An overnight trip to Zagora from Marrakech

For me, there were two MUST DO things while I was planning our Morocco trip. I wanted to see the desert stars at night and wanted to ride a camel (ok three things, I also wanted to eat a lot of tangine). Lucky for me, this trip did all of them! We booked a two day tour to Zagora from Marrakech through Viator, and it was reasonably priced. They picked us up near our Riad and transported us by van (there were 7 of us in the tour) to Zagora. While it was an awesome experience, it is definitely a lot of driving!

We began by heading through the Atlas Mountains, taking the Tizi-n-Tichka pass. This windy road leads from Marrakech to Zagora, climbing through the mountains, and is considered the “gateway” to the Sahara Desert. While the drive was beautiful, many portions of the road were under construction and extremely bumpy. It made for a long, slow, ride at times. Our guide stopped at a restaurant in the mountains so we could enjoy coffee or tea with a view (I’m pretty sure if you’ve been following my blog you understand our obsession with Moroccan mint tea, so of course we had some). While the views of the Atlas Mountains were incredible, the temperature dropped significantly, so bring a warm jacket if you do this trip!

Driving through the Atlas Mountains
The drive from Marrakech to Zagora was beautiful

As the van motored on, we talked along the way, a diverse group made up of American, Japanese, and Australian. Our guide shared interesting information about Morocco and the sites along the way. Our second stop was at the Ksar of Ait Ben Haddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ait Ben Haddou is an old fortified village that was along the trade route from Marrakech to the Sahara. Made from clay, and surrounded by high walls for defense, the interior houses several kasbahs and dwelling places. While a few families still remain in the complex, it is mostly known as a filming location for movies, in particular, Gladiator, along with many others. After leaving, we headed to lunch before making the rest of the trip to Zagora. We passed through Ouarzazate, but didn’t visit until the way home from Zagora.

Ait Ben Haddou
Ait Ben Haddou

When we arrived in Zagora, we were greeted by camels and guides. Our trek to the traditional Berber camp, where we would spend the night, was a one hour trip by camel. Anyone who has ridden a camel before will tell you that 60 minutes on a camel, is about 45 minutes too long! It definitely was a challenge to stay stable and upright, and it used core and leg muscles to stay on correctly. However, it was an experience that I didn’t want to miss! My camel was quite friendly and let me pet him. I didn’t see any camels spit, which is supposedly their stereotype. We arrived at the campsite around sunset, and had beautiful views of the sun dipping behind the sand dunes. We were greeted at the campsite with Moroccan mint tea, and we sat around talking until dinner. Dinner was served family style, inside a large dining tent. After dinner, we gathered around a bonfire as our hosts entertained us with traditional Moroccan music. It was amazing to see the stars on a clear night in the desert. While we were with a large group of locals and tourists alike, it felt like we were so far from civilization, which was a nice departure from the crowds and tourists in Marrakech. We slept in our two person hut, in the complex. Each hut has a bed, but the bathrooms are in a communal area. It gets very cold in the desert at night in December, so I was bundled up and slept in a jacket.

our camel caravan that took us to camp
Berber camp where we spent the night

After a delicous breakfast, many of us set out to climb the highest sand dune to watch the sunrise over the desert. Climbing a steep hill in sand is quite difficult, but it was worth it to see endless views of more sand. I know that sounds crazy, but seeing sand where there is no beach is surreal. It wasn’t actually the beautifully windblown dunes of the Sahara that you see in the movies, it was a rockier sand as this place is basically the entrance to the desert. Our morning concluded with our one hour camel ride back to the van.

early morning in the desert
Camel caravan back to the vans

On the trip back we made two stops. The first stop was a town in South Central Morocco named Ouarzazate. Ouarzazate is nicked the “gateway to the Sahara” and was a fun stop on the trip. I wished we had more time to explore, but it was also nice to get back and enjoy the evening in Marrakesh. Ouarzazate has a large Kasbah and Palace, and is also used for filming movies. There are large studios and movie sets in the area because of it’s popularity for filming. After our stop in Ouarzazate, we made stop for lunch in a secluded area, where we welcomed the bright sunshine along with more traditional Moroccan food. We were back in Marrakech by early evening. This trip was great, and something to consider if you have extra time in Morocco.

