I got up early and went for a morning run and ran across the Grand Duchess Charlotte Bridge and up to the Twin Towers of the European Court of Justice.
After a quick shower and packing my bag, I headed downstairs to the Hotel restaurant.
Pastries, cereal and coffee for breakfast.
After checking out, I made the short trek back to Gare de Luxembourg.
Opened in 1859, the current train station building dates from 1913.
About to board the train to Brussels.
Departing once an hour, the Luxembourg - Brussels train one-way fare was €42.40 for second class.
Passing by the green fields. It was less than 20 kilometres to the border and we were soon in Belgium.
And just over 3 hours after leaving Luxembourg Ciy we arrived at Brussels Central Station.
After a walk through the central city, in my room at the Hotel Saint-Géry.
Quite reasonable for €119 a night in central Brussels.
Brussels Stock Exchange. There were members of the Belgian Armed Forces out on patrol keeping the streets safe. Three days prior, soldiers shot dead a suspected terrorist at Brussels Central Station after he attempted to detonate an explosive belt.
Inside the Grand Place, which was packed with fellow tourists taking plenty of photos. On the left is the very grand looking Brussels Town Hall and on the right is the Museum of the City of Brussels, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Enjoying a scoop of freshly cooked pommes frite, the national snack of Belgium.
Just before 3pm I met up for the start of the Brussels Beer and Chocolate tour. It was rated the #1 food & drink tour on Tripadvisor and the chance to taste six types of beer and twelve types of chocolate seemed like an opportunity I couldn't resist!
Emily our guide, outside the first stop where she explained the three tiers of Chocolatier. The first being simple retail shops selling packaged chocolate, the second which buy the chocolate wholesale then melt it and use various ingredients and molds for their own custom chocolates, and the third which control the whole chocolate making process from the cacao beans up to the final product.
We then headed inside to sample some tasty Belgian chocolate at Chocopolis.
The mixture of vanilla and chilli flavours in the dark chocolate were very complex and really confused and teased the taste buds.
We then walked up to Place de la Justice where there were an array of flags that were part of a piece of art by French conceptual artist Daniel Buren.
Emily at our next stop at Patrick Roger on Place du Grand Sablon.
The chocolatier is known for his creativity in chocolate sculptures, including this giant pair of chocolate boots!
The normal sized chocolates were very delicious too, with a intriguing combination of lemon & basil.
The smaller boxes of chocolates were €20 and the larger box in the front was €96.
Just across the road was our next chocolate stop, with the building covered in a eye-catching big bunches of flowers. Emily said that they regularly decorate the building in various ways.
Pierre Marcolini, named after its founder, was established in Brussels in 1995 and now has 30 stores internationally including London, Tokyo and Paris.
We got to try three different types of chocolate, including the Earl Grey which consisted of dark chocolate with a hint of citrusy tea.
We then continued our walk through the city, stopping at a section of the old city walls.
On our way down Rue du Chêne to admire a mural of the Manneken Peace.
And joining the crowds to take a photo of the famous statue of a boy taking a pee, Manneken Pis. Due to frequent theft and vandalism, this statue is only a copy with the original safely kept on display on the second floor of the Museum of the City of Brussels.
Our next stop was at Elisabeth.
As well as chocolate they also sold gingerbread, meringues, nougat and other sweet delights.
We were here to sample some of their dark chocolate however,
For a self-confessed chocoholic such as myself it was a gourmet heaven!
We then walked up Rue du Marché aux Herbes to Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. A soldier on guard just outside.
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert is a very beautiful and magnificent shopping arcade dating from the 19th century.
Inside the arcade we headed to Pâtisserie Méert.
Each of us got to choose any three chocolates from their delectable selection.
Leaving the divine dark 72% Venezuelan chocolate ganache for last.
After our chocolate infused walkabout around Central Brussels, we headed to Benelux on Petite Rue des Bouchers to start the beer tasting portion of our tour.
Emily explained that the chocolate and beer portions of the tour were deliberately kept with minimal overlap as alcohol can dull your sense of smell and taste.
Our first beer for the night, Dark Sister, a black India pale ale with an alcohol content of 6.66%.
Tasting some more dark Belgian chocolate that Emily had brought from Pâtisserie Méert.
Beer #2 was Jambe-de-Bois, a Tripel beer by Brasserie de la Senne, a brewery in Brussels, and also at a healthy 6.2%.
We then headed to Theatre de marionnettes de chez Toone, a pub that also doubles as a famous puppet theatre.
