Belgium: Where to eat in Brussels

Definitely one of the best things about Brussels is that we found awesome restaurants for every meal. Which is pretty good going since there's usually one or two duffs you end up visiting where you can't understand why those places have been rated so highly on TripAdvisor. (I'm a massive TripAdvisor fan when it comes to finding foodie places on holidays!)

Not even an hour off the train and we were sat down at Bia Mara for lunch. Now, you're probably thinking, wait, you went to Brussels and the first thing you had was fish and chips? Call yourself a Brit! But, these are fish and chips with a twist.

We ordered to share the Malaysian curry panko with seaweed salted chips and pineapple ketchup, plus a portion of lemon and basil tempura battered with seaweed salted chips and homemade garlic truffle. Both flavours were beautiful, but I preferred the Malaysian curry panko fish.

For our first dinner in Brussels we headed to Fin de Siecle. A cash-only, no reservations and the menu is written in chalk in French on the wall sort of place, it is well worth a visit. Portions are super generous, super cheap, and super tasty. I enjoyed the Stoemp (sausages and mash), and Olly had the very tasty Jambonneau (bottom left). Yum!

My birthday dinner happened at Colonel (reservation recommend). If you don't like steak, stay away, but if you do then Colonel is where you want to be. I can highly recommend their starter of Flemish-style asparagus three ways (tempura, pan-fried, and in brown butter espum, in case you were wondering - pictured top right), then their black Angus rib to share.

And if you need a breakfast/brunch option, a few doors down from Bira Mara is Peck 47. There are plenty of choices, but first you've got to decide whether you want waffles or muffins - once you've managed to get a table, that is. I went for the Eggs sausage fest (above left) whilst Olly plumped for the Peck's Special (above right) with its interesting-sounding "psycho sauce"!

Of course Belgium is famous for mussels and fries, as well as beer and chocolate, so we also had to try out some fries in the capital. In Brussels we picked Fritland, who are also known for their mitraillette sandwich. (Olly had one of those.) The fries were fine, but they were just fries at the end of the day. I was expecting something a bit more special to your usual takeaway sort of chips/fries.

If you've been to Brussels, where are your favourite places to eat in the Belgian capital? x

The month that was: May 2017

What happened:
This month feels like I've been super busy, but I can't really pinpoint why! I'm still freelancing in Tunbridge Wells, and other than that all I can recall of note is that I went to see The Addams Family musical at the New Wimbledon Theatre. Cameron Blakeley (Gomez) was definitely the star of the show, Carrie Hope Fletcher (Wednesday) had the best voice, and Les Dennis (Uncle Fester) was a delight. The lyrics were super amusing, but the overall story was a little lacking. 3.5/5 from me!

June, hopefully, should be a bit more interesting since we're going to Lake Como and have a few other things on the cards. Oh, and I did buy these awesome Astérix and Obélix POP! vinyl figures in May - if you've read Kept, you'll know why I had to - and we also booked our holiday to Cuba. Woohoo! The gorgeous few days of sunshine we had towards the end of the month has definitely put me in the mood for relaxing on the beach.

What I ate:
We paid the Chicken Shop/Dirty Burger a visit in Wimbledon, which was yum, though service was a bit haphazard. I also went to Pho & Bun for dinner, which was disappointing. I love Vietnamese food, and I love street food, but I did not enjoy their Vietnamese street food. The pork belly in my bao bao burger was really tough. Booooo! And then, because it's clearly burger month, I also went to Byron!

What I watched:
TV-wise we finished watching Riverdale, and I continued to watch Pretty Little Liars. We blitzed through 24: Legacy, which didn't live up to the legacy left by the original 24 series, and also watched the second season of Billions. I can't wait for season three! Speaking of 24, we watched the rest of season 1 of Designated Survivor, Kiefer Sutherland's new show, and then realised the new series of House of Cards was about to drop. That's our current Netflix binge!

Films watched: Sausage Party, Jason Bourne, Elstree 1976, Rogue One, The Legend of Tarzan, Moana, Terminator Genisys, Hell or High Water, Hacksaw Ridge, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

At the cinema we watched an advanced screening of Baywatch, which was actually really funny. If you want a feel-good film that's a bit silly but is going have you smiling as you leave the cinema, go and see it! (Plus, y'know,it's got Zac Efron and Dwayne Johnson in it who are both AWESOME.) We also saw Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge, which was OK. It had some good bits in it... it had more bad bits.