Ouarzazate

Tips for Visiting Zagora from Marrakech or elsewhere in Morocco

  1. The temperature changes quickly as the altitude changes, plus the desert gets cold at night. Wear layers and bring warm clothes.
  2. The journey is LONG, you spend almost as much time in the car as you do at the camp, so be prepared for a long trip.
  3. The roads are not great, and there is a lot of twists and turns. I was glad I took bonine to prevent motion sickness.
  4. Bring tissues or toilet paper. As mentioned in a previous post, once you are outside of the tourist areas in Marrakech, many stops do not have toilet paper. Also be prepared to use a hole in the ground, not an actual toilet.

The charming seaside city of Essaouira, Morocco

It’s no secret I’m a beach lover, having lived by the ocean for 11 years. I’m a bit further from the beach than I’d like in England, despite it’s island status, and I’ve yet to explore some of the closer beaches. I guess the rain, weather, and rocky shores make it less exciting. However, I jumped at the opportunity to explore Essaouira, a coastal city in Morocco. A friend of mine lived in Rabat, Morocco and had the opportunity to travel the country. When she told me Essaouira was one of her favorite places in Morocco, the decision was made to book a day trip! Essaouira is an 18th century fortified city and it’s proximity to the ocean made it an important seaport.

fortified city of Essaouira

Our tour made a few stops on the way, the first being one of my favorite experiences — goats in trees! Yes, you read that right, goats that climb trees. It was obvious that this was “staged” in this particular location and the goats’ owner was charging people to take pictures (so worth it!). Oddly enough, these goats were not chillin in the trees on our way home at 6pm, nor was the farmer standing next to the tree. BUT, I’ve learned that goats in trees are a natural thing elsewhere. In parts of Morocco, the dry soil makes it difficult for the goats to find food. So, they climb the argan trees to eat the fruit on the trees. We learned that some argan oil factories use this to their advantage because after the goat digests the argan seeds they “release” them back to the ground, already broken down, thus doing part of the job! So if you are using Moroccan Argan Oil on your face or hair, there’s a chance a goat has pooped out the raw ingredients that go into your product…..

the famous goats in trees

Speaking of argan oil, our next stop was to visit an argan oil consortium where we learned about the process of marking argan oil, and good sample the products. Products were also for sale (and of course I purchased a bottle of argan oil for my hair even after learning the goat/poop fact). The great thing about this consortium is that it is 100% run and staffed by women. The women received a grant to start the business; the grant was part of a government program that seeks to create jobs for females. It was interesting watching the different steps of the process and learning how argan oil is produced.

women working at the argan oil consortium

When we arrived in Essaouira, we were greeted with the beautiful blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean, and children playing soccer in the sand on the beach. Our tour included a one hour guided tour, and then a few hours to explore the city on our own, before making the 2.5 hour drive back to Marrakech. Our guide met us outside the gate to the old city walls. He shared the history of Essaouira, and highlighted the fact that while Morocco is a predominantly Muslim country, people of many religions, including Christianity and Judiasm, have always peacefully coexisted in Essaouira. Differing from other parts of Morocco, Essaouira has European influence. During our tour, we headed to the port and learned about the local fisherman and the importance of the port. We also toured through some of the shops, many of which had artisan flare with unique gifts, ceramics, pottery, and crafts.

After we left our guide, we explored the city on our own. I was impressed with the market near the port. The fruits were so colorful and fresh, and smelled delicious! We ended up buying berries to eat as we walked. The food market is one long street, and worth the visit, although there is a strong fish smell in certain areas. We also headed to the souks, and explored the different shops with artisan goods. Before heading to the old fort to see the ramparts, we enjoyed a rooftop lunch at Restaurant Des Reves, where I had delicious monkfish skewers. It was a beautiful rooftop terrace with vibrant colors and overlooked the medina; I recommend checking it out if you’re in Essaouira.

lunch at Des Reves in Essaouira

After lunch we wandered around the Medina. We browsed the shops, visited the old fort, and went back to the sea port. We had an enjoyable day in Essaouira, and it was great to see the bright blues of the sky meet the colors of the Atlantic Ocean. It never gets old walking on the sand and listening to the waves crash! Essaouira is a beauitful city on the coast, and was a welcomed departure from the crowded streets of Marrakech. If you have time, it is well worth the visit. Our day was perfect, with one exception – our van waited around for a couple who showed up 40 minutes late to our departure point. Perhaps it was good customer service on their part, but it annoyed me, and I would’ve left their butts behind! What would you have done??

