Brussels, Belgium: A nightmare called Covid in the city of dreams

November 3rd, 2020

Sugar, spice, and everything nice. Mix it all together and what do you get? Belguim! The land of chocolates, waffles, fries and beer. The four quadrants of a perfect world. The ultimate sugar rush. Everything that dreams are made of. 

A few days ago I found myself in Brussels, capital of Belgium, with nothing but dreamy treats on my mind. I had it all planned out: I’d take an early morning train into the city, grab a coffee and a waffle at the nearest street shop and track down a few landmarks: The gothic Saint Michael Cathedral, the precious gold plated buildings of Grand Place, the famous Hotel De Ville towering out above all, known as the most prominent building in the city…

From there, like Alice in Wonderland, I’d follow the street signs to the most famous landmark of Brussels, Manneken Pis: a bronze fountain statue of a little boy having a wee (more about this in a future post).

Knowing myself all too well, I’d be hungry by then, so next up would be mussels, fries and a Belgian beer. The best of Brussels, all-in-one!

Rumor has it that the people of Belgium are very friendly and with the local language being Dutch, which is very similar to my native language, Afrikaans, I was hoping to make a new friend or two over lunch at a quaint little pub.

Whether or not my new fantasy friend(s) were up for it, I’d soon be off to what probably would have been the highlight of the day: A Belgian chocolate tasting!

Afterwards, I’d have to find a souvenir store to (don’t judge) buy a magnet and maybe pop into a comic store, another thing the city is known for, just to add to the amusement of a day in a place full of wonders.

I’d end the day with a scenic train ride back to my hotel, enchanted by a warm fuzziness you only feel when you’re in love. I’d text my new fantasy friends thank you and goodnight, and that I’d love to meet them again on my next visit to do all the fun things they suggested I do next time I come to Brussels. Then I’d fall asleep to daydreams of a perfect day that’s  come true.

The itinerary of dreams, I tell you!

To my utter dismay, I arrived to hear of a recent shutdown due to a second wave of Covid-19. My face dropped when the hotel staff announced that “ALL BARS, RESTAURANTS AND TOURIST ATTRACTIONS ARE CLOSED”.

The horror!

The next day, with much less enthusiasm than just a day before, I made my way into the city anyway. When abroad, I refuse to buy coffee at Starbucks, I’d rather ‘support local’. I was hoping to get a get a take away coffee from a local place along the way, but alas, I couldn’t find any. 

I managed to track down Hotel de Ville, also known as Brussels Town Hall, and Grand Palace square, which were both like a dead man’s doorstep. At the beginning of Covid-19, it was a small blessing in disguise to be able to wander around cities that were free from crowds. I don’t know if it was the cold of the lack of caffeine, but this time it just felt eerie and wrong.

I took pictures for as long as my hands could bear being uncovered. After some time my fingers were completely numb and my knees ached from the cold. I always forget that 8°C feels like 0°C in Europe.

I managed to find two little corner shops that were selling waffles to-go. I made the mistake to order it with Nutella, which made it too sweet to enjoy and almost impossible to eat while walking.

Trying to follow the street signs in Brussels is like trying to find your way through a master maze – almost impossible! I’m not sure if some of the signs were turned backwards or if I’m just directionally challenged when I’m cold, but I spent about an hour going around in circles trying to track the down Manneken Pis. When I finally found it, underwhelmingly small and insignificant-looking, I heard the English phrase “are you taking the piss” escape my mouth. I grinned at the irony, pleased that I was still able to make a little joke.

At one of the few souvenir stores that were open, I decided to get a magnet of the Manneken Pis. A friend had made a comment that I couldn’t help but quote: “I’m sure the magnet was bigger than the actual statue!?”. How dull any experience would be without humor.

The icing on the cake was when it started to rain. My dream day had officially turned into a nightmare. So, instead of a ‘scenic train ride back to the hotel’ I decided to call it a day and ordered Uber.

The Belgian chocolates I bought at the airport are still on my shelf, untouched. I think I’ll save them for a rainy day; a day I need to escape into a daydream, one that I can only wish will come true when the world is no longer ruled by a virus.

Have you had better luck traveling during the current Covid-19 pandemic?

33 thoughts on “Brussels, Belgium: A nightmare called Covid in the city of dreams

  1. I am so sorry that you had that miserable experience! I’ve been to Brussels at the time of peace, and it is a wonderful city indeed! I hope you will have other opportunities to visit!

    My recent Helsinki trips were fun, but that was not exactly tourism. Although I believe you can still be there as a tourist!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Hettie, always lovely hearing from you! 😀
      I’ve only heard great things of Brussels, so I’m also hoping to go again when times are different (for the better)!

