Saturday, July 9, 2005

Architecture, Gastronomy, CHOCOLATE! and shopping in Brussels

Yesterday I went on a day trip to Brussels with my friend Christy. We didn't want the hassle of driving in, so we took the train from Sittard-Maastrict, Maastricht-Liege, Liege-Brussels. The total travel time getting there was not quite 2.5 hours.

We got off the train at Central Station, and immediately tried to get our bearings. We knew we wanted to see the Grand Place, St. Michael's Cathedral, and the Royal Palace, but we weren't really sure where to start first. The highest spire in Brussels is the one on the town hall in the Grand Place, so I suggested that we aim for that. Within a few minutes, we found ourselves standing in one of the most magnificent market squares in Europe, and there was a flower market going on. We stood and gawked and took a few pictures, and then decided to meander around the streets that branched out of the Grand Place.

Our next goal was to find the Manneken Pis, a celebrated statue of a peeing boy whose image graces the majority of souvenirs in Brussels. You can buy him in chocolate form, and various forms of metal and plastic, in addition to t-shirts, hats, bags, postcards...the list is endless. I'm not quite sure why this little guy is so popular, but there are a lot of things about Europe that boggle the mind.

But we did find him, on some rather un-spectacular side street. What pointed us to his presence was the group of Japanese tourists milling about, and the big Manneken Pis bar and restaurant located across the street (with an replica of Manneken Pis in a waiter's outfit in the window). Manneken Pis, I should add, has many little outfits that he wears sometimes, but when we saw him, he was utterly naked.

Needless to say, seeing him was somewhat anti-climactic.

We just continued walking down side streets, stepping into any shop or building that piqued our interest. Particularly chocolate shops. Many of them give free samples, and just the variety and various designs of the chocolate are enough to make you want to go into every shop just to look at them. Besides the chocolate shops (I eventually bought some chocolates at a place called Devina), there was this store we came across called La Maison du Miel, or "the House of Honey." The smell lured us in more than anything. It smelled like absolute heaven inside, and they sold, obviously, products made of honey - both edible and non-edible. They had soaps, bath ballistics, skin creams, masks, candles, candies, various kinds of honey, vinegars, beers made with honey...the list goes on and on. We spent a lot of time in this place and neither of us walked out empty-handed. They also let you sample the honey.

Anyway, Christy decided that she wanted to find St. Michael's Cathedral, so we eventually made our way there and looked around for a bit.

Then we decided to find some lunch. I don't know how we ended up where we was just some random street that we happened to come across. But we stopped at this restaurant (I can't recall the name of it) and had a very large lunch. I had some Belgian specialty, which was nothing more than meatballs in a tomato sauce with french fries. It was pretty tasty though.

After lunch, we wanted to find the Royal Palace. We eventually made it there, but not before being distracted by a few things. We walked around and took pictures, and then it really started to rain, so we stepped into a cafe and got some drinks while waiting for the rain to subside.

Once it did, we decided to just meander some more. We did a little more shopping. We both bought pashminas at some souvenir shop. I loved the one I bought in Istanbul so much that I had to get another one, and the price was right. We also came upon a Chi Chi's. I thought it was hilarious to see Chi Chi's in the heart of Brussels, but once I saw it, a huge craving for fried ice cream hit, so we went in to share some. It wasn't nearly as good as the fried ice cream served at the US Chi Chi's though.

Once we finished our dessert (as if the chocolates weren't enough), we figured we better make our way toward the train station, since we had about an hour or so before our train was due to leave. On the way there, we noticed a cheese shop tucked away in a little corner. We couldn't resist. Christy had been telling me about this amazing cheese she had in had fig in it. This store had it, and she was so excited. So I bought 3 - two for her and one for myself to try. So after that purchase, we made our way to the train station and came home.

It was a full day, but I think we got a good taste of Brussels, and we want to go back.

Oh...and one more thing worth mentioning, just because I thought it was hilarious. Some Italian guy was trying to pick me up in the Grand Place and was blowing kisses at me. I ignored him, but it was quite amusing!


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