My Love for Brussels is Sprouting

***A belated post about my visit to Brussels (March 8th-10th, 2016).  I feel so fortunate to have gotten to visit this amazing city this semester.  The violence in Brussels this past Tuesday is truly heartbreaking, and I’m distraught by how this act of terror has destroyed the lives of some of the wonderful people of such a beautiful place.  I’m sending positive thoughts to this city that made me feel so at home in just 48 hours.

Highlights from our time spent in Brussels:

  • chocolate
  • waffles
  • frites
  • Tropismes
  • street art
  • coffee and conversation
  • Delirium
  • more food

Keeks and I arrived in Brussels around 9:30AM on Tuesday of our Spring Break.  After landing, we immediately located a Western Union to pick up a money order.  Just hours before our departure from Rome, Kiki’s bank card (and our only source of money) was swallowed up by the ATM on our campus.  With that sorted out, we then followed our written directions from google maps (since we are both phone-less), and traveled toward Etterbeek, Brussels, where our Airbnb was located.

Exhausted from travel and our 4 hours of sleep from the night before, we grabbed some cappucinos at a caffé near the Airbnb.  Afterward, we found the apartment and and our host greeted us with hugs.  We followed her up the ladder in to the attic where she showed us around our room for the next 48 hours.  There was a super comfortable bed, a cozy hammock hanging from the ceiling, a wooden partition with floral fabric standing in the room, and two skylights were implanted in the ceiling. One was above the hammock, and its opposite looked right up at the bell tower of St. Antoine’s church in the little neighborhood.  We set our backpacks down and joined our host downstairs for a cup of drip coffee, bread,  eggs and a little conversation.  Then, when we were ready to head in to the city,  she kindly led us to the correct tram stop and made sure we had a general idea of where we were going.

When we made it to the small, city center, we immediately found Mannekin Pis- a statue of a peeing boy.  After crossing the statue off of our touristy list, we thought we were kind of done seeing him.  False.  There are replicas of all sizes and colors throughout the city center.  Some are actual fountains where he’s peeing beer or other liquids, and others are holding ice cream cones or waffles in their free hand. The kid is literally everywhere.

Turns out, he’s actually part of series of three peeing statues in Brussels.  There’s also the girl statue, Jeanneke Pis, and a dog, Zinneke Pis.  We didn’t seek out the dog, but we did find the less-famous Jeanneke Pis.  She’s located in a little alleyway, right across from Delirium, and is blocked off by red, metal bars to prevent vandalism of the fountain.  And she, like her brother statue, pees unashamedly in her little corner of Brussels.  You do you, Boo.  You do you.

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From there, we  wandered around the city to get a general idea of our own whereabouts as well as those of the cooler spots.  We took our time and passed through Grand Place (the main city square) many times to get down the different streets, hoping to come across new, wonderful pockets of waffle-scented air. At one point, we made a pit stop  for some Belgian fries before carrying on. This time though, we set out with the intention of finding walls that are a part of the comic book route in Brussels along with other works of street art.  We came across one alley in particular that I especially enjoyed.  It’s a Rainbowhouse project, and if you’re into street art with a little bit of LGBTQIA+ advocacy, I definitely recommend checking it out.

Next stop was the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate where we paid five euro for a chocolate demonstration.  While we waited for the demonstration to begin, we helped ourselves to the containers of different chocolates that lined the wall.  Each one was filled with chocolates of a varying percentages of cocoa in them – creating a chocolate rainbow. AND there was a chocolate machine that constantly flowed with creamy milk chocolate, and biscotti sat alongside the machine for dipping purposes.

Our guide was a young man whose smile was contagious and his enthusiasm for his job admirable. He easily switched between English (for Kiki and I) and French (for the couple alongside us) throughout the session.  A small, glass partition separated us from a vat of melted milk chocolate and the giant block of cocoa sitting next to it (the before picture of the melted chocolate).  With the grace and ease of woodland fairy dancing among wildflowers, he stirred, scooped, poured, and smoothed some of the melted chocolate in to molding trays.  He then stuck these trays in the fridge, mimicked a timer, and pulled out some previously made and ready chocolates.  And all of this was done to demonstrate one way of making the little bite sized chocolates that were littered around his work space.  He gave us a few samples as he worked, and showcased the different shapes and creatures he’s made from chocolate (his woodland creature friends, I suspect).  At the end, we looked around the chocolate museum upstairs and finally left, feeling fat and happy.

