Brussels after lockdown

We arrived in Brussels with some trepidation following the Paris terrorist attacks 13th November. Brussels had been in lock down, the highest level of alertness and we were due to arrive less than two weeks after the attacks.  Fearing the people of Brussels might be targeted by extremists the schools and subways were shut down and people were asked to stay away from public places during the five day lockdown.

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We saw strict controls at Paris Nord train station as we boarded for Bruxelles Midi with officers searching our bags and cases before we boarded the train. When we arrived we found after five days of lockdown the deserted streets still had the presence of soldiers armed with machine guns and officials were trying to entice back the tourists who may have been scared away.

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While lockdown may have helped with investigations, the standstill was causing huge losses to those who relied on tourism.  Brussels, like Paris, was seeing a drop in tourism and last minute hotel cancellations. Normally the Grand Place at this time of the year would be crowded with festive merry makers, but the presence of Police, Soldiers and journalists was causing the central square traders to feel the pinch.

When we arrived at our hotel, Mercure Brussels Centre Midi, we were greeted warmly. The hotel, conveniently located near Gare Du Midi train station is usually at full occupancy, but had only a handful of guests. We found the location of Saint Gilles away from the city’s main square had less controls and military presence, therefore a less tense atmosphere. The area is very easy to navigate, a six minute walk to the station, fifteen minutes from Manneken Pis and the city’s vibrant 14th century main square, Grand Place.

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We found the area to be a multi-cultural dense municipality with semi derelict tenements near the railway station and a mix of elegant art nouveau houses, artistic student life and tourist hotels. On Sundays there is a big market between the hotel and train station and we found several salons nearby to drink tea and coffee or eat a crepe.

This newly built hotel is an ideal base, not just for the location. Offering 4 star services, the rooms are warmly decorated.  The attention to detail during the 8 year build is apparent in the décor and elegant fittings. Our room was very comfortable and had a large double glazed window to allow ample natural light into the room but kept the cold and noise out. Not that we noticed any noise as our room was not facing the street. The room itself was very large, with a toilet separate to the well-appointed bathroom with walk in shower and rain head.  I loved the vanity mirror, it featured an anti-fog button and even had a digital clock display. The room featured an extremely comfortable bed with high quality linen, a lounge and work desk, safe, Wi-Fi, tea/coffee making facilities and minibar.

We were taken on a tour of the hotel and amenities which included a chic bar, a fitness room, whirlpool and steam room, a meeting room and a large, elegant breakfast room. During our tour we could see the meticulousness in the soothing colour scheme of the harmonious interior decoration, in particular the sophisticated lighting. Each light fitting throughout was a chic designer label fitting.

The breakfast buffet had an amazing selection of pastries, hot and cold dishes and an almost endless selection of cheeses and cold meats and of course waffles.

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We found all staff to be very attentive and they made us feel at home, whilst being discreet and not in our face. Clearly this is quite a special quality and management should be very proud of their attentive staff who went out of their way to make our stay very comforting despite the current situation.  We found the added bonus for us was the proximity to the midi station as this was our first train journey of many throughout Europe and made our added daytrips to nearby Bruges, Ghent, Luxembourg and Antwerp idyllic.

So whilst our timing to Europe may not have been perfect, the location and staff at the hotel certainly made up for any apprehension we may have felt prior to our arrival.

Brussels has the most interesting architecture surrounded by a maze of winding streets full of bistros and cafes offering world famous Belgian specialities and we found the Mercure Brussels Centre Midi to be an ideal base that we would love to return to.

Now your turn, tell us would you have continued with your planned holiday the day the lockdown was lifted?  Would staying in an area away from the heart of the tourist area make you more at ease? Please leave a comment below and let us know.

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23 Responses

  1. Thanks a bunch for sharing your experience. Great post!

  2. Linda Bibb says:

    I definitely would continue with my plans, despite the lockdown. Perhaps it seems fatalistic, but I believe the day we leave this earth is already decided and I’d rather depart doing something I love (traveling) than stay at home in fear.
    Linda Bibb recently posted…I’m Sailing Away on a Rhine River CruiseMy Profile

  3. Eva Casey says:

    It is definitely a difficult decision. I personally would continue, with caution, my travel plans. Although my Mom would probably be ripping her hair out!! Haha!

  4. We would go through with our plans. I hate what is happening but am of the opinion that it could happen wherever we were. A life lived in fear, is a life half lived and all of that
    Paula McInerney recently posted…How to Spend Three Days in New York CityMy Profile

  5. Lisa Wood says:

    Yes I so would keep to our travel plans, and would stay where we had booked. Life is so very short, so live it to the fullest every day 🙂
    Lockdown wouldn’t have been that much fun, but gee your Hotel looks and sounds amazing, so being there in Brussels would have been worth it. Hope you got to see some sights while there?
    Lisa Wood recently posted…Geocaching in BundabergMy Profile

  6. We were staying in Paris when the attacks happened, and whilst it was scary for an hour or so when we didn’t really know what was going on, we felt safe at all times. We chose not to go on the Metro just in case, but toured the city by foot and avoided demonstrations etc. I actually found the atmosphere really heartening. We had family/friends urging us to get out of the city but we wanted to stay and lend support to the locals, and show we weren’t afraid and that the terrorists wouldn’t win. Maybe that’s naive but it’s what we felt we wanted to do.

