Brussels Part Two: Tintin, peeing boys, snails and getting down with the kids

Date I was there: 4 October 2014

The next morning marked the start of our one and only day in Brussels. It was a good job we hadn’t gone out the night before because we had a lot to pack in. We started off with the cultural activity of shopping: Zara, Mango, H&M- I truly believe we saw the real Belgium as we wandered up and down the Rue Neuve. This was apparently the best place for shopping in Brussels- we came back with approximately zero bags between two of us. And we dedicated hours.

Our mission was originally to find swimming costumes. One of the main reasons we picked the Sheraton Hotel was because it had a pool and it didn’t occur either of us to pack stuff to swim in. We went to take a peak to see if it was worth the investment. It wasn’t not nice- although it wasn’t the same as the pools at the Sheraton in Luxor- the circular one overlooking the Nile or the one inspired by a lagoon and which came complete with a whirlpool/hot tub. This one was on the 30th floor so it was swimming with a view but this pool was clearly designed for actual swimming. The ones in Luxor were better used for relaxing in the sun- or at least that’s what I used them for. I had intended to swim but it was just too hot- oh well, it’s the thought that counts anyway. This time, exercise didn’t factor into my plans for the weekend. For similar reasons I didn’t use the onsite gym.

Breakfast at our hotel was about €20 per person so we’d decided to pass and find food on the go. We originally sat down at a Häagen-Dazs cafe, intending to get some Belgian waffles but after looking at the prices we moved on. Instead  we sat down outside the Le Brosella, near the Place des Martyrs. Sadly all the seats in the sun were taken but at least sitting in the shade meant that we didn’t have to squint at each other across the table. I figured I should probably something cultural so I picked the only thing I could see with the word Flemish in the title: Flemish beef stew with beer (Carbonades Flamandes). I love beef stew so I considered myself a bit of a connoisseur, so I feel qualified to say that it was damn good. Literally completely delicious. Alcohol really does make food taste better: steak & ale pie, beef & Guinness pie- you know what I’m saying. Although you do have to draw the line somewhere, I mean don’t ever put sambuca in my food. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Anyway, I later found out that the dish is indeed one of the local delicacies to try in Brussels- so that was handy, considering the fact I time for precisely two meals during my stay. I ordered a Mystic beer to go alongside it- basically fruit-flavoured beer. I went for peach flavour. It tasted okay but smelt like… not nice. As long as I drank without breathing though it was rather refreshing- I prefer sweet beer. My friend didn’t notice the smell at all though so maybe that was just me. It took a little while to get our drinks and the bill at the end- there were quite a few tables full and not that many waiters- but the food came quick.

Once we’d finished and paid up, it was time to head to the Grand Place to join the Sandemans New Europe free walking tour, which leaving there at 2pm. On the way, my travel buddy spotted Pierre Ledent- somewhere that does very snazzy-looking macarons. Unlike last night’s McDonald’s ones, these were delicious. My coconut one was insanely good- crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside. Walking along, it quickly became clear to us why you would visit Brussels. The city has a series sweet tooth. There were macarons on every corner (I mean, they sell them in McDonald’s for goodness sake), giant meringues and, of course, chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.

Anyway, back to the tour. Anyone who reads my blog with any frequency (thanks for that by the way!) will know that I kinda love these tours. The guides are always enthusiastic and knowledgeable and they are particularly good when you know nothing about a city. In this case I knew literally nothing. Not even what the tourist attractions were. I mean I knew the EU‘s Commission, Parliament and Council were there but that was it. This time my guide’s name was Omar and he was from Venezuela. He treated us to five seconds of salsa dancing before we set off. For three hours, he took us around the city, telling us about the Grand Place, the Town Hall, the Maison du Roi, the Stock Exchange, the Galeries Saint Hubert, the Monnaie Opera, the St Nicolas’ Church, the Royal Square, the Mont des Arts, the Royal Palace and the Royal Park. Brussels does have some amazing architecture. We also saw the Manneken Pis- a statue of a peeing boy which was so loved by King Louis XV that he knighted it. This means that the peeing boy has to be saluted by French soldiers. He has since been dressed in more appropriate attire than his birthday suit.

We also got an introduction to the country’s huge comic book scene, which is apparently marked by various murals around the city. We saw one of Tintin. The street itself is unofficially named Tintin street– we were told if we were drunk later and needed a ride we could call the police and tell them we were on Tintin street and they would know exactly where to collect us. I didn’t test that out.

After walking around for three hours, we were completely exhausted and so collapsed back in our room for a little while before The Big Night Out. This was the time where I actually had to attempt to put on make-up, as promised. I only made one attempt and my friend told me it was acceptable enough to leave the wrong. I chalk that one up as a win. The one night we were there turned out to be the Nuit Blanche– a night where there are festivities all night, all over the city and everyone comes together to party. Sadly this was also the night of the massive amount of rain, which came down as we sat outside at the restaurant we’d found, where we eventually had to move inside to stop the wind throwing the rain into my perfectly made-up face. I have no idea what the restaurant was called but lets just say the prices reflected the touristy area near the Grand Place. We had to go for the 3 courses for €18 option. It was okay. My tomato soup was alright, my steak and chips in some kind of gravy/sauce was actually pretty good but the small waffle was awful. I couldn’t finish it- ME! And believe me I tried. But there was steak and wine so I was happy. My friend decided to try snails- y’know when in Rome. Well, when in Rome you eat pizza, when you’re in Brussels you eat the French delicacy of Escargot apparently. They were alright (obviously I had to eat them too). It was kind of like a cross between mussels and mushrooms, swamped in garlic sauce. There are definitely worse things (see here for proof).

We left in search for a bar and happened to stumble across Delirium– somewhere we’d heard was meant to be the best bar in Brussels. The drinks were good, there were deals on shots, the decor was pretty cool and it was packed- so I guess I can see why. It was there that we bumped into the Dutch- a group of guys who started a conversation by saying they had bets on my age- 25-28 I think was the range. I’m 23. That means I’ve reached the age where looking older is an insult not a compliment. Still, we stayed with them for the rest of the night which ended in a club called You. It was just the place I wanted to end up. The music was recognisable (aka chart pop) and it was buzzing. The only problems were: (1) it was €15 to get in, and (2) we were far and away the oldest people there. No one looked older than 18. Still we finally stumbled into the back of a taxi at 5.30am, surprisingly kebab-free. I usually leave early for food. Apparently a Brussels night out had made me young again. Although that doesn’t explain the lack of food.

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