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Honeymooning in the Philippines

I count myself lucky that one of the most popular honeymoon destinations in the world just so happens to be the country I’m from. It seems like a no-brainer that for our honeymoon we’d choose the Philippines but we actually considered going back to Europe or other Asian countries like Japan or Singapore. I’ll admit I was the one who needed convincing since I grew up in the Philippines and thought we should go someplace new. I’m very grateful we did end up going to my birth country because it was an unforgettable experience that balanced family time with alone time.

One thing to note is with the Philippines being an archipelago of seven thousand plus islands, there is no shortage of picturesque destinations to choose from. For the first part of our honeymoon, that choice was made for us since my mother’s side of the family was having a reunion in Palawan.

Specifically, we went to Coron and it is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to in the world. They take nature preservation very seriously (no plastic allowed on any of the island hopping tours) so you get pristine white sand beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters and cotton candy pink sunsets. If paradise could exist on earth, it probably would be Coron.

We went snorkelling and island hopping, we swam in several lagoons and beaches as well as swimming pools. I’m thankful that my husband’s first trip to the Philippines started out being surrounded by 20 members of my loud, funny and generous Filipino family. We ate all our meals together, needed a big van to take us everywhere and even all got sick together, it was the ultimate family reunion.

After Palawan, I also got to spend time with my dad and his side of the family. We went to the cutest bed and breakfast in Tagaytay, a popular holiday town near Manila. I say “near” but with traffic, it can take almost 3 hours to get there. But it was the perfect corner for relaxing and recharging after being constantly on the go in Coron.

I also wanted Keith to experience Metro Manila so we spent a few more days there. Our base was the Shangri-La in Bonifacio Global City (BGC). We had the best time exploring all the shops and restaurants around.

Finally it was time for the second half of our honeymoon, this time just the two of us. We chose Panglao, Bohol as the island we’d go to and we stayed in Amorita Resort.

From the warm hospitality to the eco-friendly products to the complimentary sunset cocktails, we highly recommend Amorita to anyone going to Bohol. The service was impeccable and the amenities were lovely. We couldn’t have chosen a better honeymoon hotel.

There’s also a lot to see outside of the resort and we went on a guided tour of Bohol by car. The major sites are close to one another so we only needed a day to see them all. If you’re pressed for time, the two must-sees are the Chocolate Hills and the tarsiers. But make sure you go to the Corella Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary and not the other more touristy one (Loboc Conservation) that doesn’t actually respect the specific needs of this endangered species.

After we explored Bohol, the rest of our stay was spent enjoying each other’s company in our villa with private pool, lounging in the resort’s two infinity pools, getting massages in their spa and indulging in amazing meals from their Spanish tapas restaurant.

We were super sad to leave this heavenly resort and our only consolation was telling ourselves that we would eventually be back someday…back to Amorita and definitely back to the Philippines.

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What Happens in Vegas…

As 2019 comes to an end, I’ve been looking back at my year and realizing just how much I’ve travelled. I covered San Francisco but hesitated to write about my trip to Vegas because of the saying in this post’s title. I’ve since come to the conclusion that it was just too great of a trip not to share. Please note though that I’m strictly sticking to the scenic highlights and deliberately omitting all the juicy anecdotes.

When people say Vegas is the premier bachelorette party destination, this cannot be more true. As soon as you land, you will see crowns, sashes, matching shirts and accessories to distinguish the bachelorette posses from the other kinds of tourists that come to Sin City. We were no different and we embraced it wholeheartedly.

Without further ado, here are the must-hit milestones of a successful Vegas bachelorette party:

1. Visit the Grand Canyon

While Vegas is actually not at all close to this natural marvel, you absolutely need to go. There is nothing like seeing the canyon in person. Check this off your bucket list. Just make sure you don’t party too hard the night before you’ve planned to hike the canyon and that you double check that everyone is accounted for prior to leaving for the 10-hour round trip drive.

2. Explore the Strip

Even if you have no interest in gambling, there is an insane amount of things to see in Vegas. You can leave your hotel, walk the Strip on one side and have a completely different experience on the way back to your hotel walking on that same side. You don’t even need to spend money, you can just check out all of the hotels’ elaborate decor or watch the fountain and lights shows that change every day.