      So pleased to hear that you’ve had a successful trip to Helsinki recently. Were you visiting family/friends? I hope you finally managed to see your husband after all these months apart..

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yep, I already made it twice – at the end of July and just recently. July trip was a paradise, the recent one not so, but still, it was great to visit :). It will be a long way till we will be able to travel as before…

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  2. Sorry that you had a disappointing experience in Brussels! I honestly had a lackluster time there, too, and it was pre-COVID when I went (five years ago). But the emptiness of the streets and people make for an easier getting around, all the while having the city to yourself! Maybe better luck next time.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I only had one night, so the visit felt a bit rushed. Also felt unsafe at night, even at the Grand Place, due to some unsavory men in that area. Also got bedbugs at my hostel, so I’ve associated that with my dislike for Brussels! Perhaps one day I’ll give it a second chance, but for now, I’m good.

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      2. Oh gosh, literally cringing as I’m reading this! I had a bedbug scare earlier this year, thankfully it turned out to be a false alarm, but it’s honestly one of the worst things I can imagine happening to anyone, especially on a short trip that’s already kinda unpleasant…I also wouldn’t be keen ro return after (literally) a series of unfortunate events! It’s okay, you have a whole bucket list of better experiences awaiting you 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s too bad that your trip was not as you wished it to be. 😦 I hope it goes better the next time you’re in the area! I love the photos though. At least you were able to get some good shots without anyone blocking the view!

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  4. Aw man! I had plans to visit Bordeaux last weekend, which I ended up cancelling. I’m sorry your trip didn’t turn out as planned, but I hope you get to go on a nicer (warmer) day next time! Antwerp and Gent are also lovely cities I’d recommend visiting there!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah yes France was hit pretty bad as well! Sorry you had to cancel plans 😦 I have a friend in Bordeaux who I was hoping to see before the end of the year…..guessing it won’t happen. Thanks so much, I took note of Antwerp and Gent when I planned my itinerary and thought I’d definitely check that out next time xx would you suggest a bus tour or is it better to rent a car?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah this new normal is going to take some time to get used to… I keep saying “next month will be better” just to find it the same or even worse! Hoping the second wave won’t last too long, I hear they implemented lockdowns in the UK as well?

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  5. Such a shame that the virus has made this trip so underwhelming! It doesn’t seem like many things went to plan because of the lockdown, I am sorry to hear. And the statue is a lot smaller than I would have imaged, so thank you for the warning if I get to Brussels myself and decide to look for it.

    But at least the bad news you received about lockdown is something you can blog about and is a story in itself. So although I am sure you would have liked things to be different, you have still given us a great bit of writing again.

    Here’s to the next trip!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Sam, you’re right, all these little 2020 mishaps do make good stories to write about! As much as it was underwhelming, it’s an experience I’ll always remember and Covid still didn’t ruin it completely as I would love to go again 🙂 yeah good luck finding Manneken Pis lol! I’ve read up about it quite a bit though and the little guy does have a weatlh of myths and tales behind him, hence being so famous.. I’ll post more about that soon.

      I hope you’re doing well in the land of new Lockdown restrictions! Hope you can take advantage of crowdless streets again and show us more of beautiful London

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much! I’ve been writing a lot less these days so I enjoyed the inspiration flowing as I wrote this post. I did steal that line from Power Puff Girls 😂 you know, just bringing pieces of history into the now 😉 if you can ever get your hands on Belgium chocolates, it’s definitely worth a try!

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  6. Lovely pics, lovely website, great writing. Your site really has all the elements of a great blog, and I’m loving all of it! Pity that this post (your underwhelming trip) wasn’t what you’re looking for though. But hey, sometimes your pain makes for a great story. Love your ‘need coffee’ pic, because I’d have that face too if everything was closed. Thanks again for this wonderful post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Stuart, I really appreciate your thoughtful comment! I’m so thrilled that you enjoy reading my posts 😀 it definitely motivates me to keep it up! I’m very fortunate to be able to write and share so many experiences worldwide… and like you say, the mishaps also make for good stories. No matter how good or bad, every experience has a lesson that I am grateful for in the end. But coffee is key! Thanks again for reading.

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  7. So sorry to hear about your trip to Belgium! I remember when I first got here (I now live in Brussels), I was so excited by all the things you were dreaming of – especially waffles! I felt also really underwhelmed by the Manneken Pis and totally agree that it was really hard to find ahah 😅 It is indeed very weird currently, and I can assure you that it is much nicer when the sun shines – and there is no lockdown! Hope you can come again another time and enjoy the delicious waffles, chocolates and beer!! 😊

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