The last day of traveling is always the saddest. And the most anxiety provoking as well! You want to spend as much of the day as possible cramming in the remaining sites and attractions that you missed out on all the rest of the days, but that clock is ever ticking down towards your arrival at the exit location. There is always that looming two hours before your flight or 45 minutes before your train deadline tainting even the shiniest of Atomium protons. Such a shame, but alas one of my favorite parts about a vacation is the coming home and reminiscing over the amazingness that was the past weekend. Being back in my own bed and room is admittedly probably the biggest reason for that, but let’s pretend for a bit that the blogging to all of you about my travels is why I am so anxious to get home (though I do absolutely love blogging!).
I was still recovering from my Friday night lack of sleep, and coupled with being knackered from the easily 25 miles of walking already recorded by our internal pedometers, we allowed ourselves a slightly more leisurely morning to roll out of bed and pack up our things. But because we made such a late start out of the door, we forwent a sit down breakfast for a grab and go continental spread back at EXK(carrot I). Of course, a sit down breakfast probably would have taken the same amount of time, since as soon as I saw that the pain au chocolat were nearly out of the oven, I insisted that we wait for them to be fresh instead of settling for delicious but already cooled cream or butter croissants. If I’ve learned one thing in my few trips into Paris, it’s that there is no breakfast more worth experiencing on a slightly chilly and overcast morning than a pain au chocolat straight from the oven. Ooey, gooey, and oh-so-buttery, not to mention filled with nearly melted chocolate, the pastries were as well worth the extra 8 minutes and vastly improved our Tube ride to the Atomium.
The Atomium was right next to BruParc (the Brussels version of Knotts Berry Farm perhaps?) in the outskirts of the city. As the name implies, the Atomium is a gigantic model of an atom–I think it’s supposed to be iron, but Dan and I had some debates about that factoid–entailing nine twenty-feet-diameter aluminum looking spheres connected with more silvery tubes that house the staircases and escalators connecting the balls. I think the balls are supposed to be the protons of the atom?
Anyways, it is a pretty noticeable structure, as we realized when Dan asked where the Atomium was in relation to the stop we had just passed through, only to have the atom model zip past us barely a half second later. A comedy writer couldn’t have planned that timing better.
On a whim, I decided that we should splurge a little for our last day and tack on a trip to Mini-Europe in addition to the Atomium. I had read that the Atomium will take no more than an hour unless you want to/can afford to eat at the panoramic restaurant, and we had multiple hours before we even needed to consider being at the train station. So Mini-Europe seemed like a novel idea.
It could have easily gone one of two ways: lame, reminiscent of Legoland where all the models are hokey and there is nothing entertaining for anyone over the age of six, or it could have been just a cool diversion probably still not worth the money but at least we could say we went. I never considered that it would become one of the highlights of my trip.
Mini-Europe is a project that spans across the entirety of Europe (obviously). As you walk through the winding paths, you pass 1:25 scale models of some of Europe’s most iconic and treasured buildings. Broken up by countries who are full members of the European Union, the models cover everywhere from the famous Eiffel Tower to the lesser known saunas of Finland.
Each country region began with a sign with some basic statistics and a button which when pressed proudly played the country’s national anthem. There was a group of school children who ran around pushing all the buttons solely because they could, which was a little distracting for those of us trying to appreciate the cultural experience. Also it was particularly difficult for me as I was trying to memorize all the national anthems prior to the Olympics! Not really, but it was a funny joke to tell Dan. The chosen locations really tried to evoke the individuality of the country and involved some wonderful cultural elements, like the cheese fair in Brussels or the knocking down of the Berlin Wall in Germany. At the entrance we were given a booklet of information about each model, essentially describing what we were seeing and why it was significant to the history or identity of the country as well as some fun facts about the creation of these insanely detailed and intricate models.
If you hadn’t known that you were looking at a scale model, and you saw a close up picture, you would have no idea that I was taller than the Arc du Triomphe.
We became so absorbed in the “All Hail the EU” experience that we realized we would run out of time for the Atomium if we didn’t pick up the pace and stop lingering over each model for 10 minutes apiece. I can’t wait to peruse the booklet more; it definitely rebit my travel bug before I had even left this new country!
After the incredible Mini-Europe, the Atomium was kind of anticlimactic. It did afford some stunningly expansive views of city snaking out below us (on a clear day it is said that one can see all the way to Antwerp) but the haze did put a tad bit of a damper on what we were seeing. Then it started raining and the damper became a bit more literal. Inside the other “protons” were exhibits explaining Expo 58, less commonly known as the World Fair of 1958, which was the whole reason for the building of the Atomium in the first place, and then something about water but we skipped that one because it didn’t seem very interesting. I think we made the right decision on that.
An exact reverse journey on the metro later and we were heading back to the Grand Place in search of a light lunch and waffles. We refused to leave the country only having experienced one waffle when we must have had about 200 pieces of chocolate. It just would have been a little too unbalanced and unfair to the waffle makers having been such loyal patrons of the chocolatiers. But real food first sounded like a good option, so we found ourselves in Little Greece (the restaurants really seem to clump in the same block here) for pitas yet again. Then we made the decision to seek out a waffle van instead of the touristy windows surrounding Mannekin Pis, so we headed to the PLace du Grand Sablon yet again searching for the waffle van that had been parked out there for the last two days.
Of course waffle vans seem to be like Starbucks: everywhere until you are looking for one and then they all disappear into thin air. The waffle van was gone! And we had made such a special trip for him! Dan consoled himself with buying macarons (totally got him addicted to these amazing french cookies 🙂 ) and I just pouted. Guess we would have to settle for Grand Place waffles after all, especially since we were rapidly running out of time before we needed to be on our way. We finally found a place that didn’t seem to be as mass produced as the rest –meaning we could actually see them ironing the waffle batter not just reheating previously made and frozen waffles–and found a random curb to sit at since we discovered that walking and attempting to eat these sugar crusted waffles was impossible with the mini knorks that were really just glorified three pronged toothpicks. Chocolate and banana for Dan, white chocolate strawberry for me (I decided to resist the Speculoos addiction) and a whole lot of messy smiles and giggles. And a subsequent sugar high, but we needed the energy for the trek back to our hotel and then through Little Morocco to Gare du Midi.
Sadly this marked the end not only of the incredible trip to Brussels, but also my time in the UK and now my stories all revolve around the sunny skies of California, where I already think I may be getting a sunburn as my skin has totally adjusted to the wintery haze of England.
Oh and recheck back on this post later tonight for a list of all the chocolates we tasted on the trip! I don’t have my notebook with me as I’m writing this so I’ll update it later.
As promised, the list of chocolates consumed on this whirlwind weekend!
- Earl Grey dark chocolate
- Raspberry ganache dark chocolate
- Caramel with toffee bits
- Peanut praline
- Dark chocolate grapefruit
- Grand milk chocolate
- Chocolate dipped Speculoos cookies
- Dark chocolate hazelnut praline
- Four spice
- Praline nougat
- Raspberry nougat
- Lime and dark chocolate
- Dark chocolate with dark chocolate ganache
- Lemon and Basil (my favorite)
- Lemon Peppermint
- Dill and dark chocolate
- Chili and chocolate (I skipped this one)