We woke up early, ate breakfast, and then headed to Gare du Norde via Metro to catch our train to Brussels. The trip to the train was uneventful (although Kate almost got caught in the turnstile as she was dragging her luggage behind her). We arrived in plenty of time which gave Kate and I time to wander through a bookstore and patisserie.
Shortly thereafter, however, we noticed that our train was delayed. First by 30 minutes, then an hour, then 90 minutes, and finally, indefinitely. Train travel in Europe is normally very easy and punctual so this was a bit unusual. Turns out heavy frost on the tracks outside of Brussels had caused two trains to get stuck so of course no other trains could run on them.
We coped with the situation in classic fashion and got a table at a restaurant. I ordered a hot chocolate and the charcuterie platter. Both kids got the roast chicken which came with a cute little copper pot of mashed potatoes. Ted got nothing! The hot chocolate was very rich, almost as if they had just melted a chocolate bar and added a splash of milk. The kids swooned over the chicken and declared it the best roast chicken ever. I wasn’t expecting much from a train station restaurant but I was quite pleasantly surprised!
Over lunch, we discussed what to do. We looked up car rentals and decided that if there was no progress on the train by 2 p.m. we would rent a car and drive to Brussels. We were all excited about the potential adventure, except for Ted, who hates driving.
But finally we noticed that an incoming train from Brussels was due to arrive which meant that we would board that one going the other way. Adventure foiled!
All the people waiting for a train to Brussels began to mass on the platform, as well as those waiting for a train arriving from Germany. We were all crowded on the platform staking out space, while the disembarking passengers wove their way through the crowd trying to exit.
Suddenly, an announcement was made and everyone began moving AWAY from the train. We asked around and it turned out that luggage had been left onboard and now it had to be contained and destroyed. We were obviously hoping it was just a forgetful person’s bag but it was nevertheless exciting as we waited to hear an explosion. But alas, they put the bag in a container and destroyed it in there so we didn’t hear a thing.
Then there was a mad rush for the trains as we had all dispersed in different directions. There was lots of jostling and I wouldn’t be surprised if I ran over someone’s foot with my suitcase. There was so much commotion that they didn’t even bother scanning tickets.
We got our seats and settled in and waited to leave. And waited some more. Then an announcement in French made the older couple across from us burst out in laughter. We looked quizzically at them and they explained in English that the train driver had disappeared, but they had found a replacement. But first, he had to pass a test to make sure he knew how to drive the train! We all agreed this was a prudent course of action.
After another 30 minutes or so, we finally pulled out of the station.
The ride itself was uneventful and we pulled into Brussels Midi without incident. From there we took a local train one stop to Brussels Central, which was just across the street from our hotel.
Because we were checking in so much later than anticipated, the hotel had already booked all the family rooms. But since things always seem to work in Ted’s favor when traveling, they gave us two adjoining rooms instead, one with two double beds and the other with a King. This worked out fabulously, even better than a family room because we got more space and two bathrooms.
The kids and I relaxed for a bit, but Ted was antsy after being on a train and went for a short walk. When he came back he had waffles, cooked fresh from a truck we could see out our window. It was Liege style, nice and crisp with caramelized sugar. Yum!
We then headed to the executive lounge for drinks and appetizers before heading out.
We first went to Grand Place where they have a light show every 30 minutes during the holiday season. This plaza is very beautiful and looks as if it were plucked from a movie set. Very magical at night at Christmas.
We then walked to see the famous Mannekin Pis. Smaller than you expect but a slightly silly must do, at least the first time in Brussels.
After a few minutes there we hunted for a dinner spot. We settled on a small cafe with decent food. It turned out to be a cash only place, however, so Ted had to dash out to an ATM. Luckily there was one just around the corner. We were all amused as Ted paid the bill by bowing to the waiter, as if he were in Japan.
After dinner we walked through a Christmas market where I had a vin chaud (mulled wine) and we all split a Belgian waffle with chocolate and whipped cream. Very tasty!
It had been a long day so we headed back to the hotel after that. Ted stepped out for a bit and then came back with frites! He ordered the special and it came with sauteed onions, Belgian ketchup (which tasted of curry) and aioli. We were all stuffed after that and didn’t even touch the Godiva chocolates that the hotel left as a welcome gift!