Highlights of Brussels
Brussels is quickly becoming a trendy spot for weekend getaways and holidays. Apart from its famous chocolates and beers there are many attractions that most visitors cannot begin to imagine. It is a centre of European culture, officially nicknamed ‘the European Village’, with almost 90 museums, beautiful parks, fascinating walks, trendy restaurants and bars.
Once I made up my mind about going to Brussels, I ran a quick couchsurfing search and Andrew's profile caught my attention. Born in New York, he has traveled and taught English in Europe and South East Asia and is now finishing his masters degree in Brussels. I figured we had a few things in common, at least as far as travel is concerned and we did, indeed, spend quite a bit of time reminiscing about good times in Chiang Mai and Siem Reap while exploring the city.
Even though it rained quite a bit when I got in, soon it was over and we were on our way to take advantage of this break in the weather. First stop was Brussels' famous Grand Place (pronounced as 'plas'), a square surrounded by very interesting-looking buildings.
Because of bad weather and the fact that it was a weekday, it was not very crowded. On Saturday it was a different story but we did find a nice spot to take pictures of the Plas in the north east corner, just up a flight of stairs.
Belgian Waffles and Mannekin Pis
My only experiences with waffles were Waffle House and an occasional twist-and-turn waffle maker in a hotel. Needless to say, I was not very eager to endulge in the waffle experience here, but when in Rome...
Andrew took me to 'a good place' called Leonardo's (on the north east street off the Place). It had many appetizing-looking waffles there, topped with strawberries, banana, chocolate, nutella, ice cream and every possible combination of these toppings. This is where being with a local was an advantage. Not only he knew a good place (the waffle shops are dime a dozen there), but he was also cautioned me about being a tourist and getting all those appetizing topppings. Turns out. Belgians eat their waffles 'plain', and they are just as delicious, and much cheaper, that way.
With the waffles in hand, we strolled down Rue des Chapeliers from the south east corner of the Place to another city highlight - Mannekin Pis, a fountain of a boy doing his thing. If you just had some ideas for potential picture poses there, as did I, here comes the disappointing part - it is actually very small and is fenced off, so only the 'standard' photos would do. Because of its size, it may also get very crowded, especially during the weekends since it only takes a dozen people to block the whole view, so plan accordingly!
And before you ask, we did find 'the other' fountain of a girl performing the same feat. It was even more disappointing, both in size, and the fact that it looked like she was doing it in a prison cell, behind the closed bars. There is also a statue of the dog doing the deed, but that was not close by so we did not go there.
Delirium Cafe is a well known beer haus with thousands of beers on the offering. Because it is so well know, it essentially became a tourist attraction of its own, not frequented by the locals and getting very busy on the off days.
We swung by for a couple of cold ones, partially because we were getting thirsty after the waffles and partially to drown the impressions of the imprisoned lady doing her business behind the bars.
The bar setup on the ground floor was pretty cool with keg lines running all over the place. There are a couple more floors, with certain beers offered only on certain floors.
We started off with a refreshing 9% blond before switching to a more traditional brew and spent some time enjoying the atmosphere before it started get crowded and we had to get going to meet up with Andrew's friends.
Chocolate and Cacao Museum
Besides beer and waffles, Belgium is also known for its chocolates so we decided to try to find the museum. The first day we got there just a minute before closing time so we returned the next day and were a bit disappointed. There was not much of a museum, with just a single room-worth of information and samples of 100% cocoa and cocoa butter (both pretty disgusting). In a separate room, they did demonstrations of how chocolates are made by hand. That lasted about 20 minutes and was actually pretty interesting and gave me some ideas for trying at home in the future.
In the end, we still did not feel we got our money worth there and if anyone is going to Koln, I would highly recommend visiting Lindt chocolate museum there - in retrospect, it was day-and-night comparison.
Luckily, the chocolate museum was really the only disapointment for me in Belgium (well, maybe add the rain to it). Otherwise, I had a great time, Andrew was a great guide and host, and when we got together with his friends later that evening, more drinking and good times ensued. I barely even felt the effects of 37 hours without sleep (with just one hour of cat nap) until we got back to his place at 4 in the morning.