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Adorable Chick

HIGHLIGHTS OF EUROPE Diary : Day 1 to Day 6 - 15 April 2016 to 20th April 2016

The 'Waffle' city of BRUSSELS records human settlements that dates back to the Stone Age. Initially recorded as a fortified settlement that gradually turned into a market, the city finally moulded itself to an excellent modern hub, as we see it today. Termed as the CAPITAL of the European Union & the country of Belgium, it is an emerging and recognised art destination of Europe, hosting many important offices of the EU. The city is flooded with monuments, churches, shopping arcades, gourmet food outlets apart from warming millions of hearts with its world famous chocolates, waffles and its national dish - POTATO FRIES. It is said that the city has more than hundred restaurants per square kilometre. The Brussels airport is the world's largest chocolate selling point. People spoke Dutch widely upto the 16th century, after which it turned to French with Inclusion of German much later. The world renowned Brussels sprouts is a major discovery here.

Brussels was our entry point to Europe, during the said tour. We had booked ourselves for 5 nights in the city, designating it as the centre for our travel between Amsterdam, Keukenhof, Paris & Belgium. Less than a month before our departure, the city experienced a co-ordinated terrorist bombing in few of its subways, that led to series of investigation. This incident rocked our preparations & the uncertainty of travel hovered around for a long time. Even before the situation cooled down & seemed under control, it was my turn to fall terribly sick, requiring hospitalisation for a few days. With less a week for the tour to begin, it was a roller-coaster. I felt better and was discharged just a couple of days before the travel. My doctor allowed me to do so, with strict restrictions & instructions. Finally we decided to carry on as per itinerary. The entry/exit to the city were subject to strict and severe checking, leaving us stranded in the airport for hours. Luckily, our usage of the Brussels airport was restricted to one entry and one exit i.e, on the first and last days of our tour. The EURAIL PASS ensured inter-country & inter-city travel by trains.

Day 1 : 15th of April 2016 : We landed in Brussels airport by 2 pm. With hundreds of security personnel engaged to ensure adherence of rules, we never felt safer. But, we couldn't stroll around the airport freely to experience the chocolate wonderland. A taxi was easy to get outside the airport, that drove us to our Halldis accommodation at RUE BOTANIQUE, Brussels Nord ( North). The apartment on the 2nd floor was lovely and fitted the seven of us just fine. The only drawback was the not so comfortable sofa bed , which one of the group members was forced to use. The ladies set up the kitchen before getting out to discover the city. The men preferred to rest & stay indoors. A short walk around the neighbourhood at 6 pm, got us face to face with a small play ground flooded with an enthusiastic gang of young football players. Little kids on their bicycles enjoyed circling around. The shops of the city were closed, though the sky was as bright as the noon time. We managed to cover the sides of this square shaped residential area, before returning. Safety advise about the city on various websites, suggested staying indoors after 7 pm. This pushed us to return home quickly. Sadly all the pictures from this interesting walk are missing.

Day 2 : 16th April 2016 : A six minute walk from our accommodation reached us to Brussels Nord station, from where our trip to Paris began. The eye-catching railway station retains its old clock tower. Surrounded by state-of-the-art buildings, the Nord station enables easy travel around the city. It has more than one entrance facilitating easy access from whichever side you choose. The station houses convenience stores. We could quickly grab a coffee here. A train from Nord got us to Central in 8 minutes. In less than 2 hours we had crossed countries to reach Paris Gare Du Nord from Brussels Central ( Read PARIS). After a wonderful day in Paris, we returned that evening by 6:30 pm. Following the safety code we got indoors by 7pm. An impressive home-made dinner is how we chose to end our day.

Tidy Desk

Day 3 : 17th April 2016 : Our dreamy, half day tour to Dinant, was morning well spent (read DINANT). We retraced our journey back to Brussels Central. It was 4 pm and the sky was as bright as ever. The central station was functioning like an airport with strict security, due to the bombing incident. However, people seemed to go about their daily lives without a fuss. Welcomed by street music outside the main entrance, we took a left to reach the MONT DES ARTS - A Square surrounded by museums and parks. As many as 5 roads branched out from its semi-circular centre. Museums flanked the rear side of the square on all sides. The statue of King Albert I, riding a horse decorates its entrance on a high, cuboidal pandal.

With less than 3 hours in our hands to cover the city central, we decided to walk our way to the GALLERIES ROYALS SAINT HUBERT and explore other parts of the city. A five minute walk down one of the paths led us to this mall. Apart from being known for its rich architecture, the early 19th century gallery holds a record of being the first shopping arcade in Europe. Its impressive transparent glassed, arched roofing and stunning intricate interiors makes the experience outstanding.

The Royal looking interiors, designed with marble pillars of brownish colour filled with white streaks, erected between each shop & connected by symmetrical arches above, is a feast to the eye. The 200 metre long single lane arcade, is split into two 100 metre walks, separated by a road half way through. It is skirted with high quality, branded, glazed shops on either sides. The huge pots of flower arrangements adorning the floor at regular intervals, add to the charm. Ranging from chocolate stores, cafes, restaurants & boutiques to designer purses, the shopping experience here is sheer luxury. The Galleries Vittorio Emanuele in Milan (read MILAN) could have been inspired by this shopping paradise.

The aroma of chocolate circled us throughout and we couldn't help trying varieties of them in more than one store. It was an enviable chocolaty affair that evening, with hot chocolate fudge, chocolate cakes and other ingenious varieties of luscious chocolates melting in our mouths. We skipped shopping of other luxurious goods. One of the shops lured us with an exquisite showcase of the 'cocoa bean shaped' chocolates. We decided to return on the last day of travel to pick up chocolates for friends & families back home. The Arcade also has two theatres, of which one of them regularly hosts various plays & other concerts open to public. The rear entrance of the GALLERIES ROYALS SAINT HUBERT was at a one minute walking distance from the famous GRAND PLACE (a square). As we made our way past local shops and restaurants, clouds gathered suddenly, making way for a heavy downpour. Luckily our raincoats from the Paris Big Bus experience ( read PARIS) came handy. Clothed in plastic from head to toe, we didn't stop walking until we reached the renowned square. Stamped as the most beautiful squares in the world, the Grand Place didn't fail to impress.