Even if you spend a month there, you will not run out of activities. Case in point: in the hotel we were staying at, they had an Avengers Exhibition that was right up my nerdy alley.

3. Catch a show (or two or three)

I cannot reiterate this point enough: Vegas has something for everyone and that also applies to shows. From the Cirque to Céline, there is a show for you so plan to watch at least one or one per night if you really want to take full advantage. Another thing to keep in mind is that even though you may already have seen a certain artist perform on tour in your hometown, their Vegas show will be completely different because it’s Vegas, baby! Everything needs to be bigger and better. We went to Aussie Heat (mandatory for a bachelorette), Opium (super fun and creative) and were lucky enough to be at the Backstreet Boys’ last show during their residency (dream come true for our teenage selves).

4. Splurge on food

As a foodie, Vegas was fabulous. Their restaurants are over the top and the food is actually good. Two standouts are Tao, with an entrance that has bathtubs filled with flower petals and candles, and Brunch at The Bellagio, with their bottomless mimosas accompanied by a perfect view of the fountains. Don’t worry though, we balanced out the bougie by going to Denny’s for breakfast.

5. Party like a rock star

As a female tourist in Vegas, you can’t walk two feet without a promoter inviting you to a party, promising booze, booths and boys. Lucky for us, we had all that covered via the bride’s highly connected sister-in-law. She took our Vegas partying to the next level. I’m talking limo ride, a night with the Chainsmokers at XS and a day with David Guetta at Encore’s Pool Party complete with line by-pass and no cover. Even without the hookups, you can still party just as hard but you might need to wait in line more.

I have a lot more stories and inside jokes from this trip but what I am really taking away is that we celebrated a wonderful bride and I got to know and bonded with a great group of girls. It’s a shame we all live so far away from each other but we will always have Vegas 2019.

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Golden Gate Gals Trip

I’ve been wanting to post for awhile now but life just gets in the way. I swear I’ll post about our wedding but for now, I need to share my most recent trip to San Francisco. It was my first time in the west coast and now I totally get why California calls to people. Two of my closest girlfriends go on annual trips together and they thankfully let me crash this year’s.

Work had been super busy after the wedding and my anxiety turned into full-blown depression to the point where my body was tired all the time. I was mentally checked out, moody and irritated. This vacation couldn’t have come at a better time. It snapped me out of the state I was in. I felt energized during and when I got back.

It was an amazing trip, made even more memorable by seeing my aunt, uncle and youngest cousin. They live in San Mateo and they were generous enough to take us around to the best places. There’s nothing like discovering a new city with the help of locals.

Without further ado, here are my top 10 recommendations for your first trip to San Francisco:

1. It might seem counterintuitive but the first thing we did was get out of the city to go to Napa! I don’t even like wine however I apparently enjoy wine tastings and visiting the vineyards.

2. Hug a tree! It’s really worth planning a trip to Muir Woods. You’re immediately transported to another world and there are different trails depending on whether you’re just walking for an hour or longer.

3. Take in the whole city from Twin Peaks. If you really wanna see the city by the bay from a cool vantage point then make the drive to the second tallest peak in the city (after Mt. Davidson).

4. Taste the rainbow in The Castro neighbourhood. You definitely won’t be able to miss its rainbow flags. In addition to all the restaurants, bars and shops, there’s also reminders everywhere that celebrate the queer community.

5. Speaking of The Castro, while you’re in the area, do brunch right and eat the best bacon in the city. Much of our trip revolved around food and breakfast being the most important meal of the day was no exception. I highly recommend trying the millionaire’s bacon from Kitchen Story.

6. Spend some time in Ghirardelli Square. There’s more than just chocolate here with tons of restaurants, unique shops and fun activities to do such as an indoor mini golf course!

7. Swoon over all the Victorian houses. I’ve honestly never seen prettier houses in my life. Everywhere you turn, there’s another colourful house you can’t afford. We saw The Painted Ladies and they sure are gorgeous but if you can’t make your way to them, just literally look at any of the other beautiful houses on almost every corner.

8. Stop by Union Square to witness the hustle and bustle of downtown San Francisco. Lots of shopping to be had plus there’s a long line for the cable cars. I suggest skipping that and just getting the best boba from Boba Guys.

