would have to say this spot might have been my number one favorite! Took it right out of a recommendation from Rick Steves book on Belgium so thanks again Rick! A big thumbs up to Bistro den Amand

Julie had fettuccine with asparagus and shrimp. I had a vegetarian plate with hot and cold veggies and a mushroom protein patty that was phenomenal and not anything I have ever seen in the US.  The waiter described it as like tofu but made from mushrooms. The top right picture was of the little snacks that they brought us before the meal that were complimentary, and something we got in every restaurant we ate at in Belgium - a nice extra!

Julie had fettuccine with asparagus and shrimp. I had a vegetarian plate with hot and cold veggies and a mushroom protein patty that was phenomenal and not anything I have ever seen in the US.  The waiter described it as like tofu but made from mushrooms. The top right picture was of the little snacks that they brought us before the meal that were complimentary, and something we got in every restaurant we ate at in Belgium - a nice extra!

After lunch we did Rick Steves walking tour of Bruges. We hit all the main spots but decided to pass on a couple of museums since we just had one day and there were other things we wanted to see. 

City Hall on Burg Square. 

City Hall on Burg Square. 

Pictures along the city walk. Canals, bridges, music, lots of people watching at sidewalk cafes. Every day must be a holiday in Bruges! 

Pictures along the city walk. Canals, bridges, music, lots of people watching at sidewalk cafes. Every day must be a holiday in Bruges! 

We made a visit inside the Basilica of the Holy Blood. The entrance was tucked into a corner of the square and didn’t look like much until we got inside. Built in 1150 to house what they say are real drops of Christ’s blood we were shocked to get inside and actually get to see the vial up close. There was a line of people and a priest up on an altar holding the vial and we each got to file past and get a close look. Now that’s not something that happens every day! No pictures were allowed but pretty sure I won’t forget it.

The church was very ornate and the pulpit really caught my eye. It was carved from a single massive oak tree and was attached right to the wall.

The church was very ornate and the pulpit really caught my eye. It was carved from a single massive oak tree and was attached right to the wall.

Next stop was the Church of Our Lady. It is a beautiful Catholic Church that is most famous for the statue of the Madonna and Child by Michelangelo. It is said to be the only statue by Michelangelo to leave Italy in the artist’s lifetime. He worked on it at the same time he was chiseling his masterpiece David. 

A pretty walk over bridges to get to the church. 

A pretty walk over bridges to get to the church. 

Time for coffee or in my case hot chocolate on the square! 

Time for coffee or in my case hot chocolate on the square! 

We were energized after our caffeine drinks so decided to take another walk through a more residential area and hopefully get to the moat where supposedly there were a couple of real windmills.

Made it! I love all the beautiful buildings - some so narrow you can almost stretch your arms from one end to the other like the one in the middle top left.  

Made it! I love all the beautiful buildings - some so narrow you can almost stretch your arms from one end to the other like the one in the middle top left.  

We walked back to town and stopped to pick up chocolates at Dumon which supposedly has the smoothest, creamiest chocolates in all of Bruges. Handmade daily by the owner Nathalie Dumon. 

Yep that’s Nathalie! She was a sweetheart and proud of her chocolates!

Yep that’s Nathalie! She was a sweetheart and proud of her chocolates!

We had planned ahead and made a dinner reservation at another of Rick Steves suggested restaurants and were so glad we did. The restaurants are small and if they have a reservation at 8 PM for a table they won’t seat someone there before, because they don’t expect you to eat quickly and leave, and they would never try to rush you through your meal. So civilized and people really seem to slow down and enjoy each other’s company and the dining experience- noted! Bistro in den Wittenkop was excellent!

Both Julie and I had the sea bass and mashed potatoes. They brought us something before complimentary to snack on but don’t know exactly what it was. Some kind of a fish fritter in a delicious sauce. Such a nice touch!

Both Julie and I had the sea bass and mashed potatoes. They brought us something before complimentary to snack on but don’t know exactly what it was. Some kind of a fish fritter in a delicious sauce. Such a nice touch!

Time to head back to the train station and our apartment in Brussels. What a great day! If you get a chance to go to Bruges DO IT!!! Next post - Antwerp😊

Belgium - First Stop Brussels!

 When most people think of Europe I don’t think Belgium is the first place that comes to mind. It’s a small country wedged in between France, Germany and the Netherlands, and is mainly known for beer, chocolate and French fries. And maybe lace! I was committed to seeing, doing and eating as much as possible in 5 days. It’s a very diverse country - in Brussels the main language spoken is French, while in the north it’s Dutch - with a good amount of Flemish which is the Belgian version of Dutch. Luckily for us lots of English spoken as well. Because of its location it has been a battleground all the way back to medieval times so lots of history, but also a definite feeling of embracing new trends. 