my favorite, the goats!
streets of Essaouira
fishing boats in the harbor

Ouzoud Falls, Morocco; the tallest water fall in Morocco

If you’ve been following my journeys, you know we used Marrakech, Morocco as a springboard to travel and soak in as much Moroccan culture, sights, and experiences as we possibly could in the short 6 days we were there. The country boasts so much to see and do, and I feel like we only scratched the surface! (Hmmmm, maybe a repeat trip?) We booked a day trip to Ouzoud Falls on Viator, and we were extremely pleased with it. The trip exceeded our expectations, mostly because of my face to face encounter with cutest little monkeys, but also the outstanding service and ease of the tour logistics. The tour operators even contacted me via WhatsApp to ensure I had seen the email about pickup location. We booked through Viator, though there were travel booths in Marrakech selling trips to the falls as well. I saw some negative reviews online, but I’m glad I didn’t let them deter us, as we had a fantastic day.

The trip began with our pickup in Jemaa El-Fnaa, outside of Cafe France. We rode in an air conditioned mini bus to the falls, about 3 hours since we stopped to pick up other passengers on the way. There was a bathroom/coffee stop on the way. As I mentioned in my previous post, I’d recommend bringing tissues or toilet paper, as it appears to be a luxury in Morocco and not often found in public restrooms. The ride to Ouzoud Falls is pretty, passing through smaller villages in Morocco, and heading through part of the Atlas Mountains.

Once we arrived at the waterfalls, we were greeted by our guide, Ibrahim. He was very interesting, and shared a plethora of information about the falls and the area. He noticed a group of us (ok, me) immediately distracted by a few of the Barbary apes that live near the falls, and he promised there would be more later — and he was right! The falls were supposed to be the main attraction (and they are beautiful) but my favorite part was the adorable monkeys. More on that later… Ouzoud Falls is comprised of several waterfalls in the El-Abid River Gorge. In the Berber language, “Ouzoud” means “act of grinding”; this is appropriate as there are many mills in the area. Ibrahim also shared that Ouzoud Falls are the highest falls in Africa. They are 110 meters tall, while Victoria Falls is actually 108 meters tall. Despite being 2 meters shorter, Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall in Africa due to sheer volume and size.

Ouzoud Falls

Our day at the falls began with a trek down the hills towards the base of the falls. The trail was a bit uneven and a dirt path. You certainly don’t need hiking shoes, but I wouldn’t wear sandals or flip flops either. We enjoyed seeing the monkeys up close on our journey down the falls. They are friendly, and will climb on your shoulders if you let them. While they will climb on you and appear comfortable around humans, our guide told us not to try and pick them up. Apparently, when tourists try to pick them up they can scratch and bite because they think they are being taken into captivity. These monkeys seem very familiar with humans and were expecting food. Our guide gave them some peanuts to keep them around us. I had brought raisins as a snack for the bus and the monkeys enjoyed eating them. The guide even got them to climb on our shoulders briefly. These Barbary apes are found in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and Algeria, but sadly are considered endangered as their population is declining. There is a small population of Barbary apes found in Europe – in Gibraltar. Gibraltar is the closest point from Europe to Africa, so they were likely brought over by humans. We found these monkeys to be adorable and sweet, and perhaps even more exciting than the waterfall itself.

Macaque monkey with Ouzoud Falls in the background.
I loved these little guys!
This one was a little younger.

On our way to the base of the falls, we passed through greenery and olive trees. We walked through the olive trees and headed to a traditional Berber home. A traditional Berber home is enclosed but has an open area in the middle, where there is no roof. Our guide explained to us that Berber children are usually learning 5 different languages by the time they are young teenagers! At this home, they made argan oil, which is something Morocco is known for, and can be used in your hair, dry skin, and a variety of other purposes. Of course, they had a shop on site were they sold it.

traditional Berber home.
Argan seeds being pressed to make argan oil.

