Friday, December 23, 2011

Would you like (Belgian) Fries with that?

Prior to our trip through France and Belgium, several people (Sara's sister Laura) had given us lots of suggestions about what to do and eat in Paris. Not so in Brussels. Since we were both pretty crazy leading up to this trip and didn't have time to make a complete itinerary, Brussels was somewhat short shrifted for planning purposes. So, what does one do in Brussels without a plan ahead of time? Chocolate and waffles, of course!

We arrived on Tuesday evening and went for a dinner at a very Belgian restaurant in the Grand Place market area. We had mashed potatoes with bacon and leeks topped with various things. (I had them topped with fried eggs--surprisingly tasty.) We then went to the Brussels Christmas Market and had waffles and Gl├╝hwein (an optionally alcohol-free hot wine served around Christmastime). Here are Sara and my brother Jaren enjoying the Belgian treats of the night.


We even went for a ride in the Ferris wheel overlooking the market area. However, we didn't go into the inflatable 45 meter-long Christmas Monster (not sure what it was really), nor did we get to ride the very Steampunk carousels in Brussels (we were too tall). The market was nice, though, and the way back had the Ghost of Christmas Past watching us:


The next morning we walked around the Grand Place during the daylight to take some pictures. It's truly a stunning square with beautiful buildings on all sides:




This year at Christmastime, the Place was filled with light beacons (arranged in a spiral "inspired by the Fibonacci sequence") that would do a light show to music by Tchaikovsky (among others). It was cool, if a little weird. Here is the main Christmas Tree in front of the spire of one of the Grand Place buildings.

modified grand place

We went for breakfast at a cafe and walked around a little bit and, fortuitously, caught a glimpse of the benefits this EU-capitol provides its workers:


It's an EU-branded head umbrella! So crazy.

The cartoons point the way to major landmarks:


And there's the landmark itself:


Overall, Brussels seems a clean and fairly well-organized city, a "curious mix of conservative and avant-garde," as the New York Times recently reported.

We took a trip to the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudule (which sounds like our friend Dula--we'll have to ask him if he's been canonized yet). It is a huge, beautiful building that, at the time, was hosting a selections of creches from around the world. A few of our favorites:




And the organ, always a subject of my interest, was beautiful:


We made a visit to the famous Manneken Pis. It's smaller than I thought.


We also noticed this crazy H&M store. It was set up just for the Christmas market and is advertised as a "Pop-Up H&M." In case you just can't possibly wait.


We had planned to go to the Museum of Musical Instruments, but it wasn't open for breakfast when we arrived and we wanted to walk around more, so we settled for admiring the facade. (And the facades of several other buildings right around there.)




And lastly, we spent a few hours in the Magritte museum. The paintings were rather beautiful and the museum was well laid-out. However, at the end, Jaren wasn't terribly sure what was real and what was not. The title of this photograph: Ceci n'est pas un Jaren.


Special Section: Chocolate

I mentioned earlier in this post that we spent an inordinate amount of time visiting and sampling chocolate from various chocolatiers in Belgium. Let me quantify our experience a little bit. We were walking around the Grand Place and saw three chocolatiers immediately: some special Belgian one, Godiva, and Neuhaus. We didn't even bother with Godiva since it's everywhere. The unnamed one was good, but not as good as Neuhaus. We walked about 50 meters and passed two other chocolatiers before stumbling upon Leonidas, Elisabeth, and another one (more famous for its cookies than its chocolate, but good nonetheless). We passed over Leonidas, since we've had it before and it's available in Aachen. Besides that, the cookies at the cookie place were really good but Elisabeth was astounding. All of us involuntarily slowed our walking pace while eating those truffles--they were just that good. We also stopped in one more chocolatier (name forgotten) to try a dark chocolate truffle filled with chestnut cream. The guy wanted to close soon, so he gave them to us for free. In total, we visited six chocolatiers and a cookie shop. This was in the space of one hour on Tuesday night.

On Wednesday morning, we sought out Mary, another world-class chocolatier from Belgium. It, too, was delicious. In the afternoon we wanted a snack, so we stopped by the bakery Paul for croissants, macarons, and hot chocolate. The chocolate macarons there may have been the best thing I have ever eaten. The crust was perfectly crisp with a chewy chocolate cake/cookie layer, and the chocolate filling was rich and smooth. It was amazing.

What is the moral of the story? When in Belgium, always look for chocolatiers with Biblical first names: Paul, Elisabeth, and Mary. You won't be disappointed. (Of course, only after we got home did we see the previously mentioned New York Times article about chocolatiers in Brussels. We hit four of their top 14. Time to go back.)


1 comment:

  1. Yeeeess. Chez Meldrum has returned (for now)? Off to London soon?

    I'm excited to see more of France too!


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