We based ourselves in Brussels because it is such a small country, from my research I knew that we could get anywhere on the train in an hour or less, and not having to schlep even our small amount of luggage around on the train seemed like a good idea. The train from Paris was excellent and fast. We took a Thalys train which is a private company and I was familiar with from my recent trip to Italy. It should have taken just an hour and a half direct from Paris, and took just a bit longer due to some kind of a delay, but all in all a cost effective, efficient and pleasant way to get to Brussels.

Made it to Brussels! 

Made it to Brussels! 

Brussels is not just the capital of Belgium, but the headquarters of NATO and the seat of the European Union. It’s a great mix of old and new. It’s even divided into the Lower (Old) Town and the Upper (Upper crust area surrounding the Royal Palace and the EU) Town. Our Airbnb was perfectly located right where the two meet! And just two short blocks from the Central train station. This fact along with the great reviews as far as cleanliness, comfortable bed, quiet and amenities plus the really reasonable cost were all the reasons we chose it. 

Top left - our view of the Place Royale, Right - the street in front of our apartment, Bottom left - super cool wall art on the side of our building.

Top left - our view of the Place Royale, Right - the street in front of our apartment, Bottom left - super cool wall art on the side of our building.

Rather then a minute by minute reconstruction of our days I’m just going to highlight some of the significant things we did in Brussels. In my opinion part of the real charm was walking through lots of fascinating and quirky neighborhoods, so we spent a considerable amount of time doing just that. It’s an easy city to navigate around, and we walked everywhere. 

Grand Place. Main square in the heart of Old Town. Always crowded and lots of places to eat and people watch. Impossible to get a picture that does it justice. Really beautiful old historic building with lots of statues that appear to be talking to each other. 

Grand Place. Main square in the heart of Old Town. Always crowded and lots of places to eat and people watch. Impossible to get a picture that does it justice. Really beautiful old historic building with lots of statues that appear to be talking to each other. 

Lots going on in the Grand Place always. 

Lots going on in the Grand Place always. 

European Parliament - not in session but free audio guide tour after going through a screening process similar to getting on a plane. You must have your passport or drivers license to gain entry. No advance reservations but worth seeing for sure.  

European Parliament - not in session but free audio guide tour after going through a screening process similar to getting on a plane. You must have your passport or drivers license to gain entry. No advance reservations but worth seeing for sure.  

St Michael’s Cathedral - a classic Gothic church build between 1200 and 1500. Bottom left is an incredible carved pulpit of Adam and Eve. Where royal weddings and funerals take place.

St Michael’s Cathedral - a classic Gothic church build between 1200 and 1500. Bottom left is an incredible carved pulpit of Adam and Eve. Where royal weddings and funerals take place.

The Royal Museums Of Fine Arts. We spent Mother’s Day afternoon here and other than being with my children I can’t think of a better afternoon. Really amazing art with pieces by Bosch, Memling, Bruegel, Rubens and Rembrandt to name a few. Lovely!

The Royal Museums Of Fine Arts. We spent Mother’s Day afternoon here and other than being with my children I can’t think of a better afternoon. Really amazing art with pieces by Bosch, Memling, Bruegel, Rubens and Rembrandt to name a few. Lovely!

The  Mannekin-Pis,  the mascot of Brussels. Yes it’s a 17th century statue of a little boy peeing. Sometimes he is wearing clothes which are sent to him from all over the world, and in fact are then housed in a museum dedicated to him. We didn’t hit the museum, got to save a few things for next time but this is serious stuff! His image is all over town and greatly loved.  

The Mannekin-Pis, the mascot of Brussels. Yes it’s a 17th century statue of a little boy peeing. Sometimes he is wearing clothes which are sent to him from all over the world, and in fact are then housed in a museum dedicated to him. We didn’t hit the museum, got to save a few things for next time but this is serious stuff! His image is all over town and greatly loved.  

Moving on to food - and now might be a good time to go get a snack. This is guaranteed to make you hungry because we tried everything. And the food was amazing! 

La Villette - cheese croquettes for appetizer, lamb for Julie and cod and veggies for me. There’s the  Mannekin-Pis  on the sign!

La Villette - cheese croquettes for appetizer, lamb for Julie and cod and veggies for me. There’s the Mannekin-Pis on the sign!

Restaurant La Maree - Mussels for appetizer (that was one order split between the two of us!) Cod and frites for Julie, Monkfish with veggies for me. 

