As our original plans to visit relatives in the US before departing for Europe fell through, I thought it would be nice to have my parents here for the Christmas season. Originally, we had only planned to take them to Paris for a few days around Christmas, but then there was also a pressing matter with my residence approval.
The approval had not come through yet when I left San Francisco, meaning the date on my passport stamp upon entering Luxembourg came before the approval. When declaring my arrival for my residence card, the date of entry into Luxembourg had to come after the approval. I realize that is convoluted and confusing, so suffice it to say I had to leave and re-enter the Schengen Area after my approval came through. This meant we had the fortunate bonus of adding London to our trip, as the UK is not a part of the Schengen Area.
NOTE: This was my first time visiting these countries (as was also the case with my partner and parents), so much of the experience includes tour buses and obvious tourist destinations. Despite what the snobs may think, I found it an entirely acceptable way to experience a city for the first time.
We went to London by train over 20-22 December. The first major stop along the way is Brussels, Belgium. I had never been, and had previously desired to spend some more time there, but had been advised that–for the first visit–our time would be better spend exploring London. Our time in Brussels was thus rather short: a few hours for lunch.
We quickly rushed from the train station to the city center, and then purchased some Gluhwein to warm us as we walked around. The skies were grey, it was raining, and the temperature was around 40, but the stop was well worth it. There were Christmas shops set up all along the streets, which bustled with activity. There was also some great gothic and baroque architecture to behold in the square, known as the Grand Place. Here is a shot of the Maison du Roi (French) or Broodhuis (Dutch):
We wandered a bit, did some shopping (where I–without any sense of irony–purchased some Belgian chocolates for friends), and then had a nice lunch. Here are some additional photos taken around Grand Place:
I had at least two of these, which is my new favorite beer:
Then it was back on the train for London…