Our next mission was to find a bookstore called “Tropismes.”  In our quest for this place, we without written directions.  But two bookstores and a few friendly strangers  later, we found it.  And happiness ensued. IMG_1938

Before becoming a bookshop, this space was once a dance school and then a famous jazz club in the ’60s.  Its mirrored dance halls and the ornate ceiling  from the building’s earlier uses remain and make for a truly unique space.  One that makes the book-lover’s mind gallop and spin and twirl – hyped by the seemingly endless rows of books and their reflections in the mirrored walls.  What a treasure.

In the small english section, I was pleasantly surprised to find many books having to do with feminist topics and other social justice issues.  The temptation was too real.  So I bought myself a book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of “We Should All Be Feminists.” She’s an author whose  works I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time now, so double-win for finding a smaller treasure within a larger one.

We ended the day with a falafel kebab dinner before heading back to our Airbnb.  We planned to turn in for the night fairly early, because we both needed to catch up on sleep.  And we did manage to get to bed at a decent time, but not before hanging out with our host and some of her friends that were over when we arrived.  Our host scored at a job interview earlier that day, made dinner, and invited some friends over to celebrate.  She even offered us some of the food she’d made –  sausage, rice (yellow and from Ecuador apparently), and this tomato-bean mixture.  And lucky for me, I got twice the sausage, because Kiki is a vegetarian.  SO, second dinner was delicious.

While we ate, we talked to our host and her three friends – all in their 20’s also – and got to hear a bit about what schools they’re going to and what they’re studying.  Our host is tri-lingual, and two of the three friends she had there speak English and French fluently, so there was a lot of translating for Kiki and me.  And a lot of hoping, on my part, that when I head back to the States, I don’t become content knowing only one language again (because LANGUAGE IS COOL).  After about an hour of conversation and food, we excused ourselves with thank you’s and finally caught up on those Z’s.

The next day, we left the attic around 10AM, grabbed coffee near our Airbnb, and then followed our written directions toward what was supposed to be The Cinquantenaire, a triumphal arch that provides a great view of the city.  We followed the directions exactly, but ended up some place that wasn’t our original ending destination.  We rolled with it and instead found a terrace with a good view of its own.  We took in the view for a bit and then walked until we found a pretty neat, eclectic antique store which we looked through for quite some time.

Then the all powerful and deciding STOMACHS demanded that lunch follow.  At a small grocery store near the antique shop, we purchased a baguette, a pack of gouda cheese, and some paprika chips for a beautifully simple and cheap lunch.  It was too cold to eat outside on any nearby steps or bench, so we hopped on to a tram and relished in its warmth as we ate.  Only after we were all warmed up and full did we hop off the tram and get on a different number going toward the city center.

We strolled through Grand Place again, but as it got later, it also got colder.  Once more we sought out a warm place and picked a caffé.  Distracted by good coffee and conversation, we remained there for at least an hour.  And what did we do next after another day of consuming foods and beverages?  We headed out for a couple drinks, of course.  We were told by many to stop by  Delirium – a bar in the city center with more than 2,000 types of beer.  And we did.  As soon as we approached the bar, the bartender asked how old I was.  When I answered (20), the bartender raised his eyebrows in his surprise with a laugh and an “Oh,” but asked for no proof.  After that #ClassicBabyFaceMoment, I ordered a Delirium Red, which was pretty darn tasty. The place would’ve especially been a blast if we’d had more friends with us, but as it was, Kiki and I found ourselves a table and chatted as we nursed our drinks.

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Drinks with Gnomeo (and Keeks looking like the happiest person alive in the background)

When we finished, we decided it was high time for some famous Belgian waffles.  How had we not tried them until our second night in Brussels?  I’m not entirely sure.  I’m just as appalled as any other lover of waffles might be.  We purchased our treats/dinner near the Mannekin Pis statue and sat and ate them on the stoop of a closed up shop.  Mine was pretty simple with some gooey chocolate spread and powdered sugar.  Keeks’ had strawberries, nutella, and whipped cream.  We stole bites from each others plates, and both were scrumptious.  I’m definitely kicking myself for not having consumed waffles and only waffles during my whole stay in Brussels.

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Thoughts on Brussels?  It was pretty darn cool. Going in to the trip, I thought there’d be more for us to do.  And if we’d gone on more tours and in more museums instead of winging it, I’m sure the two days would’ve been more packed.  But at the same time, it was nice to have a bit of downtime when a lot of the semester has been “Go Go Go.”  Our 48 hours in this beautiful city was full of eating, people-watching, sight-seeing, reflecting, talking, and more eating.  Brussels was definitely good to us. 🙂

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