9. Sample some of the best sushi you’ll ever have. Most likely due to its proximity to Japan and the sizeable Japanese population that lives there (we went to Japantown), but man the sushi in San Fran is next level good. Plus the ramen is super yummy too!

10. Go watch the sea lions at Pier 39. Ok, so that might only take ten minutes of your day but the rest of it you can spend exploring all around Fisherman’s Wharf. You can eat chowder out of a bread bowl from Boudin or buy souvenirs from the local shops. There’s also a pretty sweet view of Alcatraz. It’s just a great way to spend a sunny day.

Notable mentions: We also went to Lombard Street, Palace of Fine Arts and of course, the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Our Whirlwind Trip to the Windy City


Alternative title to this post: How to Spend 1 ½ days in Chicago

I suppose I should begin with our main reason for going to the Windy City in September 2017: Hamilton. Yes, my friends, the best future husband ever gifted me with the golden ticket last Christmas. While I found it hard to wait nearly a year for the show, it must’ve been much harder on Keith who had to endure me constantly counting down or saying, “I don’t care about (insert whatever we were discussing here). I only care about making it to Hamilton, after which, I can die happy”. Keep in mind, we’re getting married in 2018.

A lot of my focus had been on the musical and rightly so but we were also going to one of the more popular destinations in North America. As amazing as Hamilton was (my review will be up in a separate post), I was blown away by Chicago. Pun very much intended.


Accommodation

I must give a shout-out to our amazing hosts, my uncle, Eric, his wife, Noel, and their effervescent daughter, Sophia. I highly recommend having relatives in Chicago, it makes travelling there so much more convenient and fun. We stayed over at their lovely home on North Lake Shore Drive, just a 10 minute walk to Wrigley and a 10 minute bus ride from Magnificent Mile. It was such a nice neighbourhood, we had a hard time leaving it to explore the rest of the city, or just in general, when it was time to go home.

For those of you who do not have relatives in Chicago, check out Airbnb. The hotel prices for the dates we were there were way too expensive.

​Getting Around

Now Torontonians or Chicagoans might gripe about their respective public transit systems, but let me tell you, after having had to endure the horrific traffic and abysmal state of public transportation in Manila, Philippines, twice this year, you guys have no idea how good you’ve got it. Sure there are delays, but the mere fact that you can get to your destination via bus or subway in less than an hour is a blessing, trust me.

We flew in to Midway Airport from Billy Bishop using Porter Airlines. As soon as we landed, we took full advantage of Chicago’s “L” trains and buses by purchasing a day pass using the machines at Midland station. With that, you can go pretty much anywhere you need to. I loved when the trains passed next to the buildings downtown. I’ve never seen anything like it.


Attractions

Since we were only in Chicago for such a short time, we had to maximize our sightseeing. After clearing customs, we took the Orange line straight to the Loop so we can go on an Architecture Boat Tour of the city. I highly recommend Chicago’s First Lady because it’s the only cruise partnered with the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Our docent was so funny and knowledgeable, it was the perfect introduction to this beautiful city and its rich history. I’ve heard great things about the other cruises as well, but we really loved the tour that focuses on the architecture, the why, where and how things were built. We also were able to walk the Riverfront, which I would advice people to do either before or after your tour.

We did the Magnificent Mile a couple of times by bus since the route going to my uncle’s took us through there. It’s worth seeing and you’d really enjoy it if you loved to shop, but we were saving all our money for Hamilton swag.

The second day, we woke up and walked to Wrigley Field. Despite being a Cardinals fan, even Keith had to agree how awesome it was that the park is very much just part of the neighbourhood. Plus the Starbucks across it had to be the coolest one we’ve ever been to.


The afternoon was devoted to Millenium Park and the Art Institute. We definitely did not have time to explore the park enough but I think we covered all the major works in the museum. Highlights include Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte, Chagall’s American Windows, and the Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room. Do not miss the Thorne Miniature Rooms.


Then it was time for the main event: Hamilton at the Privatebank Theatre. Well worth the trip!

Obviously there are a lot more sights to see but those are what I would recommend for a short trip.

