Thursday, January 23, 2014

December's Adventure: Day 7, Brussels

We enjoyed a pleasant night at our Brussels hotel and woke up refreshed on Friday morning. On our way downtown we stopped at the Carrefour grocery store two blocks from our hotel. To save money on my trips, I like to buy my drinks (if not filling up from the hotel tap) and some things to eat at the grocery store. Plus it's a great way to try out food that the locals eat daily! I was happy to find a couscous for breakfast, which was a slightly more healthful option than the various Christmas market foods I'd eaten. After some basic French by my cousins and some pantomiming by me, we convinced the helpful store clerk to give me a plastic spoon so I could eat the couscous.

Our first official stop was the City Museum of Brussels, or the Maison du Roi, on the site of the previous bread market hall located in the Grand Place. It covers the history of Brussels, including its art, architecture, design, culture, of all, Manneken Pis! There is a silly and cute documentary about the little statue. My favorite quote from the documentary is people, in many different languages, saying, "he is so small! I thought he'd be bigger." At two feet tall, he definitely not the towering "personality" that one would assume for a sculpture who has become the unofficial mascot of the city. In addition to the documentary, visitors can see many of M.P's costumes from different countries. There is even a computer where one can view a catalog of the costumes with more information.

I enjoyed the museum and would suggest if for those curious to learn more about the history of Brussels. The city itself has an interesting history and has been subject to many architectural changes. Also, it's fun to see the costumes of a "world famous" little peeing dude.

I did sit for a bit at the museum. After a week of extensive travel and walking at least 10 miles a day, my feet, even clad in my expensive and comfortable Christmas gift boots, were quite sore. We didn't take any public transport in the towns we visited after dumping the car; it was all walking. I love walking but after about 60 miles of it up to that point, my feet were saying they wanted a rest.

I was able to rouse myself for more sights and walking. Using the super handy and free Use-It Guide for Brussels, I had identified some things I'd like to see, do, and eat. My cousins very kindly obliged.

On the way we saw some interesting sights not on the list. For example, we found a small Christmas market tucked into a square. My cousins enjoyed some macaroons while I oohed and ahhed over a steampunk carousel. As vintage as it looked, it was built in 1999. How cool is it though? Many of the seats did interesting things, like the Pegasus that "flew." Here is an article about this magical contraption and its builders.

My cousins wanted to eat some more delicious quiches from a vendor they had found the night before in Place Sainte-Catherine, a nearby square. As they ordered, I stopped by the Brussels Use-It Guide location, also in the square. This was the first time that I actually went in-person to a Use-It office; normally I just print the guides from the internet. The office in Brussels is really neat; there is free wifi, friendly locals to meet, and free Use-It Guides, including other cities. I stopped by and told the volunteers how awesome I think that the guides are. And, just to be clear, I don't get anything other than the pleasure of recommending a good, free guide out of this :) I'm super impressed with the guides and the quality, non-commerical information written by locals. The volunteers at the office were pleased by my input and even offered me some guides that weren't on the general racks. As I left the office and looked at the Brussels guide, I realized that some of the people I talked to were pictured on the guide itself. It was a fun experience and great to meet some of the folks who made the guide happen.

One stop from the Brussels guide that I felt was a must-eat location was the Comus et Gasteria ice cream shop at Quai aux Briques 86 (in St. Catherine's Square). Oh. My. Goodness. That ice cream was divine! I ordered the salted caramel that the guide recommended. I also ordered lavender ice cream. It was fragrant and delicious. The guy who ran the place was a bit grumpy but I didn't even care. The artesian ice cream was fabulous. Ignore the proprietor's surly demeanor and make a trip there.

I decided to follow dessert with a lunch/dinner from the Christmas market at the square. I chose "poylee savoyarde," which looked similar to German  käsespätzle. I'm not sure if the blobs in it were potatoes or egg noodle* based like the German version, but the cheesy dish was was delicious.

This entry is getting long so I'll finish up the details of our Brussels day in another post.

*hehe. I'm getting quite Germanified here because when I first type the word "noodle," I wrote it with the German spelling. I'm finding myself doing that sometimes with other words too.

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