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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

No Sprouts in this Brussels

After Italy, Shani and I headed to Belgium. We were only there for 2 full days, and I would love to go back. I loved Italy but I think that Belgium was my favorite part of the trip. Since we were only there for a short period of time we only we able to visit Brussels. But it was still a ton of fun, and lead to some comic situations.

We were trying to be cheap we didn't really plan out our flights well, we just went with the cheapest option. So, because of that we got to Brussels Charleroi in the early evening. Its about an 45 min-1 hour away from the center of the city so it took us awhile to get to our hostel. We arrived there tired and hungry so we decided to walk around and find a place to eat. I once again turned to my travel book, but the place it had recommended was out of business (despite the book being published in October 2011). I had originally planned on us eating at least one meal of real traditional food from the countries we were visiting, but while we were walking around after our first attempt at a restaurant we realized we were in the Asian food neighborhood. I was still pretty persistent, but after looking at a few menus and realizing they had tofu (something completely foreign in Spain) I was sold. So our first meal in Belgium was actually Asian, but it was really good. My favorite restaurant of the trip is still Trattoria Mariposa, but Shani decided this meal was her favorite.

My mom had sent me a link about things we had to check out in Brussels and top on my list (and her's) was the Chocolate Museum that was the first thing we decided to do. We arrived before the museum was opened so we went a block further down to La Grand-Place which is the center square of the city. It is a huge square filled with public and private buildings ranging from hotels to restaurants, museums (like, the Belgium Beer Museum) and other things all dating to around the 17th century. It was really pretty. Since we were there right after Christmas there was a huge tree in the middle.

After taking a bunch of pictures we went back to the Chocolate Museum. Its 4,50 for students and was definitely worth the price, especially considering how many samples there are. :) The museum is 3 levels of all sorts of things. On the first level there is a tempering machine where you can taste some chocolate dipped cookies, and also a demonstration kitchen. We checked out the rest of the museum while we were waiting for the next demonstration to start. On the 2nd level they have information about the make up of the different kinds of chocolates (level of coco butter, sugar level....), information on where cocoa is produced in the world, how its produced and a huge collection of tins and other containers to store chocolates, and of course, more samples :). On the top level they have a nice collection of hot chocolate cups and pots, some of which were really old. Also (costume nerd) they had some dresses that were made out of chocolate. It was really cool. Once we were done up there we went back downstairs to the kitchen for the demonstration. The chocolatier was this old guy who said he would do the demonstration in English and French but it turned out to be mostly in French. Luckily for me, I have visited my fair share of chocolate stores (my favorite being Jacques Torres in NYC) so I knew about the process already. At the end of the demonstration he let us taste one of Belgium's famous pralines. It was way good.

The demonstration

Information and cocoa beans from all different places

The tempering machine (more like the tempting machine!)

Some of the hot chocolate pots
The praline 
If any of you know anything about Brussels, one of the main things that is required to see/the city is known for is the peeing boy statue called Manneken Pis. We decided that that would be our first landmark to see before we went wandering around. While we were walking towards the statue we decided that it was a good time to try some famous Belgium waffles. What a crazy idea that was. Instead of just getting a plain one to start we decided to go all out and get one doused with a ladle of Belgium chocolate on top. Let's just say that the first 3 bites were delicious, but it quickly went down hill from there. SUGAR OVERLOAD! The reason I add this part of the story in is because as we were eating this waffle we realized that there was a ton of people in this intersection, it seemed to be for no reason until we looked to the corner opposite us and realized that we were in fact standing in front of the famous statue. Now, previously when we were walking around we saw some “mini” versions of the statues in the tourist shops, and a chocolate one in the Chocolate Museum. I actually thought those were mini versions, turns out it is actually full size. This statue is tiny (or actually life size). So we finished our waffle to the sounds of people saying “Oh, there it is!” “It's so small!!” and “Wow, that's it?!” We snapped a few pictures and headed out to keep exploring.

Yup. That's it.

Chocolate Waffle!!

The hostel we were staying at had given us a map made for young people by locals. On it were a few planned out walks to take you through all the interesting parts of the city. We decided that since we were close to the beginning of the European Walk we would go ahead and do it. It was scheduled to be 80 minutes, but definitely took us a lot longer, partly because I was stopping every 3 feet to take a picture and partly because Brussels is super confusing and we ended up getting lost a few times. This walk took us to see the European Commission's Directorate-General for Education and Culture building, the poor village, which used to be a part of town where very rich people from all over Belgium had their vacation homes, now it has about 33% unemployment. Crazy. We also saw the Art Nouveau area, the heart of Europe (Schuman Square) which is home to some really important buildings in all of Europe like the European Council, the European Commission and Brussels' Arc de Triomphe. 