Food Recommendations

The best restaurant in Chicago was definitely my uncle’s kitchen. Him and his wife made us amazing food during our stay. But again, if you don’t have relatives that can serve you delicious free food, then here are some places you can try: For deep dish pizza, we had Lou Malnati’s which my aunt says locals prefer. Although our friend, Julissa, who is a local says she likes Giordano’s. Julissa also took us to Latinicity, an awesome food hall serving everything from $2 tacos on Tuesday to Peruvian Lomo Saltado. Worth a visit. If you’re ever near Wrigley, there’s a Mexican restaurant that we ate at after seeing Hamilton with incredible tacos al pastor, El Burrito Mexicano.


Souvenirs

Three words: Chicago Mix Popcorn


Final Thoughts

We loved our time in Chicago so much, even though it was barely two days, that we started looking at properties there. It was very much the US counterpart to Toronto in my opinion. I had never thought about moving to the States until Chicago. I can’t wait to visit again!

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We’ll Always Have Paris

img_7479First Impressions

Keith and I were coming into Paris from very different standpoints. He doesn’t speak French and has never been before. He’s slightly intimidated by the city’s size and reputation. I, on the other hand, fluent French-speaker and second-time visitor, could not wait to be back in the city of lights. I adored my high school trip to Paris and I guess I did romanticize it a bit since I didn’t remember it smelling like pee so much the last time.

Accommodation

Our second Airbnb experience went just as well as the first. Check-in and check-out was a breeze. Luckily the heat wave did not follow us from Brussels to Paris so the lack of air conditioning wasn’t a problem. The six flights of stairs however were not fun. At least we had a view of the Eiffel Tower which made it worth it, in my opinion. The place was tiny though, unlike the apartment in Brussels. Everything, from the bed, the kitchen, the shower and the toilet was crammed together, not an inch of space was wasted. Located in the 10th arrondissement, we really enjoyed how close it was to Gare du Nord train station and several metro stops. Plus the neighbourhood which was near the Canal Saint-Martin was super charming.

Getting Around

img_7370The Paris metro system is a modern marvel. There are so many lines that it doesn’t matter where in the city you end up, there is always a station nearby that connects to somewhere you’re going. I’m convinced that even if you don’t speak French, you will be able to figure it out. If you don’t want to take advantage of the metro for some unknown reason, then walking is the next best thing. The streets of Paris were super easy to navigate, I found. Keith said I looked like I had lived there all my life with the way I zipped around all over the city. The highlight of our transit experience was riding the driver-less metro train.

Attractions

We had reconciled with the idea that it would be impossible to see all or even most of Paris in three days. We also had two of our friends who were there at the same time and had to adjust our itineraries accordingly. Our first day there, we just walked around our neighbourhood, passed Porte Saint-Denis and had dinner near Les Halles.

img_7389On the second day, a Monday, we explored the Canal Saint-Martin in the morning, where there was more locals around than tourists. Then in the afternoon, we walked from our apartment to Notre Dame, passing City Hall on the way. Avoiding the line to go in, we opted to just walk around and stay in the surrounding park. We crossed the Seine to get to the Latin Quarter, stopping by several bookshops like Shakespeare & Co. and Album Comics. I really enjoyed this neighbourhood and I loved just walking along the river. We caught a glimpse of the Sorbonne and then crossed a bridge again to find ourselves on Ile Saint-Louis. I wish we could’ve stayed a little longer on the island since I felt like I could pass a day just getting lost in the streets but we were trying to get to Place de la Bastille. Funny anecdote, once there, our friend asked if that was all there is. I had to remind him that the Bastille was torn down. He was unimpressed that only an obelisk stood in the middle of the square where the prison once stood.

Our last full day in Paris, a Tuesday, was spent hitting the big tourist spots: Trocadéro, Eiffel Tower, Champ de Mars, Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Élysées. A memory that’s so vivid in my mind from my first trip to Paris was exiting the Trocadéro subway station and rounding the corner to be hit by the view of the Eiffel Tower. Recreating that moment with Keith was very special. Then on our way to the Arc de Triomphe, we passed by the Place des États-Unis, which Keith appreciated, being American.