Restaurant La Maree - Mussels for appetizer (that was one order split between the two of us!) Cod and frites for Julie, Monkfish with veggies for me. 

Lots of great coffee shops and saw many more really healthy choices then you might see in other countries. This place was called Tich and Julie had porridge with fruit and toast with almond butter and fruit for me. Great coffee and a super cool space. Maybe the only day I didn’t have a croissant! 

Lots of great coffee shops and saw many more really healthy choices then you might see in other countries. This place was called Tich and Julie had porridge with fruit and toast with almond butter and fruit for me. Great coffee and a super cool space. Maybe the only day I didn’t have a croissant! 

Mother’s Day brunch at Le Pain Quotidien. We have them in the US but not in as cool a space as this one was. And the original locations were in Belgium so they consider it a local restaurant. We ate in the garden and it was wonderful, and if Julie wants a bowl of coffee as big as her head she can have it!

Mother’s Day brunch at Le Pain Quotidien. We have them in the US but not in as cool a space as this one was. And the original locations were in Belgium so they consider it a local restaurant. We ate in the garden and it was wonderful, and if Julie wants a bowl of coffee as big as her head she can have it!

Stopped at a cool coffee shop to share a dessert. Lots to choose from but we didn’t regret our choice. There are lots of awesome new coffee shops so I liked the fact that this one had been there forever. Really reminded me of the coffee shops in Vienna. 

Stopped at a cool coffee shop to share a dessert. Lots to choose from but we didn’t regret our choice. There are lots of awesome new coffee shops so I liked the fact that this one had been there forever. Really reminded me of the coffee shops in Vienna. 

Waffles! Where they have been making them since 1829. There are actually two different kinds of waffles sold. Julie went with the traditional square Brussels waffle with caramel and whipped cream. I tried the Liege-style waffle which is much denser and sweet. Just a dusting of powdered sugar was enough. Both delicious! You can buy them all over to go but we wanted them fresh and hot. 

Waffles! Where they have been making them since 1829. There are actually two different kinds of waffles sold. Julie went with the traditional square Brussels waffle with caramel and whipped cream. I tried the Liege-style waffle which is much denser and sweet. Just a dusting of powdered sugar was enough. Both delicious! You can buy them all over to go but we wanted them fresh and hot. 

Frites! They really are better because they are fried twice - once to cook them and the second time to brown them. And lots of dipping sauces but the mayo is tradition. Yumm!

Frites! They really are better because they are fried twice - once to cook them and the second time to brown them. And lots of dipping sauces but the mayo is tradition. Yumm!

So much chocolate! To say that every other door is a chocolate shop is not an exaggeration. We ate it, we brought it home, and we loved it! I’m sure the locals debate the merits of each like people in KC debate barbecue and people in Chicago debate pizza. It’s all great!

So much chocolate! To say that every other door is a chocolate shop is not an exaggeration. We ate it, we brought it home, and we loved it! I’m sure the locals debate the merits of each like people in KC debate barbecue and people in Chicago debate pizza. It’s all great!

The missing category is beer. Belgium has more varieties and brands of beer than any other country - and they take it very seriously. Unfortunately neither Julie or I are beer drinkers, so can’t report back on that. So sorry! 

Last category worth mentioning is shopping! I’m not a big shopper but there were some unique categories in Belgium. For one - housewares. Who knew the Belgians were such homebodies?  

Our favorite! I bought knife holders to bring home. I didn’t even know what knife holders were before I saw them at this shop. Then I had to have them. Everything was adorable and really reasonable.

Our favorite! I bought knife holders to bring home. I didn’t even know what knife holders were before I saw them at this shop. Then I had to have them. Everything was adorable and really reasonable.

So many beautiful lace shops - much of it handmade. Looks like Julie found a few things she had to have. Such an incredibly intricate art form.

So many beautiful lace shops - much of it handmade. Looks like Julie found a few things she had to have. Such an incredibly intricate art form.

Galleries Royale St Hubert. Built in 1847 Europe’s oldest still-operating shopping mall. A gorgeous glass ceiling that inspired other galleries in Paris and London. No chain stores in here! Instead very expensive items that are typically made on the premises like hats, gloves, umbrellas etc. and food. We stopped for coffee and a waffle snack.  

Galleries Royale St Hubert. Built in 1847 Europe’s oldest still-operating shopping mall. A gorgeous glass ceiling that inspired other galleries in Paris and London. No chain stores in here! Instead very expensive items that are typically made on the premises like hats, gloves, umbrellas etc. and food. We stopped for coffee and a waffle snack.  

Well that’s is for our time in Brussels! Next up Bruges. Check back soon and thanks for coming along😊