Fair warning: this post talks about food a lot, and may make you hungry.
This week has been all about projects. Especially Monday. In French, we were assigned a 10-minute video speaking project, and a paper. In International Contract Law, my group had to write and turn in the ‘dissertation’ for our presentation on the World Trade Organization and anti-dumping laws. In Communications, my group had to present half of our mid-term project on AirBnB. On Thursday, I discovered that my People and Organizations class was canceled… but not until I had gotten up, dress, taken the train to the school, and the classroom was empty. Figures. My International Marketing professor also assigned us a group project, but at least that one isn’t due for a few weeks.
Friday was exciting because after class Ariel and I headed to the Gare du Nord so we could catch our train to Brussels! The ride from Paris is only an hour and a half, so you could make it a day trip if you are short on time.
Belgium is known for 4 (or 5) food things: waffles, chocolate, beer, fries (and moules-frites). Naturally, I ate all of them.
We arrived in Brussels and checked into our hostel around dinner time, so as soon as we had put down our things and charged our phones (hey, we’re college students), we headed toward the Grand Place in search of food. The Grand Place is the main square in Brussels, and it was all lit up when we got there!
Naturally, it was also full of tourists, but where there are tourists, there is food. We ended up eating at a place where we got an appetizer, entree, and dessert for around 12 euros. I had a very French/Belgian meal: escargots, moules-frites, and a liege waffle. Afterwards we made our first of many forays into the many chocolate shops.
Pro tip: 1) “entré(e)” means ‘enter’ or ‘start’ in French, so when you see it on a menu in a French-speaking country it is referring to an appetizer, not a main course. 2) There are 2 different kinds of ‘Belgian’ waffles– liege and Brussels. A liege waffle is made from a dough (as opposed to a batter) and has little pockets of sugar in it. A Brussels waffle is what most people think of as a Belgian waffle– soft and fluffy.
On Saturday, Ariel and I started out by searching for a brunch place we had found on Pinterest. Peck 47 was great. I had ‘greens’ waffles with smoked salmon and poached eggs, which was not only delicious, but also filling.
After breakfast we followed our usual pattern when visiting a new city– we went on a free walking tour. This is easily the best way to learn about a city (especially if you aren’t already very familiar with it), make sure you see all of the main attractions, and get advice on where to visit, not visit, or eat. Our guide, Adrienne, was a French expat who has lived in Brussels for the last 20 years; he gave us all sorts of information on Belgian history that I had never heard before. My favorite story was about how the Belgian Revolution began at the Opera.
At the time, Belgium was under the rule of the Netherlands. Up to this point the Belgians were very unhappy, but there wasn’t any real violence. The king of the Netherlands and his officials banned an opera (about Siscily’s sucession from Spain) that was going to be performed in Brussels. The Belgians decided to perform the opera anyway, and the show was sold out because how often “do you get to be gangster by going to an opera?” During one of the songs, all of the people in the building got really into the song, and were standing up on their seats and singing. Soon it spilled out into the streets like a riot, and they took over government buildings, and that was the beginning of the Belgian Revolution.
On the tour, we saw the Manneken Pis (one of the 3 most disappointingly small icons of Europe), murals of comic book characters like Tin Tin (because comics are considered an art form in Belgium, and Brussels is the #1 place for comics in the world), the Grand Place (the main square which had just finished being renovated and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the Opera (where the Belgian Revolution started), the Cathedral of Saints Michael and Gudule (where I ended up attending mass), and the Royal Palace (which the King only visits once or twice a year).
After our tour, Ariel and I decided that since we had a) not had lunch, and b) not had fries, that we should have fries for lunch, so that’s what we did. At the end of our tour we had asked our guide for recommendations of places to go for food, so we went to the fries place that he recommended. Even though neither of us are particular fans of beer, we also went on the beer tasting that evening. During our walking tour, our guide had told us that, in Belgium, if you love beer, he can find one you would hate, and if you hate beer, he can find one that you’ll like. On the beer tasting we tried 4 different beers (from several different bars). The last place we went to was Delirium, which has the World Record with over 2,000 different beers. Ariel was disappointed because even with so many varieties, they did not have an orange beer, but they did have a chocolate beer which was pretty good (I tried it).
Pro tip: 1) when you go on a tasting in Europe, they will give you full glasses, not just a taste. I recommend not drinking the whole thing. 2) Belgian beers have a much higher alcohol content than in other places– averaging 8-10%.
On Sunday, because the trip home was so much shorter than normal, we had a lot of time in Brussels before we had to head back to Cergy. There is no better way to start your day with waffles, especially in Belgium! We went to a place called the Waffle Factory which is about halfway in between the Grand Place and the Manneken Pis. Since neither of us had eaten a Brussels waffle yet, so we each had one of those– I had two. First, I tried a plain one (just powdered sugar); I highly recommend it, but, fair warning, the waffles you make at home will never stack up. Then, I had to have one with chocolate, so I got another one with bananas and Belgian chocolate. Yum!
After by far the best breakfast I have had in Europe– yes, I know, I said that Saturday’s breakfast was great, and it was, but I’m a sucker for waffles– we made our last trip to a chocolate shop before I had to go to mass. I went to mass at the Cathedral of Saints Michael and Gudule, who are the Patron Saints of Brussels. On the outside the cathedral looks pretty similar to Notre Dame de Paris, but the inside is much simpler. Unlike Notre Dame, you can’t tour the church while masses are going on, which was actually a relief. After mass, Ariel wanted to have Chinese food for lunch because you can’t find it in Paris, so that’s what we did. Before we headed to the train station to go back to Paris, we did a little bit more wandering around, looking at all of the Christmas decorations and looking for the Peeing Dog. (No, I don’t know what it is with Brussels and peeing things.)