After getting some shopping done at the Champs-Élysées, we said goodbye to our friends for a little bit, since I had planned a surprise excursion for Keith. We discovered the musical Hamilton earlier this year and we have been obsessed. A key figure in the musical and in history in general is the Marquis de Lafayette. Thanks to a little research, I found out that he was buried in Picpus Cemetery, the larger and one of only two private cemeteries in Paris. Lafayette is known as the Hero of Two Worlds after being involved in both the American and French revolutions, which is why an American flag is permitted to fly above his grave at all times and he is buried in American soil that he brought back from his visit to the US. Aside from Lafayette’s tomb, it also has two mass graves of the victims executed by guillotine during the Reign of Terror. The cemetery itself is very peaceful and secluded. While we were there, we didn’t encounter anyone else. It was the only time during our entire trip that Keith and I found ourselves completely alone in public. If you’re looking to visit a site that’s off the beaten path, this would be my recommendation.IMG_7547.jpg

Food Recommendations

IMG_7349.jpgA friend of ours from university gave us an extensive list of restaurant recommendations and I cannot thank her enough for them. For the best brunch, go to Holybelly which was super close to our apartment. It gets very busy though and we had to wait awhile but it was all worth it, especially since we were celebrating a friend’s birthday. Everything from Du Pain et des Idées was phenomenal. But my favourite meal of the entire trip has to be the pizza at Pink Flamingo. I didn’t believe it when people told me to eat pizza while in Paris but there’s something about it that makes it so good. Plus Pink Flamingo has amazing flavour combinations: I got the paella one. All of these restaurants are around the Canal Saint-Martin, which has got to be my favourite discovery during my second time in Paris.

IMG_7577.jpgWe also had crepes near the Champs-Élysées and of course got some macarons from Ladurée. Plus one night we hit up one of the grocery stores near us for some charcuterie and cheese to go with our baguette from Du Pain et des Idées. The cheese we got had cumin in it which was amazing.

Souvenirs

If you’re brave enough to try and fly macarons back, then by all means. I was not and instead opted to buy French soaps to give out as gifts instead. For myself, I also brought back a Longchamp bag since they were way cheaper to buy there than back in Canada.

Final Thoughts

img_7583While we didn’t go to the Louvre or visit Montmartre, I think we took full advantage of our short trip to Paris. It is one of my favourite cities in the world and I could see myself living there. I love the Parisian way of living, taking the time to enjoy everything from an espresso to an expensive meal. I didn’t mind the holier-than-thou attitude we sometimes got in but Keith wasn’t having it. He attempted to order a coffee in French and was met with a blank stare. So Keith liked it the least out of all the cities we visited but on our last night, when we had an impromptu meet-up with two more of our friends who just happened to be there too and sat outside a café drinking and laughing the night away, I knew Paris was finally growing on him.

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“How’s a fairytale town not somebody’s thing?!”

img_7282First Impressions

If you understood the reference I made in the title, then you must have seen “In Bruges”. I’m not embarrassed to say that I discovered the magical town of Bruges from that film. It’s a pretty stellar movie and it was the reason I put Bruges on top of my must-visit list. I was afraid that building Bruges up in my head would leave me disappointed and in a way it did and it didn’t. I wanted to get to Bruges early but I was still feeling sick so we couldn’t mobilize until 11 am and got to Bruges at half past noon. The reason I wanted to get there super early was to avoid the crowds, which were the main reason I was a little let down. The Bruges I fell in love with was the one featured in the scenes in the movie that had no tourists. In reality, during the hours of 10 am to 6 pm, the streets are filled with visitors. In my mind, it wouldn’t be as touristy, but being a tourist myself, I couldn’t really complain.

Accommodation

We did not stay in Bruges but I wish we did if only to be able to experience dawn and dusk there, when the tourists have all gone home.

Getting Around

We took the train from Brussels Central Station to Bruges’ Railway Station. Initially we didn’t know which train to board since on the big board at the station, they only show the train’s final destination not all the stops it’s making. We asked a helpful attendant and figured it all out. Once at Bruges’ train station, there are buses or taxis that can take to the main square but we opted to walk and I’m very glad we did because it allowed us to take in and savour all the sights Bruges had to offer.

