Keith and I were originally planning to go on this vacation in the fall. We both like to travel off-peak for better deals — not to mention for better chances of dealing with smaller crowds of tourists. Just as we were about to book our tickets for November, Keith realized that such a trip was impossible; he’s TAing a class (beginning tonight, actually) that runs through December… which is how we ended up in Europe in August, surrounded by other visitors.
Here are the Belgian highlights:
Checked into the Hotel Metropole, Belgium’s only hotel from the nineteenth century that is still operational. Braved the crowds and wandered around the Grand Place before sitting down to an early dinner at Chez Léon. Ordered moules á L’escargot with frites and the house beer (€22.20). Ate outside; it was very warm, and besides, we don’t get to dine al fresco often in Boston. I think it has to do with permits, which is a shame. Wandered around a bit more and, after visiting the Manneken Pis, ended up drinking beers outside at A La Mort Sabite. I had a Lambic Blanche, which was dangerously good. A girl could get in trouble easily drinking those.
Darlington‘s living in London now; she took the Eurostar in to hang out with us for the day**. Ate breakfast in the hotel, then headed out for a gossipy walk. Sites visited included the Place du Grand-Sablon, Parc de Bruxelles, the newly-opened Musée Magritte Museum*, the waffle vendor outside the museum, Pierre Marcolini on Avenue Louise, A La Bécasse and all the nice little neighborhoods in between. At Pierre Marcolini, we bought an obscene amount chocolates and had a tasting on a bench directly outside. Similarly, at A La Bécasse we each ordered the “Lambic Dégustation” and sampled Timmerman’s Lambic Doux, Lambic Blanc, Kriek and Bourgogne des Flandres. After a sad goodbye, Keith and I walked over to the Saint Catherine neighborhood for another mussels dinner at Le Pré Salé.
Hopped a train to Antwerp; met an incredibly friendly Dutch woman who gave us a tour of the Grote Markt before going on her way. Ate an unremarkable (but economical!) pizza lunch at Da Giovanni. Meandered into Walter and Yohji Yamomoto. Couldn’t find the Ann Demeulemeester store and MoMu was closed, so headed over to the river Scheldt, where we ate more waffles and watched couples make out. The view’s romantic, so we couldn’t blame them. Looked like it was going to rain sowe walked back towards the center, and just before the water started crashing down ducked into Quinten Matsijs and had a couple beers. (Later, I found out it’s the oldest bar in Holland and Belgium.) Dinner at Amadeus, back to Brussels for one last beer, then bed.
Caught a train to the incredibly picturesque city of Bruges, which is so pretty it’s almost ridiculous. Also ridiculous were the sheer amount of people present, taking photographs of the canals, the city hall and Sint-Salvator Cathedral. Checked out the Basilica of the Holy Blood, where I lit candles for my grandmother and grandfathers. Ate sandwiches from Deldycke whilst sitting on the river Dijver, then dropped into ‘t Brugs Beertje, which stocks over three hundred Belgian beers. I tried two different flavors of Lambic; Keith ordered a ‘t Smisje Dubbel after a mostaardbier by the same brewery. Dinner at the mundane Poules Moules before we traveled back to Brussels. Nightcap at Le Corbeau.
Mid-morning train to Ghent. Got the bus to the center, walked over to see The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb at Saint-Bavo’s Cathedral. Lit some more candles. Climbed way too many narrow winding stairs at Gravensteen, a castle from the Middle Ages that sits practically in the center of Ghent. Incredible views, though interrupted by cranes. Drinks at De Dulle Griet, which means Mad Meg and is a very famous painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Utterly delicious dinner at Brasserie ‘t Klokhuys, where I ate a Flemish beef stew and frites (€12.70) until I was stuffed. Beers at Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant, where we met a retiring-in-one-week naval man who insisted Keith have a Rochefort 10.
Last day, sort of, in Belgium — our plane tickets were round-trip out of Brussels Airport. Brunch at Café Mokafe in one of the covered galleries in the city. People-watch while chewed crusty baguette sandwich, then Keith-watched as he ate a waffle while we walked to Delirium Café for a beer. Directly across the entrance is the Jeanneke Pis, which made me wonder what is up with this city and peeing children. Strolled around aimlessly until stopping for a break at Chaff on the Place du Jeu de Balle. Fell madly in love with the cleverest street dog ever, then stopped by Lola for dinner before packing up at the hotel.