What I read:
In May I read eight books and finished listening to my audiobook. I enjoyed rereading the first two books in the A Court of Thorn and Roses series, ahead of reading the third book which came out this month. I also enjoyed The Good Widow by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke.

How was your month? x

Belgium: Bruges

If you asked me whether you should go to Brussels or Bruges, and you only had time to visit one, I would pick Bruges. Hands down. Why? Because it is so ridiculously pretty. Seriously. It is the prettiest town EVER, and because it's smaller than Brussels, it seems even more concentrated with prettiness.

Getting there from Brussels is super easy - just hop on the train at Brussels-Midi and an hour later you'll be in Bruges. (Did I mention it's super pretty?) Walking from the train station you'll take in churches and buildings dating from the 11th Century, including the Gothic Saint Saviour's which dominates the skyline.

Whilst you could probably spend a lot of your time mooching around and admiring places like Castle Square and its wildly opulent facades - which is mainly what we did - it seems that everyone I'd spoken to who had been to Bruges did a canal trip whilst they were there. We were no exception.

There are four different docks where you can pick up a canal, and it doesn't seem to matter which one you pick as they all cover the same route. The tour only lasts 30 minutes but it's great to get a sense of the history of the city and see it from a different angle!

Another thing we did, purely because we always like to see cities from high, is climb up the Belfry. This is located in the Markt area of Bruges (yep, marketplace), where you'll also find various museums, shops and restaurants.

Costing €10, once you climb up the 400+ steps of the Belfry you're going to have a wonderful view of the city. (Plus since there are various levels you can stop off at, those 400-odd steps don't seem quite so bad.) If you time it right, you can also be by the bells when they chime.

Since we were in Bruges on my birthday, this made it perfectly acceptable to stop off at The Old Chocolate House for a sweet lunch. It is *the* place to enjoy a hot chocolate, either a traditional Belgian one which involves stirring chocolate nibs (white, dark, milk or a mix) into hot milk, or ordering one of their specials like I did - their aptly named "Death by Chocolate"!

And, because you can never have too much sweet stuff on your birthday (or when in Bruges), we shared a waffle with whipped cream and butterscotch sauce. All delicious! I highly recommend that you head upstairs to the tearoom at The Old Chocolate House if you're ever in town.

Have you been to Bruges? x

A city break in Belgium

For my birthday this year, we headed to Belgium. Arriving Wednesday lunchtime and leaving on Friday evening, we had more than enough time to get a feel for Brussels and Bruges - including Belgium's very mixed weather. There was blazing sunshine, wind, rain and snow in the mere 54 hours we were there, so we were very glad to have dug out our winter coats. (Yes, at the end of April. Scandalous!)

Getting there was super easy: we caught the Eurostar from St Pancras to Brussels-Midi. It only takes two hours, and it's super easy to get through security and on to your train. (I'll never fly to Paris or Belgium again.) Oh, and because I'm signed up to Eurostar's loyalty programme, I'd amassed enough points to put a £40 voucher towards the trip. Combining this with their January sale prices... ker-ching!

One thing I found though when trying to find a hotel somewhere central was that they are pricey. So, for the first time ever, I booked an Air B&B. I'll always favour hotels, but when you're talking £134 for two nights in Brussels - opposed to over £400 - I was happy to give it a whirl. Ours, pictured above, was split-level and in a converted warehouse (we had the whole place), and was a ten minute walk from the Eurostar station, and a ten minute walk to the centre of Brussels. Ideal!

As you'd expect from the Belgian capital, Brussels is pretty opulent, and nowhere more so than La Grand-Place. It's a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it dates back to the 12th Century. Basically, it's a beautiful massive square where you'll find shops, museums, churches and the town hall. It's impossible to capture the whole square in one picture, but it's quite something.

A stark contrast to Grand Place is Brussels' Atomium, which is the city's answer to the Eiffel Tower. Built for the 1958 Brussels World Fair, it's a little way out of town, but you can easily hop on the Metro to get there. If you like moody and futuristic monuments, the Atomium is for you. You can actually go up to the top - there are exhibitions in some of the circles - but we missed the last entry time so had to make do with snapping a few pictures in the rain.