Attractions

img_7220The walk from the train station to the town center took us through a few of the major landmarks in Bruges: Minnewater park, the Béguinage and the Church of Our Lady. The main event for us was definitely the Belfry and the market square. Unfortunately there was going to be a concert in the square and they had already set up the stage and seats right in the middle so that took away from the view.

The two things we did in Bruges was walk around to all the different places we remembered from the movie and take a canal ride. The canal ride is a must since you get to see a lot of things you wouldn’t otherwise have seen in a short amount of time for very little effort and the captain we had was hilarious.img_7237

Food recommendations

We didn’t stay long enough to have a proper meal. My cold was also getting worse so I couldn’t indulge in all the beer I desperately wanted, but I’ve heard just the best things about Huisbrouwerij De Halve Maan. We did get to sample some chocolate, again from a shop whose name I can’t remember. I would say it was comparable to the chocolate from Brussels, although I also didn’t find the famous chocolatier Dumon that apparently makes the best chocolates in all of Belgium. I definitely need to come back.

Souvenirs

Chocolate would be a good bet. But there is also, if you can afford it (we couldn’t), lace. My boss mentioned to me that Bruges is famous for crocheted lace and I had no idea. Once you get there though a lot of shops showcase the intricate pieces in their windows.

Final Thoughts

img_7152Keith said Bruges seems like what all the other ski towns in the US try to emulate, with the cobbled lanes and colourful buildings. We didn’t go inside the churches and the museums, but at the end of the day we were perfectly happy just being in this charming medieval city that really does look like it leapt out of a storybook.img_7153

Next post we find out if Paris is always a good idea…

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The Thing About Brussels…

img_6926First Impressions

On the Wednesday of our first week in Europe, we woke up early to snap a photo of the iamsterdam sign before it got swarmed then took the Thalys train from Amsterdam Central Station to Brussels-South Station. Two hours later, we found ourselves in Brussels. I read in another travel blog that Brussels was a bit of an enigma. And we understood exactly what the author meant when we found ourselves in Belgium’s capital. In fact, we couldn’t quite form an opinion about it while we were there. Did we like Brussels as much as Amsterdam? Did we even like Brussels at all? The vibe is completely different than the Dutch city we left behind. Gone were the bicycles and canals, to be replaced by the hustle and bustle of the de facto capital of the European Union. It was bigger and busier, more diverse. There were soldiers patrolling and vagrants sitting on the ground with signs. It reminded us a little of Toronto. Sure the architecture was nice, as in most of the cities in Europe, but what set Brussels apart? We hoped at the end of our stay, we would figure it out.

Accommodation

We were staying three nights at a fourth-floor apartment in the center of Brussels through Airbnb. Admittedly, I was a little nervous since this was my first experience with Airbnb and I had visions of somehow not ending up with a place to stay but luckily, the host was super responsive and arranged for her neighbour who lives in the same building to greet us and give us the key. Since I had always stayed in hotels or hostels with lifts, the narrow, steep, winding staircase took some getting used to. So did the no air conditioning. And we had just arrived during a heat wave. It was brutal at night, even with a fan. Other than those two things, the apartment was very spacious and I loved the bathtub. There was a kitchen and dining room that we did not really take advantage of and a living room with a pull-out couch. Another bonus was being near a church whose bells rang so you didn’t need to set your alarm. All in all, I would recommend staying here, but only during the cooler months.

Getting Around

Our only experience with Brussels’ transit system was when we took the tram to get to our Airbnb when we first arrived. Being fluent in French, it was easy to navigate for me since the signs were in both French and Dutch. But aside from that, we once again relied on our feet. Our apartment was so close to all the attractions that we didn’t really need to take public transport. All of the street signs in Brussels are both in French and Dutch as well. I suggest picking one language and sticking with it when following directions. For some reason, I found it easier to navigate the winding streets of Amsterdam, but luckily Keith picked up the slack. The whole “everything is much closer together” rule still applies here. We would sometimes have to double back because the street we were looking for was really more of an alleyway or a short strip that was an offshoot of another street that you wouldn’t really consider a separate one in North America. Some streets, especially the ones that were around the tourist attractions are pedestrian only.