Beer #3 was Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Vieille. A fruit style beer that had a deep red colour and a sour cherry taste which was very interesting but also very drinkable, especially at 6.5%.
Some salami, cheese and bread while we paused between beers.
Beer #4 was another Tripel, Gouden Carolus Brouwerij Het Anker. Quite a full flavour and also quite strong at 9%.
Emily directing us to our third and final pub of the night.
Au Bon Vieux Temps on Impasse Saint-Nicolas.
Emily described it as a typical 'Brown Bar', i.e. old with a ceiling and walls that is dark or stained brown from tobacco smoke. She then lifted a picture frame to show the clean, unstained wall behind it!
Our fifth beer was a Tripel from Westmalle Brewery. It was also a designated Trappist beer, being brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery. Another very strong beer at 9.5%.
And our final beer of the night, Trappistes Rochefort 10. A Quadrupel beer at a whopping 11.3%. I didn't even realise beer was made this strong!
After the ample beer sampling I was definitely a little tipsy! The almost 5 hour tour was great value for €75 each, and thoroughly recommended if you find yourself in Brussels and are wanting to sample some tasty and interesting Belgian chocolate and beer.
After a good sleep in and a decent morning run around the streets of Brussels I went out to grab some breakfast at a nearby EXKi health café / restaurant.
And had some tasty greek yoghurt, chocolate au pain and coffee.
After checking out of Hotel Saint-Géry, I walked the ~2 kilometres to Brussels-South railway station.
It was Sunday morning so the Gare du Midi Market, supposedly the biggest market in Europe, was well underway.
And about to board the train to Bruges.
Brussels to Bruges was just over 100 kilometres so the train ride was just under an hour.
Arriving at Station Brugge just after midday.
Walking along the Oostmeer into central Bruges.
Simon Stevin Square, named after the Flemish mathematician, physicist and engineer.
I headed to 't Fonteintje just on the square for lunch. A surprisingly large half-portion of mosselen / moules / mussels to start.
Followed by the roast rabbit with obligatory side of Belgian frites.
After the tasty and filling lunch I headed to my hotel, Martins Brugge. It was too early to check in so I stored my bag and headed out to do some exploring.
A colourful row of restaurants on the north side of the Markt (Market Square). The historic city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Provinciaal Hof (Province Court), built in 1787 and the Belfry of Bruges on the right. The film In Bruges is a favourite of mine and it was fun seeing the Belfry which features in both some of the lighter and darker moments in the black comedy.
After joining the queue I climbed the narrow, steep staircase of 366 steps up to the top of the Belfry. Definitely too tight for an elephant! (In Bruges reference #1).
Looking east to Burg Square.
St. Salvator's Cathedral and the Church of Our Lady to the south-west.
And the Port of Bruges in the distance to the north. Fortunately there was ample wire netting so no chance of falling from the top (In Bruges reference #2).
I was able to check in to the hotel at 3pm. The room was pretty average and a bit dated but for €99 it was fine for one night and the hotel was situated just behind the Belfry so very central.
After crashing out at the hotel for abit, I went out for a walk in the late afternoon.
Bruges City Hall on the Burg. Completed in 1421, it is one of the oldest city halls in the Netherlands.
Looking over the Dijver canal. Unfortunately no passing barges to make a quick getaway though (In Bruges reference #3).
Both tourists and locals out enjoying the summer evening.
After the substantial lunch I wasn't too hungry so had a Belgian waffle for €4 with strawberries and chocolate for a very sweet and tasty dinner.
I then headed back to the hotel for an early night to get some sleep before the early morning sightseeing over the centre of Bruges tomorrow.
This plan for this morning of day was for a balloon flight over the middle of Bruges. After a 6am pickup from my hotel, I arrived at the take-off point on the western outskirts of town.
Christophe our pilot (and owner of the company) giving us a safety briefing before our flight. They had to cancel a flight the day before so today's group was slightly bigger than normal.
Helping out with the inflation.
Christophe finetuning the balloon inflation with the basket now upright. He said that we would be flying in Belgium's biggest balloon today.
Just after lift-off with a morning train just beyond the maize fields.
Looking down on the outskirts of Bruges.
The inner Port of Bruges with a canal leading to the nearby Port of Zeebrugge. In the distance we could see the North Sea to the left, the Netherlands to the right and just behind us we could faintly see hills in northern France.
Making our way into the centre of town with St. James's Church below with the Markt and the Belfry middle-top.
A closer view of the Belfry with my hotel just behind it. It was amazing that we had drifted with the wind for ~4 kilometres and had managed to fly almost directly over the centre of the city.
