22-23 March 2018 – Farewell Canberra, hello Brussels! [Australia, Qatar, Belgium]
It was finally here, the start to our next European adventure! As usual prior to trip-day there was a late night for the adults with all the late minute jobs, and an early start to the day with all the last-minute running around. It’s always a relief to actually make it to the airport!
I sent the kids off to school for 1.5 hours to keep out of our hair, while I got the house sorted, the alpacas walked, and the last-minute jobs done. Pretty soon it was time to collect the excited kids from school and our airport transport, Trevor (aka Grandpa) was ready and waiting for us. We set off for the airport at 11.20am, the start of a long day and night before arriving in Brussels!
This was our first time flying on the ‘direct’ Qatar flights from Canberra to Doha. They’d only started a few weeks earlier. Due to the small numbers departing from Canberra, we checked into the flight quickly and were off up to the Qantas Club Business Lounge for some much-needed lunch.
As we needed to do immigration and another round of security screening before departing, our flight was called fairly early. Luckily with only 2 international flights a day from Canberra, the immigration process is rather fast! There weren’t many people sitting in the international departure lounge.
Used to the flight from Canberra to Sydney being on a Dash-8 or at best a small jet, boarding a 777-300, was a different experience. We counted maybe 30 passengers on a plane that holds 10 times that. If only the rest of the flights were going to be this empty! We had more staff than passengers in our cabin……
Pretty soon we landed in Sydney. The plane had to refuel and board more passengers but we only had around 40 minutes. As we had already cleared immigration and security we headed to the Qantas lounge, but had less luck getting in due to too many guests. Not to worry, it was back to the gate and the flight was pretty much ready to board.
Back on the plane and this time it was much more full, so no spare seats for us. We had the 4 seats across the middle and no spares around us. While the leg room was generous for economy, when the flight was boarded an hour before departure and it was an almost 17 hour flight, it was going to be a long day and night!
The flight went well, although none of us slept much, particularly Astrid (which she came to regret the next day). Our first experience on Qatar airways was fairly positive and the kids meals were amazing!
With kids sprawled across our laps for most of the flight, I watched 5 movies and several documentaries and got barely an hours sleep. Luckily it passed fairly quickly, despite the length and it being dark for most of the flight.
We landed in Doha, Qatar at 11.50pm local time or almost 8am the next morning Canberra time, all rather tired. The Qatar airport is extremely shiny and new and very large. The kids loved the airport train!
We were at a remote gate for our next flight so had to catch the train and a bus before boarding. With only a short time before the flight was scheduled to board we decided not to try our luck with the lounge. The flight ended up boarding 40 minutes late so we would have had plenty of time. All rather tired we were impatient to get moving again.
The next flight was also quite full. Soren and I had a Belgian lady on window next to us, in a row of 3, who was good-humoured about Soren chatting and sitting in her space for over 7 hours. Astrid and Anto ended up with a spare seat in the row in front of us. Trying desperately to get into the right time zone, and all lacking sleep, we eventually convinced the kids to get some more sleep, but Astrid resisted mightily. We all had at best a couple of hours dozing before they woke us up for breakfast at 4am, almost 3 hours before landing.
On the upside, we did get to see a beautiful sunrise as we were flying over Eastern Europe, it had been a ridiculous number of hours since we last saw sun!
We landed in Brussels at 6.45am on Friday the 23rd of March and our bags were off very efficiently. We immediately grabbed coats out of our luggage as it was 4 degrees (with an apparent temperature of below zero) and felt it! We had to go and purchase phone sims as we hadn’t had luck with getting our German ones activated before leaving Australia. During this process the kids were cheered up by the fact that they could smell waffles everywhere, and even the vending machines had them.
With data now enabled and feeling slightly less frozen, we got some train tickets and were on the train into the city which only took around 15 minutes. These are the faces of tired people who haven’t seen a bed in way too many hours!
At central we should have had a short tram ride to close to our hotel, but in a jetlagged state we failed to find the metro and were sick of walking in circles in the cold. Given it was only going, to save us 400m of walking, we stupidly elected to walk the 1.4km to hotel with bags. Unfortunately it was virtually all very serious cobblestones and we still didn’t have enough clothes on, so with freezing hands and all very tired it was unpleasant. We finally made it to our hotel, and at before 9am our room wasn’t quite ready. But they kindly assured us that it would be as soon as previous guest checked out and they would text us to let us know.
We put a few more clothes on, left our bags and headed out for some exploring. We ended up walking back the same way we’d just come but it was 4 x as fast without the luggage, and more pleasant with additional clothes for warmth!
We stopped past St Catherine’s, La Bourse de Bruxelles, and St Nicholas’ church on our wander towards Grand Place.
Brussels Grand Place would have to be one of my favourites in Europe, beautiful buildings in every direction and oh the smell of chocolate!
We might have been a bit tired and rather cold!