Attractions

img_6919Our first day there, we headed straight to the main event: the Grand Place, the central square of Brussels. It was breathtaking, without being hyperbolic. When we rounded the corner coming into the square, we were both just taken aback and stopped breathing for a little bit. It was just like nothing we had ever seen. I had seen major monuments before but the Grand Place just surrounds you in amazing architecture and stupefying splendour. There was the King’s House on the north side then the City Hall on the south side and then guildhalls on the east and west sides. Tourists just sit down or stand in the middle of the square for hours, just admiring and taking photos.

After gawking for I’m not even sure how long, we explored all the little side streets and shops around the Grand Place. There were so many pubs, bars, restaurants, chocolatiers and souvenir shops. Then we went down a street where we saw a crowd of people was gathered and it turned out to be the site of the Mannekin Pis, a small bronze sculpture of a naked little boy peeing. It was smaller than I imagined and I honestly don’t get what the fuss was all about. Keith liked it though. He said it helped him understand Brussels more. He said it meant the city didn’t take itself too seriously.

The next day, we were supposed to go to Bruges but due to unforeseen circumstances (I wasn’t feeling so well, I was starting to get the travel cold), we decided to switch Thursday and Friday’s itineraries. We stayed in Brussels and crossed off number two on Keith’s list: The Belgian Comic Strip Center. As soon as we found out there was a museum dedicated to comic books in Brussels, we knew, being the nerds that we are, we needed to pay a visit. Luckily this was also just a 10-minute walk from the apartment. The museum was fascinating for both of us, as someone who works in comics (Keith) and someone who is a big fan of the medium (me). It goes through the history of the comic book, the process, and highlights some of the pioneers and current creators. Belgium has a rich history with comic books. You may have heard about Hergé’s Tintin or Peyo’s The Smurfs. Much like the Rijksmuseum, the museum itself is a work of art with its Art Nouveau design. Needless to say, we were both glad we could make the pilgrimage.

img_6975The rest of our stay in Brussels consisted of just exploring the streets near our apartment. There were two smaller squares near us, the Place de la Monnaie and the Place des Martyrs. We also tried to find as many of the comic book murals that grace the side of the buildings in the city. If we had more time, we would’ve done the Comic Book Route to see all of them. Another thing on my list that I didn’t get to do was visit the Mont des Arts, apparently the best view of the city.

Food Recommendations

As a lover of beer and chocolate, Brussels did not disappoint. I don’t have specific recommendations when it comes to beer since I have come to the conclusion that you cannot get bad beer in Brussels. As for chocolate, there are so many stores but my co-worker recommended the chocolatier that invented the praline, Neuhaus, which I loved and even non-chocolate aficionado Keith enjoyed.

img_6947As for the famous waffles, just pick a stand and they should all be comparable. I got mine from Vitalgaufre and devoured it. Definitely get fries with mayo from a frites stand. Keith does not like mayo but for some reason, he didn’t mind Belgian mayo and he almost didn’t need my help to finish a whole cone by himself. We had moules et frites from a place I forgot the name of beside the Grand Place. It was ok but it didn’t really impress. I prefer the Thai mussels I make at home.

The one restaurant I absolutely recommend is Peck 47. Our Airbnb host suggested it. They’re located near the Grand Place and their food is fresh and so yummy. It may seem a little hipster at first but all of that won’t matter after you try their homemade lemonade and their delicious brunch. The bacon is probably the best bacon we have ever tasted. Ever.

Souvenirs

If you can ensure that they won’t melt, then chocolate from Neuhaus is a good souvenir to take back. We only had carry-on though so we opted for Speculoos cookies from Maison Dandoy. They come in the cutest packages so they don’t need to be gift-wrapped. We also taste tested them first, obviously.

Final Thoughts

img_6939By the end of the second day, we were starting to get what Brussels was all about. They had incredible monuments but their most beloved statue was a naked child peeing. They were the headquarters of the EU but they also had comic book murals on the side of their buildings. It seemed like anything goes in Brussels. This is probably just an ignorant tourist’s observation but the city seemed to be dealing fine with the aftermath of the terrorist attack. Then again, we don’t live there so the reality could be very different. When everything was said and done though, we realized we actually really liked Brussels.

Next post is all about the time we were In Bruges!

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