The Virtuosa docks in Zeebrugge before dawn, offering an impressive moonlit journey into port. Having visited Bruges before, we have this time opted for an excursion into Brussels.
After meeting in the ship’s theatre, we’re loaded onto a coach for the drive into the Belgian capital. Our tour guide provides plenty of Belgian historical commentary, from the medieval beginnings of Bruges to the post-war resurgence of Brussels.
Top tip: It is possible to make your own way to Brussels by train from Zeebrugge. It’s about an hour each way and not particularly expensive – but it’s a lot easier (and more informative) to book an excursion on the ship.
Bonus tip: There is a free shuttle bus that runs from dockside to the dock gates – but that’s as far as it goes. Apparently there are a few public transport options within walking distance from the drop-off point.
The coach takes us past the King Baudoin Stadium (formerly known as Heysel) and on to the Atomium. Built to resemble a super-magnified iron crystal, it’s impressive to note this space age structure was erected in 1958. Sadly we don’t have enough time to go inside.
Afterwards, the coach takes us through much of the European Union heartland. Incredibly, the EU currently occupies 66 buildings – with many more under construction. If you ever wondered where the EU budget goes…
We are then dropped at the Boulevard de Berlaimont near Saint Michael’s Cathedral for a short foot tour with our guide. After showing us a few sights, he leaves us at the Grand Place for two hours to spend however we want. Linda and I head straight for the legendary Mannekin Pis – which is surprisingly tiny (and underwhelming!).
We then head back to the Grand Place and another Hard Rock Café. As well as a local brew, we both enjoy a Belgian Waffle (and buy the obligatory pin badge). We even manage to squeeze in a quick (very simple) geocache before meeting up with our group for the return journey to the Virtuosa.
Top tip: Along with all the usual memorabilia, there are some very cool drawings and portraits by various artists on the top floor of the Hard Rock Café, including Keith Moon of The Who. It is well worth a walk up all those extra stairs.