We arrived at the base of the falls to a stunning view of Ouzoud Falls, which comes together in a gorge. There’s a small river which must be crossed in order to get to the other side to walk back up the cliffs. You are taken across the river on a wooden boat, which pauses to get close up pictures of the falls. Once on the other side, you have a decent climb back up to the top, but it’s nothing too intense. There are a few options for souvenirs, and then the tour ends with a delicious Moroccan lunch (at your cost) before driving back to Marrakech. We enjoyed this beautiful day outside of the hustle and bustle of the Medina, and if you can’t tell, the monkeys were a huge hit! I’d recommend finding a tour such as this one that takes you out of Marrakech, so you can see more of the country.

Ouzoud Falls at the base


tagine with couscous
lots of veggies

Marrakech, Morocco

colorful Moroccan pottery from the Souks

Morocco has been a destination that has piqued my interest for quite come time. It’s close in proximity to the United Kingdom, a cheap Ryanair flight from London Stansted (like $75 roundtrip if booked in advance) — but it’s AFRICA, a continent that I’ve never been to! We decided to go over Christmas holiday, because we had enough time off and it wouldn’t be ridiculously hot like summer. While we were in Morocco for 6 days, we used Marrakech as a springboard and spent 4 days traveling to other places in Morocco. It was an amazing experience, but I do wish I had seen more of Marrakech (it is easy to get caught up in the color and chaos of the Medina and spend a lot of time in the Souks). We didn’t hit all the tourist sites, but everything that we saw was incredible!

We arrived in Morocco around 10:00am in the morning. Getting through customs did not take as long as we thought; security is tight at the airport and your bags get scanned multiple times, even upon arrival. After getting through customs we hit up an ATM for Dirhams (the local currency) and hopped in a taxi to the center of the city, which dropped us off in the main square in the Medina (old city). When you get to Marrakech it can feel overwhelming, and chaotic. There are so many sights, people, vendors, and mopeds (literally plowing through the smallest spaces nearly running you over on an hourly basis). Suitcases make you a target; if your Riad (hotel) is near the Medina, make sure you get walking directions ahead of time (I wish we had!) because the maze of narrow footpaths is confusing and you will have people trying to help you, for a fee of course. Once we found our Riad (we stayed at Riad Lila, and while it wasn’t a 4 star experience, it was cozy and sufficient for our budget, and they serve traditional Moroccan mint tea upon arrival with breakfast included daily. We quickly learned the best path to the main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa and found the location to be convenient to the pick up sites for our tours as well as shopping in the Souks.

common area of our Riad

After enjoying mint tea, and checking into our room, we headed out for the Medina and the Souks for lunch and shopping. We spent most of the day wandering the maze of small streets, discovering all that the markets have to offer. The streets wind around and are seemingly endless, with each little alley eventually taking you to another larger square. If you get lost, you ultimately end up somewhere that leads to something familiar. There is something for everyone in Marrakech – purses, rugs, placemats, pottery, tagine pots, trinkets, tea sets, glass and silver, spices, leather, baskets, scarves, jewelry, etc. The stalls are never ending, with each as colorful as the next. Be prepared to bargain with the vendors. If I was truly interested in an item, I would offer half of what they were asking, and they usually accepted. If you are not interested, make sure you say “No, merci”. The official languages of Morocco are Arabic and Berber, but most Moroccans also speak French fluently. Many of the salespeople can be pushy and will try to put a scarf on you or pick something for you to wear. Stand your ground and you will be fine. That said, there were a lot of things in the Souks that I was genuinely interested in. We ended up buying some pillowcases, placements, and purses. I honestly would’ve bought more things and really wanted a tangine pot — BUT, that Ryanair carry on is small! If you love to shop and can’t resist a bargain (MOM), you will need extra bag going home.

