Day 8 — Mussels in Brussels
Day 8 — Au revoir France. Allo Belgique.
We spent a wonderful week and a day in France but it was time to move on. And we were ready to discover something new (actually something else that was really old).
The French high-speed train is truly a marvel and at 200+ mph, got us to Brussels in what seemed to be about an hour. Predictably, we had the pleasure of sharing a car with screaming babies, but why should the train be any different than the plane?
Upon our arrival in Brussels’ Midi station, it didn’t take us long to realize that we weren’t in Kansas anymore …. er, Paris. The language may be the same (there’s Flemish on all the signs, too, but the predominant language in Brussels is French), but that’s about where it ends … not counting the cute pastel money that most all of the EU shares.
The architecture is different, the cuisine is different, the streets are different and the people are definitely not French, but Belgian. It took us a while to figure out how to navigate the subway (which is not nearly as thorough as the Parisian Metro) and then find our hotel, but after a few tense minutes, we rolled into our home for the week.
AND IT HAD AIR CONDITIONING, AS ADVERTISED. The room was spacious, quiet and comfortable. We’d had enough charming. While it was great, it was also inconvenient and hot … but it was very charming. It was time for some comfort. It’s all in the booking strategy. Always book the most international (read: AMERICAN) hotel at the point of the trip where you might be getting a bit tired of the hectic tourism overload. You’ll find your second wind.
And we did.
We’ve got plans to see Bruges and Ghent on this trip to Belgium, so we figured we’d get our Brussels touring done first thing.
Went straight down the hill to the Grand Place and spent a lovely afternoon and evening wandering through the old and beautiful center of this ancient mercantile capital, marveling at the ornate buildings that line the plaza.
Before we really got into it though, we stopped and shared one of Belgium’s special treats — a fresh waffle, topped with dark chocolate, strawberries and lots of whipped cream. We figured that would tide us over until dinner. If we had each gotten one, it would have been dinner.
Our self-guided tour (thanks, Rick Steves) took us through the back streets and restaurant rows of the old town, eventually ending up in front of the most seriously screwy mascot any city ever had … the Manneken Pis, a tiny statue of a little boy taking a whizz. And we think we’re crazy for Bevo in Austin!
That little pisher is everywhere. Apparently the Bruxelloise have added new (in the past 20 years or so) statues of a little girl peeing and a dog peeing.
Dinner was mussels in Brussels. We had a great seafood meal, complete with the first of what will be more than a few Belgian beers. Maybe after enough beer, they’ll have reason erect a statue of an old dude from Austin peeing. Oh yeah, and frigging frites. They love their French (er, Freedom, er, Flemish) Fries here more than the French. And any Belgian on the street will explain to you how it was they, not the French, who developed the Happy Meal. What we’ve come to realize is that every meal on our trip from now on is going to be a happy meal, because these folks are serious about this stuff.
We even saw a frite shop that’s sign featured a Frite Pis. That’s right, folks, a French Fry taking a whizz. I wonder if it was whizzing mayonnaise.
We’ll find out tomorrow.
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