Since I spent a lot of my childhood holidays in France (probably 90% of them), visiting The Belgian Comic Strip Center was a must for me. I had originally wanted to hop on the train to Musée Hergé, which is all about the creator of Tintin, but it was either do that or go to Bruges... Bruges won!

But, there is a little section about Tintin and Hergé at The Belgian Comic Strip Center, as well as the Smurfs and other famous Belgian comic book characters. (Most of them we didn't know.) There's also lots of information about the process of creating comic books, and all-in-all it made for an interesting few hours. Entry for adults costs €10. (It felt like most museums and tourist things in Brussels and Bruges had an entry fee of €10!)

A trip to European Parliament should also be on your agenda if you're ever in Brussels. There are a few different bits to visit, but the main two are the Parlamentarium and the Hemicycle. The Hemicycle is where the 751 Members of the European Parliament sit, which we didn't get to see because it was in a plenary session whilst we were there, then closed for the bank holiday. (Limited numbers are allowed in during these sessions.)

We spent more hours than we thought we would at the Parlamentarium though. It tells, amongst other things, the story of how the European Union came about, key moments in its history, plus explains how it works. It's free to visit (as are the lockers when you clear security, which is great because we had all our things with us), plus it's super interactive so you're not just reading information all the time. Well worth visiting, especially in light of Brexit.

There's obviously a lot more to do and see in Brussels, from the Royal Palace of Brussels (pictured above) - but, like our Buckingham Palace, it's only open in summer - to the cheeky little weeing boy statue (Mannekan Pis; pictured below right) that tourists flock to, but I felt like we got a good sense of the city in the time we were there. Oh, and the food is AMAZING, but I'll be sharing all about that in a separate blog post.

Have you been to Brussels? And where are you heading to on your holidays this year? x

The month that was: April 2017

What happened:
I've been freelancing in Tunbridge Wells this month, which means I've been staying with Olly's parents some of the time during the week. I've missed my London lunches! (And London.) It did give me time though to listen to S-Town when I was travelling - an excellent, albeit sad podcast, and one I highly recommend.

Easter plans were cancelled as my mum was admitted to hospital, so that's where I spent it, though Dad and I did sneak in a few games of bowling. (Mum was in hospital for just over two weeks, but she's thankfully out now.) The weather was miserable that weekend, too - a stark contrast to the previous weekend which got to 26°C. We headed to the park to soak up some sunshine and see the cherry blossom, though it's been cold ever since!

At the end of the month, I had a week off freelancing for my birthday, which was much needed. We headed to Belgium for three days, and took in Brussels and Bruges. (Posts coming soon!) I absolutely loved Bruges - it's so pretty - and we ate some awesome food in Brussels. The weather though was so mixed - we had snow, rain, wind *and* sunshine - but it was nice to get away and explore a new country.

And then, because I'm super lucky, we went to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This was my original birthday event, booked all the way back in October 2015! The production itself was awesome, and even though I still wonder whether an eight story was *really* necessary (and question some of the plot flaws), I really enjoyed it. We also had a mooch around Soho between the plays, and visited the House of MinaLima (the guys who did the graphic props for the Harry Potter films), which was cool.

What I ate:
In Belgium we had an awesome lunch of fish and chips with a twist at Bia Mara. We ordered Malaysian curry panko fish with seaweed salted chips and pineapple ketchup, plus a lemon and basil tempura fish with seaweed salted chips and homemade garlic truffle. Both beautiful flavours, though the Malaysian curry panko was that little bit more special! Next door but two to Bia Mara is Peck 47, a great spot for brunch. We also had dinner at Fin de Siècle, an awesome (cash only) restaurant serving tasty Belgian cuisine. (And so, so reasonably priced.)

My birthday dinner was at Colonel, who do awesome steak, and I also enjoyed a starter of Flemish-style asparagus three ways (below left), plus a "deconstructed Snickers" for dessert. In Bruges we headed to The Old Chocolate House for some awesome Belgian hot chocolate and waffles. And, of course, in both Bruges and Brussels we had lots of frites. (Fritland in Brussels do an interesting sandwich called the Mitraillette, topped, naturally, with chips.) Oh, and an awesome giant chocolate meringue from Elisabeth. Happy tummies all around in Belgium!