shopping in the Souks

Jemaa el-Fnaa is still the main market square used in the Medina, visited daily by tourists and locals. Many of the Souks pictured above are reached from taking alleys off of the main square. The Old Town was confusing at first, but after getting lost momentarily, we always found our way back to somewhere we recognized. The square was the meeting point for all of the day trips and tours we took. The vendors set up early in the morning, and it becomes more crowded as the day goes on. The square has endless stalls of fruit, juice, gifts, purses, pottery, etc. Definitely stop for some fresh squeezed juice – it is super inexpensive and so fresh! We had orange juice daily, and fresh squeezed pomegranate juice as well. Many restaurants surround the square; we enjoyed eating near here and the rooftop views were a plus. In the square you will find street performers, particularly in the evening. You will also find cobras, and barbary apes on leashes. It’s sad to see the exploitation of these animals, and I wondered about how they were treated. Having never seen a monkey outside of a zoo, it was quite a sight to see! Beware — snake charmers and monkey handlers are of course looking for money, so don’t stare too long. They will even try to hound you for money if they catch you taking a picture. The energy in the square is high, and it’s definitely an experience not to be missed! Hearing the Muslim call to prayer through the loudspeakers was such a unique experience. Jemaa el-Fnaa is most definitely a sensory overload in a good way!

View of Jemaa el-Fnaa at night from the rooftop of Cafe Kessabine, where we enjoyed delicious tagine.
snake charmers in the main square

When we weren’t taking a day trip, shoving our faces full of Moroccan cuisine (more on that below, of course!), or wandering around the Souks indecisive about what to purchase, we actually toured a Marrakech favorite – Bahia Palace. As the name suggests, it’s a beautiful palace and gardens set in Marrakech, walking distance from the Medina. The Palace was built in the 1860s and features impressive tilework, architecture and gardens. It is open daily at 9am, and definitely worth a visit!

Bahia Palace, in Arabic means “brilliance”.

One of things I was most excited for in Morocco is the food! Let’s be honest, that’s what I’m excited about everywhere we go, but traditional Moroccan cuisine is hard to find outside of Africa. Lucky for me, I got my fill of tagine and tasty food in Marrakech! If you love olives and almonds, you’re in for a treat. The markets and surrounding areas are packed with traditional Moroccan restaurants and cafes. In fact, you won’t find anything BUT Moroccan food, except for maybe a pizza place or two. Almost every restaurant and cafe we went to, has their own version of mint tea on the menu – and ALL of them are delicious! We were surprised how much we loved it; we’d order it with our meal and sometimes after. It’s traditional to pour the tea from the teapot high above the glass so that it bubbles when it hits the glass. The traditional dish is tagine, cooked with different meats. It’s very flavorful, and I think my favorite was a beef tagine at Cafe Kessabine, just off the main square. We even went here twice and found it to be great food for the money.

Tagine from Cafe Kessabine

Another restaurant we enjoyed was La Table Du Palais. We went one night for dinner after discovering it online. It was a restaurant within a Lamrani Palace, where you could also stay. We dined outside in a beautiful garden. Another perk? It was a Moroccan/French restaurant and they served wine! Alcohol is rare in Moroccan restaurants as it isn’t a big drinking culture. The food was delicious and the menu changes based on ingredients.

La Table Du Palais

We also stumbled upon a truly authentic and unique dining experience accidentally. While walking around the Souks one afternoon, I saw a beautiful door with stunning tile work down the stairs. We decided to explore and found it led to a restaurant that hosts a nightly dinner show with traditional Moroccan dancing. We were lucky to snag reservations for that evening where we had more delicious tagine in an ornate room with dancing and entertainment. Dar Es Salaam, tucked away in a Riad in the Old Town, offered a truly unique experience! Annnnnd, they also serve wine!

The stairwell that resulted in discovering the restaurant, Dar Es Salaam.

We also dined at Nomad, a popular restaurant in the Medina. It had great reviews online, and was completely packed when we arrived. We were able to get a table for two. The food was delicious, but the service wasn’t as great, and it was a little more expensive than we usually pay for lunch. The restaurant did have some great rooftop views though!

lunch at Nomad
View from the rooftop of Nomad

We loved our experience in Marrakech, and I’d highly recommend it if you are able to visit Morocco! We also did day trips to Essaouira and Ouzoud Falls, as well as an overnight trip through the Atlas Mountains to Zagora. If you travel to Marrakech, here are some things to remember:

