22 June 2009

Like beer for chocolate

explore brussels.

after a yummy breakfast at the hotel, we hit the pavement in search of some green spaces. the neighborhood around the hotel was very cute, a mix between brooklyn and san francisco. we were a ways away from the tourist center so this was a quiet, calm place where the regular folk lived.

anyway, we arrived at jubelpark/parc du cinquantenaire and saw the fountain, the arc du triomphe connecting some military museums, and then exited the park near the statue of a dog. walking to another park nearby, we noticed there was TONS of construction going on in the city. buildings, sidewalks, roads, everything.

(dog statue in parc du cinquantenaire. he was not neutered. turn your head and cough...)

even in the parc leopold, there was a bit of construction. this park backed up to some of the EU buildings, so we thought we'd have a look. weirdly (or maybe for security purposes?) there is no real front to the EU buildings. by that i mean, there is no long lawn or square to stand on and gaze at the immense, powerful structures. there is just a regular sidewalk and street where business-attired people go to work. yes, nice mod buildings but you couldnt get a good look at them. so, we decided to get out of this area and do the city center.

(field of poppies and the back of the European Parliament)

took the metro the the gare centraal. we exited right in front of saint gudule church which had all kinds of posters up in the park in front. the exhibit was about the construction going on in brussels. apparently by 2020 they are going to be a top green city. passive architecture and sustainable building products with useful, attractive designs. pretty cool. might a neat place to visit again in the future.

(me in a nice chair near saint gudule church)

then we found a route to the grand place. you walk into the center and on all sides are intricately carved stone buildings with gold everywhere. very nice, very grand square. since brussels isnt a huge tourist destination (the smaller, quaint towns like bruges are much higher on tourist lists), the square wasnt packed, so it was nice that we could look around without being pushed.

(part of one side in the grand place)

then we made a systematic plan to explore the area around the grand place because we assumed many chocolate stores, sweet shops, and beer places would be around. we found the belgium biscuiterie called dandoy and ordered a pain à la grecque (like a flatbread with cinnamon and sugar, yum). we also located, in the grand place, a well-respected chocolate shop called neuhaus, apparently a favorite of tourists and locals alike. we stopped in to pick out a few goodies.

(dave indicating his main objective near the grand place)

while making our selections a strange woman came in. i hope she was drunk because that is the only logical explanation for her oddity. she said "hello, im back to buy some chocolate. i want to eat it now. do you have one with bourbon? here is my husband. we are going to eat the chocolates together. do you have a list of what you have?" and on she went giving weird unnecessary information. anyway, we chose 4 chocolates: a cinnamon brown sugar, vanilla cream [fabiola], caramel truffle, and chocolate mousse [manon noir]. the best was definitely the chocolate mousse.

anyway, then we began looking for lunch. we found ourselves in the narrow gauntlet called rue des bouchers where a million restaurants crowd together and the waiters camp out and chatter at the tourists to "eat here, ive got a great seafood special." no thanks, but at least we located the delirium bar on an alley near this madness. the beer place to end all pilgrimages.

but it was still time for food, not beer. so, we headed toward place st. catherine because that was the old seafood merchant area and there is still quite a strip of seafood places. using the map from our hotel, we got turned around for the second time that day (damn map!) but eventually we found the right area. dave chose the restaurant (good job!).

we both chose a lunch menu formula at "les crustacés." for 12€, i had the fish soup (yum), fish duo (white fish and salmon), and ice cream with chocolate sauce. and for 14€, dave had lobster paté, mussels with fries (moules frites), and ice cream with caramel sauce. once again though, they tried to charge me for water (what the hell belgium!?) so i poured my own water bottle into my water glass. take that!

(dave and his mussels)

after lunch, we hopped the metro up to laeken de parc. on the north end of the park is the famous atomium structure. kinda looks like two jacks on top of each other. then we wandered through the rest of the strange rolling hills and wide open spaces of the rest of the park. there was a religious gazebo/monument called le dynastie that was pretty and it had a cleared lawn all the way to the gates of the royal palace of laeken. but the palace was stone and mostly hidden and not that exciting, so we went back to the metro.

(atomium structure)

we rode the metro a lot in brussels, and i must say that it is the most awful metro i think ive ever ridden (at least the worst in my memory). the signage is crap, the train cars are kinda grey and dark, the map/route of the lines is stupid, and the tickets are confusing. hope you intend to update that too brussels!

anyway, took the metro to the botanical gardens. probably the lamest excuse for a botanical garden in a city ive seen. the parks in brussels were all kinda head scratchers, not really sure what the theme or focus or point was. so, in search of something positive, we headed to delirium bar.

in a cool alley down a side street north of the grand place is the delirium bar. in the guinness book of records for having the most beers available, its the pub to end all pubs. and in the same alley is the associated bar called "floris garden" which sells liquor drinks including 287 different kinds of absinthe, and tons of gins, rums, whiskeys, etc. the alley of drunken debauchery basically. daves first drink was the delirium tremens. he really enjoyed it. and i...tried for free water...and had to purchase some. grrrr!

(dave and his pink elephant beer glass. cool.)

after the beer, dave wanted to walk around a bit before knocking back another, so we went to see more of central brussels. we hit the street corner with the famous fountain of the urinating boy, the mannekin pis. as these things normally are, it was underwhelming and packed with tourists. the legend is bigger than the actual thing.

afterward, we wandered around searching (in vain) for some wafel cremes to buy. :( then we settled on some fries with mustard before heading back to delirium bar. this time dave ordered a st idesbald blonde, and was again delighted. while sitting in the alley, we noticed tons of tourists walking past us, taking pictures of something at the far end and leaving...? went to check it out and...was i shocked.

it was the girl version of the mannekin pis. a little girl, naked, squatting and peeing into a small fountain. i had to laugh, but then i became uncomfortable. it was such a different kind of image. and the fountain was much smaller and she had a gate and padlock totally blocking direct camera shots of her. so i messed around with the gate and the angle of the camera and the only semi non-blurry shot i got was highly inappropriate. makes me blush...ME! a much more memorable fountain than the little boy.

anyway, after daves beer we were tired and ready to relax at the hotel. got off the metro and walked through square marie louise, found an indian restaurant, and got some take out to eat in the hotel dining room. after several sweeps of the city today, i think we found only about 50% of the things we aimed for were actually exciting/interesting. (jj was right, brussels is kind of a ho hum place compared to surrounding options. score #221 in the "good advice" column.).

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