Friday 17 August 2012

Chocolate Waffles and Beerish Mussels

After learning our Eurostar pricing lesson from trying to travel to London before, we knew to book our UK exit leg a few weeks in advance for a more reasonable price. We collected our tickets at busy London St Pancras Station, plus a portable dinner with ginger ales from the token Marks and Spencers shop, before boarding the speedy train. The first of a long series of Euro-Asian locamotive adventures to come!

English suburbia slipped away into Channel Tunnel darkness, re-emerging as French countryside that blended into Belgian fields and towns, pulling into Brussels late at night. There was a funky night carnival that had set up shop in the middle of the road near the station (why not?!), so we poked around enjoying the bright lights and sounds.

The next day was our one full day of sampling Belgium. We headed straight for the Grand Place since it was pretty much Brussel's tourist-central, and found a giant carpet of begonias occupying almost two thousand square metres of it! Turns out we had landed just in time for Brussel's Flower Carpet, a vibrant art piece displayed over few summer days every couple of years. Just gorgeous. We don't normally get this sort of timing right, so we were pretty stoked to see it.

We admired the carpet for awhile, taking in the baroque gothic grandeur of the Grand Place, before wandering off through the streets.

Brussels Town Hall, Grand Place - Brussels
The streets were very European and lovely enough, but it appeared that there was a re-occurring theme resonating down the maze of cobbled paths and stone archways.

Waffles, chocolate, beer and mussels.

So we dutifully tucked into a few sweet crunchy slabs of dough with our morning coffee, attempting to differentiate between a Liège and a Brussel. Purist connoisseurs would say we ruined both with oh-so-decadent toppings, but we enjoyed them nonetheless.

Brussels Waffle, dusted with sugar and drizzled with melted chocolate - Brussels
Liège Waffle, dusted in sugar and topped with strawberries and vanilla ice-cream - Brussels
It was difficult to choose which chocolate shop to try - there were so many! - but we figured we couldn't really go wrong here in this town. We stocked up on some fine nibbles for the road, and were not disappointed. They certainly gave Swiss chocolatiers a run for their money, although I wouldn't choose one over the other. Rather, it would seem that both countries make this wonderful world a sweeter place.

A Selection of Belgian Chocolate - Brussels
Surrounded by a myriad of chocolate shops, we happened across this cheeky little fella in a compromising position. At least the The Friends of Manneken-Pis made sure he had clothes on this time.

Manneken-Pis in one of his hundreds of outfits - Brussels
We settled in for the requisite moules-frites lunch, a dish I had been craving as much as Ben had been craving a good Belgian beer. So we got stuck right into both, enjoying sunny street-side alfresco dining, with accordion players providing a festive soundtrack for people-watching. Ben was sitting back, looking particularly content, and for awhile I thought the beer had gotten to him already. "It's odd how we can be travelling for so long, but only sometimes my mind actually realises that I'm in another place" he mused. Uh, sure thing Ben.

Moules-Frites (mussels and fries) - Brussels
Spatially-displacing mussels tucked safely away in our bellies, we hunted down a small bar called Au Bon Vieux Temps, hidden down an alleyway away from the tourist crowd, just how we like it. The beer selection was limited but good, and it's three-hundred year old heavy timber-beamed chapel and stain-glass windowed styling had a wonderfully authentic feel to it because yes, the bar was actually that old! It felt like a local pub, and we struck up a conversation with a friendly regular named Vladamir (a local lecturer originally from Russia) who divulged opinions on various topics such as the French versus Flemish language issue in Belgium, and where to go in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Stained Glass Window in Au Bon Vieux Temps - Brussels
A friendly way to end a tourist's day.

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