  1. Dress appropriately – it was sunny and warm in the day, but the temperature dropped a lot in the evening. Women don’t have to cover their heads, but you should respect the culture and consider conservative clothing choices.
  2. A little French goes a long way. Moroccans are friendly people and they like when you try to attempt pleasantries in one of their languages.
  3. If you have allergies or asthma, bring your medicine. Along with the dry climate that I wasn’t used to, the streets kick up a lot of dust and dirt, and the exhaust from the mopeds bothered me.
  4. Bring lip balm — again, it is super dry there and I was applying chapstick regularly.
  5. Bring toilet paper — outside of Marrakech on day trips, it is almost non-existent in public restrooms and even some restaurants. Also be prepared for some “Standing” toilets which are essentially a hole in the ground.
  6. Never pay full price in the souks; you can always talk them down.
  7. Plan where you are going on wifi and take screenshots. Vodafone didn’t work even though it is supposed to work (for a fee) in Morocco.

I hope I’ve inspired you to visit Morocco. If you’ve already been, what was your favorite and when are you going back? P.S. – Check back later for posts about our side trips which will have a lot of cute monkey and camel pictures!

I love donkeys!

Brussels, Belgium

We had the opportunity to take a quick trip to Belgium recently, and I’m so glad we did! We’d gone to Brugge last year, but hadn’t been to Brussels yet. Living in England, Belgium is an easy drive – you just need to book a crossing on the Chunnel or a ferry. We opted for the ferry this time, and I don’t think it’s something we’ll repeat. It’s definitely worth the extra money to save time on the Chunnel. The ferry takes a full two hours, plus time to load and unload. It was nice to see the views of the White Cliffs of Dover and Dover Castle, but our time could be better spent exploring Belgium! The ferry let us off in Dunkirk. I was hoping to go see the Dunkirk Memorial but it was closed for renovations. Once you get off the ferry or chunnel in Dunkirk or Calais, you are only in France for a short time before crossing into Belgium. I must say, the roads in Belgium are amazing, especially after driving the bumpy and horrible roads in England! Since we took the 8am ferry, we arrived in Brussels a little after 1pm (2 hour ferry, plus the one hour time change, and then the drive to Brussels). We were staying at the IBIS about a ten minute walk from the Grand Platz. Since we were driving, I was looking for a hotel that had parking nearby, and there were several garages nearby for only 18 euros for 24 hours. The location of our hotel was excellent – we were close to many nearby sites and restaurants. The only downside was there was an art exhibit right outside the hotel. I’m normally a fan of art and traveling exhibits, but this one involved loud music and strobe lights right outside our hotel window, until almost midnight, and even though I have an appreciation for the arts, I had zero understanding of what the artist was trying to convey. Once we were able to fall asleep after that, the loud, drunk tourists across the hall would wake us up around 1:30 am each night. Other than that, it was a perfect hotel with a nice breakfast buffet.

Grand Platz at night

When we arrived in Brussels mid afternoon, we decided to check out Grand Platz, and do some wandering without a plan. After waiting in a long line for the worst fries and chicken balls we’ve ever had in our life, we decided to head to Delirium Village, a complex of different bars featuring Belgian beers and home to the Delirium Cafe. We both love sour beers, and Belgium is the place for that, so we enjoyed a nice happy hour, before heading off to shop and eat tons of chocolate! Delirium Cafe and it’s sister bars and definitely worth a stop; one touts over 2,000 different types of beer! It’s a great place to try something new or relish an old favorite. And if beer isn’t your thing — they have a Delirium tequila bar in the complex! Definitely check out Delirium Cafe, as Belgium is known for their beer, and this place is iconic.

Delirium Village, home to Delirium Cafe, featuring over 2,000 different beers.

Saturday afternoon and early evening was spent wandering around chocolate shops and tasting. Last year, we had made a weekend trip Bruges, Belgium. Unfortunately, it was during Lent and I had given up sweets and had longingly watched while my husband ate something from every shop. This year, I made sure our trip to Belgium was before Lent! We tried many amazing chocolates, but our favorite for the taste and value is Leonida’s. I love anything with hazelnut and coffee, and they have some great ones! We mayyyyy have stopped by one more than one occasion to “replenish” our sampler box. As I said, we loved Leonidas, but since you can’t go wrong with any of the chocolate shops in Brussels, so why not try a bunch of them???

