Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Well we made it to Brussels in Belgium on the 6th of July via the Eurostar's bullet train. We got up at 4:00 AM, had our baked beans (a traditional part of the the English breakfast), and Chuck phoned a taxi for a 5:00 AM pick-up. We arrived at St. Pancras in one piece and checked in with the Eurostar people. Although they x-rayed our baggage and shuffled us through a metal detector it felt as though they hardly looked at us.

The train was fairly nice, although Chuck thinks the regular trains that run around England are more spacious. I saw a few bunnies in the country-side before we entered the tube under the channel and everything went dark. The only thing I had to look at then was my lovely, tired face string back at me in the reflection of the window. So I laid my head down and slept as best I could. After only two hours on the train we were in Brussels! And at that point, we were not impressed.

It looked a bit run down with block apartment buildings nearby when you step off the train. And when we walked down the wrong street towards north Brussels while trying to find our hotel we were even less impressed. But once we did find our hotel we also found the nicer part of the city. Since it wasn't yet time to check in, we found a little cafe and had some simple yet satisfying sandwiches. Then we walked around a bit, sta down for a bit, complained about our incredibly sore backs - my backpack is expecially heavy since I've been slowly acquiring extra "stuff" during our trip... Finally we were allowed to check-in early. Then we napped for about five hours. It was well needed too, seeing as we barely got any sleep the night before.

After our nap we went out and about to see a bit of the city. We walked down toward what's known as the Grote-Markt, or Grand'Place. Basically a big shopping area. Our first priority was a Belgian waffle. We passed a few stands before deciding to jest go for it and got a waffle saoked in just a bit of caramelized sugar. Oh man, it was so good! It sounds like a really simple, almost boring sweet, but the subtlty actually makes it a big winner. Luckily we were reserved enough to just share one, but I feel like it's probably not that bad for you as far as sweets go. It was well worth the €1.70 we paid.

Next goal was to find us some Belgian chocolate. Chuck looked up some shops before we had left so we already knew where we wanted to go: Chocopolis. The man behind the counter was friendly, but a bit pushy. Perhaps it's just the nature of the culture over here, but he was a tad off-putting. Despite that we got a €2.00 bar of %80 dark chocolate (Chuck likes his chocolate dark) and I got eight to-die-for truffles. We made our way back to the hotel in the rain that came upon us suddenly, stopping at a little grocery store for some crusty bread, cheese, and salami for dinner. Although the day started a little on the shady side, it ended up being alright in the end.

The next day we went out to the shopping district again - the Grote-Markt. This time we made it to the heart of the market and foudn it to be quite amazing. It's a big square surrounded on all sides by big, old buildings. Each one was covered with sculptures and engravings. Everywhere you looked there was so much to take in that it was a bit overwhelming. The buildings had dates on them, quite a few of which were in the 1600's. It really looked and felt "European" to me. I'd say that was the highlight of the day for me.

After that we strolled around and ended up on a street lined with chocolate shops and tourist stores. At the end of the street was Brussels pride and joy: the Manneken Pis. In English that's the Pissing Boy. And he is exactly that: a little boy pissing into a fountain. His representation is found in shops and logos around the city, most notably as a bottle opener/wine corker. The spiral of the cork protrudes from where the unrine would normally be flowing... I have seen quite a few people giggling and laughing at it in the stores, myself included. But yes, he is the pride and joy of Brussels. And while we were there, there were two security guards hanging around, looking very intense. At first we thought that the Manneken Pis had his own bodyguards, but it seemed they were in fact guarding some old lady and her daughter... I wonder who they were!

We did some more walking, making our way to another shopping area where the people with money shop. It was a very long street and we didn't make it all the way, so I have nothing exciting to say about that. Oh, I did get a macaron (not to be confused with macaroons) from a Pierre Marcolini store. I've never had one before but have always thought they looked very pretty. this was not only pretty, but also rather heavenly. It was very, very good! It's a little "sandwich" cookie that tasted like almonds and vanilla (at least the flavor I got did), and it had a slightly crunchy outer shell and a creamy vanilla middle, and the soft breadiness of the inside of the cookie. It was really good.

I noticed as we walked through a street of restaurants that a lot of people were eating whole pizzas. With only two people at the table each would have a whole pizza in front of them. I don't know how people can stay thin here eating entire pizzas, chocolate, waffles, fries and beer. Why isn't everyone a whale?? We made our way in the rain to "pita row" as I've decided to call it, because there are literally about five pita shops all right next to each other. They shout at you as you go by and openly compete for your business - it's a bit agressive! We had our pita and then tried some of the fruit beers that seem popular in Belgium. I had a Kriek, or cherry one (which was very sweet) and Chuck tried the Pommes, or apple. That was about it for our day.

The 8th ended up being a rainy day. Instead of just raining sporadically once or twice it was just rainy and wet all day. But we went out anyways, getting nice and wet in the process. First we stopped by the train station to pick up our tickets to Amsterdam. It reminded me of teh DMV... We got to chose a number and wait to be called. After about 30 minutes we managaed to get our tickets with no real problems. Then we headed back into town for our daily treat: a Belgian Waffle. We decided to try one of the other regional waffles called the Liege Waffle (or Gaufre de Liege). It's chewier and denser than its cousin the Brussles Waffle, which is the kind we had the two days before. We went all out and spent a whopping €9.00 on our two waffles. Mine was covered in bananas, whipped cream and chocolate sauce and Chuck's was the same but with strawberries instead of banana. Boy were they good! And messy to eat... Our fingers were very sticky when we were done. And our hands. And Chuck's shoe even.

We tried another Belgian specialty for lunch: frites or french fries. I loved the logo of the place - it was a french fry peeing, in imitation of the Manneken Pis. The place was even called Manneken Frite. The fries themselves weren't anything to write home about, but they weren't bad. After another beer at the same pub, or bar, or whatever they call them on this side of the channel, we wandered back to the hotel in the still-falling rain. There isn't really all that much to see in Brussels so our day wasn't very full.

My impressions of Brussels are that the sidewalks are slippery when wet, people honk constantly, and as a whole everyone seems just a tad on edge. In fact there was a pretty loud fight in a bar across from our hotel on our second night. A lot of people we passed on the streets looked shady, but a lot of them look nice too, so it balances out. There's more graffitti than there was in England, but I've heard that Europe is a bit graffitti'd in general. So I'd say Brussels is a fairly decent city, but nothing very exciting. I do have to say that their waffles really are delicious. That was my favorite part of our stay there! And we did our best to speak very bad French to people: bonjour, s'il vous plaît, Parlez-vous anglais, merci, du gaufre de Liege s'il vous plaît. Hehe. We did our best. Brussels was a good enough start to Europe as any place I think.

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