Next we wandered down to show the kids Mannekin Pis. Astrid had visited Brussels with us previously but was 1 so didn’t remember. Neither child was all that impressed with Mannekin Pis (I don’t recall Astrid being all that impressed at 1 year old either). It is always fun to see what he is wearing on any given day……….
We had promised some breakfast waffles (despite having eating breakfast and brunch about 6 times during the flights) but had left our cash back at hotel in our delirious state. This meant we had to go searching for cash as it was still early so most cafes were not open, and all the delicious smelling street vendors required cash.
In the meantime we visited a few of the many chocolate shops and the kids scored a number of free samples, much to their delight!
Cash finally obtained, we were a bit cold but had decided to go for the delicious smelling street waffles taunting us, and then found a cafe with seats after pretty much giving up hope. Opting for warmth it was time for our first waffles of the trip.
It had been 6 hours since the last plane breakfast so we were in need of the coffee and carbs. Astrid, whose fitbit confirmed she’d had only 3 hours sleep in 36 hours was beside herself and in tears over waffles and hot chocolate, this is what a jetlagged 6-year-old looks like! The 4-year-old Soren had at least 8 hours sleep and was doing vastly better…….
The waffles hit the spot and even better, we got a text to say our room was ready, so we headed back to the hotel through the magnificent Galeries St Hubert. Oh the chocolate shops! So many to admire, and we had a plan to return after some sleep.
Our hotel for the first night of trip was the B&B DRUUM, and my goodness it was amazing! From the huge wooden door that you have to enter through, to the enormous and quirky room. The bathroom was also fantastic and the shower after almost 48 hours in the same clothes was the best ever!
A shower and a nap were very welcome but unfortunately the alarms on our phones went off all too soon, ant it hurt. The kids were tears about being made to get up, but with promises of chocolate, we bundled up and headed out into the cold for some more exploring.
We walked up the hill, through now much busier streets. We wandered past the enormous St Michel et St Gadula church, which spans an entire block and were impressed to see some green grass with crocuses peeking out (even though it felt like it should be snowing)…….
The walk up the hill towards the Mont des Arts precinct is worth it for the views at the top. The enormous clock was a favourite and there were a few interesting statues on the way up.
Once at the top you can see across Brussels, and the gardens were rather pretty. It was still freezing though!
Next we walked up to the Palais de la Nation (Royal Palace). The traffic here is crazy and we thought we could cross to the centre to get a better look, then discovered trams run through the centre square!
At this point we were rapidly fading and we realised we were hungry as it was a long time since both breakfast and waffles. The kids wanted to go Chez Leon, where Anto, Astrid and I had lunched 5 years earlier, so with Anto unlikely to complain about mussels and beer we walked down there.
Chez Leon is on Rue de Bouchers, a rather pretty street, full of many restaurants. Despite it being only 4.30pm, plenty were open and full of hungry people.
Chez Leon has some amazing kids meals (all free), so like 5 years earlier Astrid got kids meal of a half chicken, apple and chips and half a kilo of bread (plus dessert). Soren briefly considered the kids meal of mussels but decided on the same as Astrid.
Anto and I had some awesome cheese croquettes with fried parsley as a starter. As Chez Leon is famous for mussels, Anto made sure he had his big pot of mussels with mushrooms and a Belgian beer. There were numerous vegetarian options but I had a vegie burger since I was feeling cold. The kids finished off with some chocolate mousse (Soren) and really amazing vanilla icecream (Astrid).
We were all now exhausted but at least with full bellies. It was back out into the cold for a final wander before heading back to the hotel. It wasn’t even 6pm but felt much later, probably due to our tired bodies still being in the wrong time zone.
It was back through Galeries St Hubert to watch some chocolate making, and of course purchase a couple for second dessert.
All the lights were starting to come on so went back to check out Grand Place all lit up. It looked different again without any sunlight, and it was still just as cold (and we were just as tired)!
Ready to call it a day, we had a pretty walk back to the hotel, through the now bustling streets. There was much more activity in the evening than there had been in the morning.
Having survived the day we rewarded the kids with their chocolate, life’s tough when you finish the day with hand-made Belgian chocolate truffles!
After another hot shower, the kids crashed out, exhausted by 7.30pm (42 hours after leaving for the airport in Canberra), and the adults weren’t far behind.
Daily statistics for 22 and 23 March 2018 – when we left Canberra it was a pleasant 19 degrees (after being over 30 most days). In Doha, Qatar, it was 25 degrees (at midnight). Brussels, Belgium, on the other hand was 2 to 5 degrees celsius, with a mean of 4 degrees. With windchill, the temperature was below zero the whole day, and boy did it feel like it! Apparently it is Spring……. The total walking for Friday the 23rd was an impressive 15.7km (all on no sleep). We added about another 8 km on the Thursday walking around airports.
Up next, we farewelled chilly Brussels and headed for a sunny and beautiful Brugge in the North of Belgium……