Leonida’s Chocolate

Saturday night, we set off in search of something else Belgium is known for — moules! My husband doesn’t love mussels, but I do, and he was happy to oblige when I told him we needed to go somewhere for great mussels. There was a place that had been recommended, but it was several miles away and we didn’t feel like a long trek and we were tired. We ended up at Chez Leon , which was closer to our hotel and also amazing. There is always a long line outside during the evening, but don’t let that deter you – it is huge inside and the line moves quickly. Our meal did not disappoint – I had garlic mussels and my husband had a traditional Belgian dish, which was amazing! The service was great, and even though the restaurant was crowded, service was quick. Chez Leon is definitely a great place to go if you are looking for mussels, as they have a large variety! They are also open 7 days a week and take reservations online. A plus, it’s near the Grand Platz so you can admire it lit up at night on your walk home. After dinner, we enjoyed wandering around the streets of Brussels, trying more chocolate than one possibly should.

Moules from Chez Leon
Stoemp, with ham and sausage from Chez Leon.

On Sunday, we set out somewhat early to start our only true full day of touristy stuff in Brussels. I was thankful our hotels.com stay at IBIS included breakfast, as that one less thing to search for in the morning. With full bellies, we made the long trek to the furtherest location for the day, where we would work our way back to town. My husband and I had a conversation recently where we agreed we did not utilize public transportation as much as we should, but the trade off is we see so much more while walking. This time, we walked the whole way there, and then used the underground a bit on the way back to save time (and our feet). We headed to Parc Du Cinquantenaire, which is beautiful (and impossible to photograph due to the size). Once there, we discovered Autoworld, a large museum. My husband is a huge car enthusiast, so this was a no brainer. I can honestly say I enjoyed walking around and seeing the classic cars. It’s worth a visit if you enjoy this sort of thing, and their featured exhibition changes frequently. There is also a military museum and an art museum nearby.

On our stroll back from the Parc Du Cinquantenaire, we stopped by the Royal Palace of Belgium. We did not go inside, just admired from the outside. In hindsight, I wish we had gone in as the photos I’ve seen online are beautiful. Parked right outside the Palace, was a waffle and ice cream truck, so of course we had to share a chocolate smothered Belgian Waffle!

Our next stop was a quaint area called Petit Sablon Square. This had been recommended by several friends, and there were many shops and small markets in and around the area. We enjoyed strolling through the streets, walking in the garden, and had a delicious lunch not far from the square. As usual, we spent a lot of time walking and exploring, including more chocolate shops. Eventually we made our way back to town and stopped by the famed Mannequin-Pis statue. It’s basically a small statue of a boy peeing; I don’t quite see the attraction, but it is well marketed in Brussels — pictures, postcards, mini statues, etc. It’s worth a visit, especially since it’s on the way towards city center and there are fun gift shops and chocolate shops nearby.

Beautiful garden in Petit Sablon Square.

For dinner, we wanted to try an off the beaten path, authentic, Belgian restaurant, frequented by locals. Fin De Siecle did not disappoint! They are open daily for dinner, and accept cash only. You can find them on facebook, but their menu changes frequently. In fact, it’s listed daily on a chalkboard. You will likely wait, as the place is small, but it is worth it. I had a ham dish and it was incredible. The portions were large, and the beer selection was good as well. After a walk back to our hotel, and some annoyance from the loud “art exhibition”, we fell asleep with full bellies.

Pork knuckle from Fin De Siecle

Our last day in Brussels was short, because we had to get to an afternoon ferry crossing (did I mention the Eurotunnel is much easier, and worth the extra money??). We got up early and did some last minute souvenir shopping (I collect postcards from everywhere we go) and of course picked up more Belgian chocolate since we’d eaten ours already. Before leaving town, we had time to visit the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, a beautiful example of Gothic architecture. Royal weddings have taken place in this Catholic Church, which boasts a beautiful interior as well. While we were not able to do so, you can climb the tower on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month, but must book in advance. After visiting the Cathedral, we headed out of town. Whenever we travel by car to France or Belgium, we always stop at a Carrefour (large grocery store) to pick up Belgian beers, stroop waffles, and goodies, at a cheap price! Definitely look for one on your next roadtrip so you can enjoy the flavors of Belgium at home. We enjoyed our trip to Brussels, and I’m curious about visiting during Christmas Markets!

Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula

So, have you been to Brussels?? If so, what did I miss out on and need to visit next time??