    As for Mercure, I think they’re great! I’ve had lots of positive experiences with other Mercures and I will choose to stay with them where possible.

  7. This is my first link-up. thankyou! I think I would be very nervous to be in a place in lock-down. We were in London immediately after the subway bombings, over 10 years ago. It made me nervous to be on public transport, and we were diverted from places several times due to bomb scares. I always said we shouldn’t be intimidated by these people, but I know I am. Happy travels and thanks again for the link up.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    We’ve been to Paris twice since the attacks and certainly noticed the increased presence of security everywhere. Even with the littles though we’ve pressed on traveling, glad to see you have as well.

  9. Anda says:

    I was so looking forward to your posts about Europe post the terrorist attack in Paris. I can imagine you didn’t have a light heart traveling this time, but I’m sure you enjoyed it. I would have done the same thing. Brussels looks very beautiful, I’ve never been there.
    Anda recently posted…The Weekly Postcard: Hohenschwangau CastleMy Profile

  10. Luckily, mid January, when we’ve visited Brussels it was a lot better. Tourists were back and it felt safe. However, there was a military presence everywhere, as almost every big attraction was guarded by a few uniformed men with guns. I did feel safe though.

    The hotel looks beautiful, thanks for your review and for sharing your experience!

  11. Shobha says:

    I think that would have been a really eerie time to be in Brussels. Can’t imagine such a bustling city quiet. I’ve only been there once and thought it was cool. Modern Europe HQ plus historical squares, beers and chocolate. I love the light collection at the hotel.
    Shobha recently posted…Photo Essay: Rural Beauty in the Costa Brava CountrysideMy Profile

  12. Corinne says:

    It’s too bad that the terrorist attacks have such a negative impact on the tourist industry. Yes, that’s what they are going for, but it’s still a shame. This looks like a nice retreat from the busy city!
    Corinne recently posted…Letting the Path Find You – Leading to Amazing DiscoveriesMy Profile

  13. Dean says:

    Like you, Lyn, we decided not to let the unrest get in our way. Of course we exercised caution but still managed to see everything we wanted. We did not do Brussels but spent 2 nights in Brugges, with our B&B host informing us they had 24 cancellations from people to worried to “take the risk”.

  14. Did the hotel mention what they did for the guests during the days of lockdown? I’ve wondered what it must be like to take a trip of a lifetime and then be restricted in where you could go. Obviously, it’s not so bad a problem compared to all the loss of life, but still not the unforgettable experience that the visitor dreamed of. It seems like such a nice hotel that I picture it like a cruise boat that has to take a few extra days at sea where they come up with all sorts of entertainment to keep the guests distracted.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted…China Two WaysMy Profile

  15. Sounds like you made the best of a bad situation. The hotel is rather lovely. So pleased you guys enjoyed a safe stay in Brussels.

  16. Terrorist attacks and the threat of them is awful for the tourism industry. I have heard from contacts in Egypt that the unrest there has destroyed the livelihood of many people who used to work in tourism. I am sure that Brussels and Paris will bounce back provided there are no more attacks.
    Lyn aka TheTravellingLindfields recently posted…Alaskan Cruises – Do Australians pay more than Americans?My Profile

  17. Kind of off topic, but: At first glance, I thought maybe the pictures of the light fixture designers had something to do with ordering them – I would love to have the surfboard looking pendant by Alberto Meda! Maybe it’s not meant to be. The hotel is beautiful, though! Kudos to you for venturing forth – I would have also. As others mentioned, attacks could happen anywhere. At least in Brussels, they were on guard.
    RobRob@TravelLatte(.net) recently posted…Travel To Do: The Live Music Hotel of the World?My Profile

  18. Arnie says:

    If we had plans we would go. As a US citizen we have to deal with one hell of a lot more insane violence on a day to day basis than happens as a result of terrorists in Europe.
    Arnie recently posted…AirBNB Is Changing The Way We TravelMy Profile

  19. Am sure there would have been some anxiety about travelling at that time but it may have made it easier to access places without so many people around. That hotel looks lovely!

  20. A really interesting post. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  21. Lydia C. Lee says:

    I’d still go but I am be a bit stupid like that….Also, I guess where you come from is relevance – if your city is just waiting it’s turn, you may as well go, cos it could be here or it could be there….

  22. I’d definitely travel as planned #weekend wanderlust
    Tanja (the Red phone box travels) recently posted…A guide to Menton, FranceMy Profile

  1. February 7, 2016

    […] ** Added my blog post to the link up over at A Hole In My Shoe Brussels After Lockdown. […]

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