The reflection of our balloon below as we continue our flight over Bruges.
It was great to enjoy the peaceful and surreal experience of drifting along in an hot air balloon.
There was 16 passengers on today's flight plus Christophe the pilot.
Skimming the tops of the trees. Christophe challenged us to grab a few leaves. I thought he was joking but a few people were actually successful!
The gas burners firing up for some fresh hot air.
As we left Bruges we drifted towards some of the surrounding villages.
Christophe started looking for a safe place to land but we were still above quite a few buildings and roads.
Our reflection below again as we drift over a canal.
Luckily Christophe spotted an empty field ahead where we could land. He said that there was a forest just ahead which would have made a safe landing very difficult!
After assuming the correct brace position in the basket, we touched down with barely a bump.
Looking up before Christophe opens the top vents to deflate the balloon.
Everyone giving a hand to roll up the balloon. Sometimes they have to do this in a muddy field which makes things quite a bit more tricky.
Sparkling wine and pastries to celebrate a successful and gentle return to earth.
Christophe leading a toast at the end of the breath-taking flight. A memorable experience and a great way to see the beautiful city of Bruges!
My last (and first) hot air balloon flight was over six years ago in Cappadocia in Turkey, so it was great to fly again over Bruges and well worth the €180.
Back in Bruges where I had one last walk around before grabbing a coffee in the Markt.
After checking out of the hotel I made the trek back to Station Brugge.
With some pickle flavoured chips to fill the gap before lunch on the way to Ghent.
And arriving at Gent-Sint-Pieters railway station after the ~30 minute train trip from Bruges.
It was ~3 kilometres from the train station to the centre of the city so I hopped on the #1 tram for the short journey.
For lunch I had the Croque Madame at Caffè Rosario on Emile Braunplein.
It was still to early to check-in to my accomodation so went for a bit of a sightsee. St Bavo's Cathedral.
The cathedral dates from 942 and houses the biggest church organ in the Benelux.
Looking over the Leie with a group of school kids making their way down the river in kayaks.
Just before 2pm I went to check-in for my apartment for my one night stay.
The apartment had three levels with a lounge and kitchen on the bottom floor.
The ground floor below the apartment was a design studio and some of the owner's books were in the apartment.
Bathroom and terrace on the second floor.
And the bedroom on the top floor. It was nice to have some room to spread out despite the short stay and quite reasonable for €131 per night.
After crashing out at the apartment for a while, I went out again to explore some more of central Ghent.
Patershol. I had read that Ghent was a slightly more normal and a lot less touristy version of Bruges and I was pleasantly surprised that it turned out to be very true.
Cheesecake for afternoon tea.
Some more photogenic street art.
In the evening I settled on a half-decent dinner at Ellis Gourmet Burger before retiring for the night to get some sleep before the journey back home tomorrow.
After an early morning run around Ghent, I had a quick shower, packed my bag, locked up the apartment, left the key in the mailbox and made the short walk to the tram stop.
And outside Gent-Sint-Pieters railway station at 7:30am to catch the train to Brussels Airport.
For breakfast I grabbed a chocolate waffle and a Bifi sausage from a vending machine.
The 8:08am to Brussels Airport train pulling into the station.
After making it to Brussels Airport there was a security checkpoint with people and baggage being screened before entering the airport. There was a bit of a queue but luckily I looked innocuous enough to be selected to bypass security altogether.
At check-in where I used a kiosk to print out my boarding passes to Frankfurt and Dubai.
When I reached airside there was a bit of confusion as there was another Lufthansa flight to Brussels boarding at the same designated gate as my LH flight to Brussels. I wasn't the only person to join the queue to board the wrong plane though and they soon updated the departure board with the correct gate.
Upon boarding the plane I was expecting for my boarding pass to be checked. Instead the flight attendant had a handful of muesli bars and was handing one out to each of the passengers.
There was enough time on the short flight though to serve hot coffee and tea.
On a seemingly never ending travelator after arriving back at Frankfurt International Airport.
After passing through the automated passport gates I was handed a voucher for a souvenir piece of the German Autobahn in dutyfree.
A great view from the airport foodcourt of two very grand looking Lufthansa Boeing 747-800's.
To use up my last euro coins I bought my first ever McRib from the nearby McDonalds. 'GESCHMACKSCOLLTREFFER!' was emblazoned across the top of the box in all caps and apparently translates to taste hit.
Boarding the Lufthana A330 for Dubai via the rear.
And back home in Dubai after a great trip to Frankfurt, Luxembourg City, Brussels, Bruges and Ghent!