Since this walk was taking us longer than we planned we stopped to sample some more of Belgium's famous food: frites (french fries, or chips for my English friends). The place we stopped at was another recommendation from my travel book and from the link from my mom. It was called Maison Antoine and is just a little kiosk. They have a huge list of sauces you can get on top of your fries, I opted for Belgium's favorite topping, mayonnaise. I could have eaten those fries every day, they were so good!

After that we continued our walk which went through the museum area and finally ended at the European Parliament. Lots of important government things for all of Europe are in Belgium. I had no idea! After our long walk we went back to the hostel to relax and make dinner. Since we had yet to go out at night during our vacation I suggested we go to a bar recommended by the map called Moeder Lambic where they have 46 beers on tap, in 2011 they were elected the 10th best bar in the world. So with a recommendation like that we had to go! I decided to a famous Belgium beer which is brewed by spontaneous fermentation and is called lambic beer. I had never had a true Lambic beer before and the flavor definitely took me by surprise. It is a lot more sour than I thought, the first sip definitely was a little gross but after a few more the beer grew on me. I don't think I would order one again but I am glad I tried it. :)

The next day we decided to go on another walk the map suggested. Since our hostel was in the northern part of the city we decided the North Walk would be best, especially since we both had plans for the afternoon. This walk didn't pass as many historical monuments as the European one, it instead took us through a more modern part of the city. We passed the shopping district with a ton of really expensive stores, the Moroccan part of town (they seem to be like Chinatowns in the US, a ton of major cities have them) and the “exotic street” which at the time we thought meant like exotic dancers (foreshadowing.....get excited). Turns out it was just foods and products from around the world. We passed the port of Brussels which was not exciting at all and also the Citro├źn (car brand) factory.

The funniest part of this walk, and possible the entire trip was after the exotic street. We turned a corner and started seeing a lot of sex shops. After walking passed a few I jokingly said “wouldn't it be funny if we were in the Red Light District?” so we kept walking. Then we see a woman in a window, she was sitting down and at first we didn't realize she was real, then she moved. I had seen live mannequins before so I just assumed that’s what was going on. So, we kept going. We turned another corner and the entire street was full of sex shops, and in every window there were at least 2 women wearing the bare minimum to be covered. By then we pretty much figured we were in the Red Light District. We were literally the only females in this area who were not behind windows, it was super uncomfortable. And to make matters worse we had once again gotten lost, so standing on a corner trying to figure out how to get the hell out of there we learned that being female and standing on a street corner in this area is definitely not a smart idea. We decided to just take the next left which would get us to the other side of the bus station. Once we were there we figured out where we were on the map and decided to actually read the description of the walk to see if it warned us that we would be going through the Red Light District. Here is what it said: "When you arrive in Brussels North (station), your idea of Brussels will depend on the exit you rake out of the station. If you take the Bolivar exit, you end up in Brussels' largest skyscraper district. But if you take the Aarschot exit you end up in the red light district, where women sit behind windows to call men in for sex."What a great warning! Haha. So moral of that story is always read the descriptions BEFORE you leave. ;)

The beginning...

The moment we finally knew where we were....

Safely in the Sky Scraper District
Once we were safely back in a not sketchy part of town we split up. Shani had been training for a half marathon so she went on a run, and I went to the Musical Instrument Museum which was on my requirement list of things to see in Brussels. I got lost a ton of times trying to find the museum, even though according to the map, it was basically a a straight shot from our hostel. But along the way I found the Cathedral and a few other interesting places so it was ok. This museum is awesome! Its in a beautiful art nouveau building. They give you headphones when you get your ticket and you can listen to examples of most of the instruments. They had a ton of really crazy shapped and decorated instruments from all over the world and from all different time periods. They had pianos used by Mozart and Beethoven which was really awesome. One of my favorite things was this young American boy, he was there with his family and was getting incredibly excited over the violins. It was really cute and super encouraging for the younger generation. No Justing Beiber for him! I also saw a girl who was about ten dancing rave style to some harpsichord music. That was interesting. :p 

The building in the right corner is the museum

Some whistles. The elephant is my favorite.

On the lid of a harpsichord. If you look closely next to the well (left side) there are two men holding up a man who is throwing up.

View from the cafe on the top floor

Bonus Pictures!! (lucky you!)

Waffle. yum.
Manneken pis's Sister


This, believe it or not, is an instrument.

Peeing statue # 3


  1. I'd love to go back to Brussels! It is a fun city filled with great food...and history. Next time you get to Belgium you've got to go to Bruge...another fun city. I think next time I go I may want to rent a bicycle and explore the country side.

  2. Your post is making me hungry. But mayo on french fries? I don't know about that.

    1. Mayo on fries is amazing! Honey mustard is better though. :p