Monday, 15 November 2010

Waffles, chocolate and beer - a weekend in Belgium

I love Brussels. It has been my favourite European city so far, although our trip to Estonia came close. Saturday morning we set out early on the Eurostar for Brussels. On arrival, we went straight to our 4 star hotel (which was only 15 pounds with the train tickets). From there we headed back into town to explore. Lunch was a delicious fresh baguette with tomato and mozzarella.

The highlight of our trip was found Saturday afternoon, which we chanced upon down one of the numerous disorienting lanes.
Use-it was a free space for young visitors. It had 4 computers and free wi-fi plus a bunch of maps annotated by locals. It was completely free and sponsored by the Flemish government. The best part though, was a free tour by a local. The length of the tour was entirely negotiable, depending on the guide's mood and the group itself. Ours lasted about 3 hours including a beer stop on the way. We saw the back end of places, we saw a little known artist market (reminded me of Fitzroy), we were tested on our local knowledge, given tips on where to eat and where not to eat (tourist prices) and were told local advice such as, don't bother going to the Atomium or little Europe (common attractions). The view from the first is no better than the one he showed us, except you have to stand in multiple queues, and it's probably better to get out and see the Real Europe, rather than a fake play size version. Both these places are expensive to enter. We were guided through the streets in the rain (it rained all Saturday), stopping for tidbits of information. The stop at the pub was great as not only did we each taste a different beer, in a mini-..., it was an opportunity for the whole group to discuss politics and history mostly of Belgium. On the tour was a guy from Sweden, Malaysia(?), 3 Aussies, 2 Latvian ladies and a Croatian lady - a real mix. One of the Latvian ladies loved snow, and could not appreciate this wet stuff.

We had dinner at one of the recommended local pubs where we tried more beer and the unofficial local dish of mussels.

It was very different ordering food in Brussels compared to Paris. In Paris there was an English menu/translation, whereas Brussels, where there was already 3 official languages (French, Dutch and German), they were not going to print a third. We got by with some half-remembered guessing and some helpful staff.

On the way home we stopped by

1) Beer Planet and lee made a selection to take home for tasting

2) the supermarket shut at 8, so we ventured into a specialist shop for chocolate (oh, what a shame!)
3) we bought a Tourist Waffle (with cream, strawberries and hot liquid chocolate) to finish the day's trifecta.

Sunday dawned with a little less rain, thankfully. Not willing to spend the €27 each for breakfast at the hotel, we ventured out and were treated to delicious waffles (gaufre sucre) and a toasted ham, tomato and mozzarella toasted herb panini at a little shop opposite the St. Goedele-St. Michiels Cathedral.

Wanting to make the most of our day, we jumped on a train to visit the Talking Tree. The Talking Tree is hooked up to a bunch of sensors (light meter, weather station, air quality - CO2, ozone and soot, it also captures video, sound and pictures of the sky) using this information to post on Twitter and Facebook (selecting from ~1000 possible posts). After 4 days of continuous rain, its message for the day was: "Definitely no shortage of water". Unfortunately, the people we asked had never heard of it, so we spent an enjoyable 2 hours wandering through an autumn-colored park and not seeing any sign of it. We did see big mobs of scouts playing games and building teepees, people walking dogs and children, and joggers.

Our late breakfast meant late lunch and another waffle (of course). We checked out the Grand Place and the Manneken Pis, picked up another waffle from the breakfast place, visited a supermarket for more chocolate and a tasty tapas-style dinner items, the chocolate shop again - as it's impossible to have too much, made our way to the train station and finished off with one last beer.

What a weekend - with food like that, you can't go wrong. Brussels had a friendly and easy-going feel and I plan to return - definitely and soon.

(Photos coming soon)

No comments:

Post a Comment