Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Brussels (Dec. 21-23)

Brussels was not as exciting as we thought it might be. The top reasons to go to Brussels are definitely; chocolate, french fries, waffles, beer, and Christmas fairs. We should have expected that when the first thing the tourist map we got suggested was eating and drinking. We were only in Brussels for one full day so we decided to stay right in the city instead of venturing out to Brupark where the World's Fair was held in the 1950s.

Our hostel was just a couple blocks away from Grand Place so we decided to start there. Just outside of Grand Place, we encountered our first major Christmas fair in Brussels. I am a huge fan of Christmas fairs. We walked through it checking out all the food and crafts and such. Right is the middle of one of the streets was a subterranean archeological site that was covered with glass so people could see it. It was very cool. We decided it was much too early to start with the snack food so we proceeded to Grand Place. Grand Place is actually not that big but is the square in front of several major (old) government buildings and a giant church. The architecture was definitely some of the most elaborate we had seen so far. In the square was a huge Christmas tree and equally huge nativity scene. A few side streets from the Grand Place is Manneken Pis aka the little peeing boy. That's right this statue is the inspiration for all of those obnoxious bumper stickers of the kid peeing on a sports logo, city, anything you can think of. The actual statue is tiny and was dressed as Santa Claus when we were there. Apparently the little guy has worn so many outfits that they started a museum to put them all in. Of course, we were in Brussels on a Monday and essentially all the museums are closed on Mondays so we couldn't see all the outfits or the comics museum which has the original Smurfs strips in it.

After we had explored the area around Grand Place we made our way to Parking 58 which is a parking garage. Following instructions from our free guide/map we took to elevator to the top to gaze over the city. What we saw was a stark difference in styles of architecture. We could also see the Atomium located out by Brupark. Other than the fact that we were at the top of a parking garage and it was still pretty misty out, the view wasn't that bad and it was free. We were able to spot another major Christmas fair from the top and decided to make that our next stop.

En route to the Christmas fair we stopped at a supermarket and stocked up on Belgian chocolate. There were so many choices and it all looked delicious, not to mention WAY cheaper than the fancy chocolate places we had been passing on the street. All of the Belgian chocolate I tried was awesome. The flavor was very smooth and it really had a flavor. As a seasoned chocoholic I was very very pleased. Once we were satisfied with the amount of chocolate we had purchased (it was a lot) we entered the fair. All the Christmas fairs have the same basic things; a spiced hot wine, roasted nuts, candy, and lots of gift ideas/crafts. We stopped by a giant food stand and got french fries served with the traditional Belgian topping of mayo. The drowned the fries in globs of the stuff. Leanna was smart and scrapped some of the mayo off her fries. By the time I realized exactly how much of the stuff was on my fries it had been spread around too much to be scrapped off easily. At first mayo and french fries wasn't such a bad combination but after a while I think I could feel my ateries getting blocks by the copious amounts of mayo. Awesome french fries, avoid the mayo.

Since we spent the first half of the day cruising around city center, we decided to head out to the Royal Palace and hang out in the gardens adjacent to it. It was a good walk through the city to get to the Palace. We didn't go into the Palace, just looked at the outeide. The gardens were very nice, especially for December. It was an okay day too so there were a few people out walking around. We hung out in the gradens for probably a couple hours just people watching. Before heading back to the hostel we armed ourselves with lieges waffles for the journey back. lieges waffles are a species of Belgian waffles that are prodominantly sold on the streerts and have a sweet carmalized crust. Straight up Belgian waffles are served in cafes and such, and are very light and crispy. We didn't get a chance to try the second variety but according to a couple sources you can get an okay Belgian waffle at diners in the US.

As we strolled back to our hostel we decided to acquire some of edible substant one our list of reasons to go to Belgium; beer. I bought a Westmalle, and a Kriek. The Westmalle was a trappist beer. I don't know what that means other than it was fairly heavy and bitter. The Kriek was a cherry beer. I haven't had much experience with fruity beers but I thought it was pretty good. Leanna got a raspberry beer which I thought was even better than the cherry. None of the beers we tried were bad though. Later that evening we went out to grab a late dinner and ended up back in the Grand Place. There was a holiday themed laser light show going on in the square. The lights were projected onto the church and were timed to different holiday musics. It was very cool and a good way to conclude our time in Brussels.

The next morning we were out the door early and on our way to Paris!

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