Closer to home, we had takeaway from Motu Indian Kitchen, and headed to the Soho branch of Red Dog Saloon for a BBQ dinner. Motu Indian Kitchen is a takeaway-only kitchen from the people behind Michelin-starred Gymkhana - the food is DELICIOUS. We also picked up two new cookbooks - Tom's Table and Tom Kerridge's Dopamine Diet - and Olly bought me a Brew Tea Co pot for my birthday. Hurrah!

What I watched:
We finished watching Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, which was good fun, albeit a little too wacky, and then watched season two of Wayward Pines. It was a slow start, but then got better. We also blitzed through Big Little Lies. Even though I knew what was going to happen as I read the book last year, I really enjoyed it. Great adaptation! I also continued watching Riverdale, plus started watching the final episodes of Pretty Little Liars. (The end is near... finally!!)

Films watched: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Mother's Day, Finding Dory, The Good Dinosaur, Ghostbusters, Bend it like Beckham, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II and Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1.

At the cinema we went to see Ghost in the Shell (OK), Power Rangers (set itself up really well, but a tad too long), Fast & Furious 8 (better than expected), plus Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 (I love Baby Groot so much, and Drax was hilarious; not so keen on the soundtrack this time though).

What I read:
In April I read five books and abandoned reading two books. My favourite books of the month were The Winner's Curse and The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski. (I'm currently reading the final book in the series, and hope it matches the other two for awesomeness.) I also enjoyed The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell.

How was your month? x

The month that was: March 2017

What happened:
I finished my freelance contract, my friend came to stay, we met friends for lunch and a walk on the Southbank, I *finally* went to the hairdressers, we travelled to Yorkshire to visit my family, plus we went to the Star Wars Identities exhibition at The O2. (And Olly constructed the LEGO Millennium Falcon that I bought him, just because!)

In Yorkshire, we had a mooch around York in the sunshine and climbed to the top of York Minster - before catching up with my family, playing board games, and hitting up Volcano Falls for some adventure mini golf. (I'm dreadful.) As for the Star Wars exhibition, it was enjoyable enough, but shorter than I expected. If you're a fan though, you'll enjoy it.

What I ate:
The eating out list this month included: The Ivy Brasserie Soho (my swordfish was dry so had to get them to cook another one, and the service was very hit and miss), Bukowski (prefer the Brixton branch to the one I went to in Soho), Nando's (classic), The Draft House (OK), Ping Pong (all the dim sum), Drakes Fisheries (proper fish and chips, though sadly missing scraps), Cafe Fleur (new favourite for brunch) and TGI Fridays (Jack Daniels's sesame chicken strips FTW).

What I saw:
We finished watching Better Call Saul - I can't wait to see what happens next - and we blitzed through Santa Clarita Diet. It's amusing enough, but I wouldn't say you have to go and watch it RIGHT NOW. We also watched season two of The Man in the High Castle. It took me a while to get back into it, but that ending... oooooh! And watched all of Iron Fist, which got a bit flat towards the end - definitely could have been a shorter series. We also started watching Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (amusingly odd) and Riverdale (my replacement already lined up for the end of PLL!).

IMDB films watched: Forest Gump (13) and The Godfather (2). Other films watched: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Doctor Strange, Florence Foster Jenkins, A Street Cat Named Bob, Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Trolls, The Boss, The Martian and A Hologram for the King.

At the cinema, we saw Logan, which was really awesome. I'm not really a Marvel fan, but it truly was excellent. We also saw Kong: Skull Island and, of course, Beauty and the Beast. Beauty and the Beast was wonderful, and you don't have to choose between loving the classic cartoon or this one - you can love them both, OK!

What I read:
In March I read ten books, and listened to two audiobooks. I absolutely loved listening to David Attenborough's Life on Air (wonderfully read by him, too) - he's had such a marvellous career - but I didn't rate Local Girl Missing. Books I enjoyed reading in March: My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella and How Not to Disappear by Clare Furniss.

How was your month? x


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