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BELGIUM
 
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This was another one of our weekend warrior trips out of Detroit. We left Thursday afternoon with arrival in Brussels on Friday morning. It was the usual Delta drill— a short commute to Atlanta to begin the trip for real from there.

This was our first experience with Delta’s new enhanced "Business Elite" service and we were quite impressed. The seats were very comfortable with more distance between the seat ahead than you’d ever need.

The flight out of Atlanta was excellent. We headed northeast and flew right over Charlotte. Next appearing off to the left quite close was Washington. Then came Philly, New York (which is absolutely brilliant at night from the air!), Boston and then over Canada. Finally came St. John, Newfoundland and those were the last lights we saw until we hit the Irish coastline.

It was raining and hard when we touched down in Brussels during this early December trip. Our initial plan had been to catch a couple of hour’s worth of shut-eye and then tour the city and have a nice dinner. The weather was so awful that we decided to catch a train over to Luxembourg City. We’d rather spend three hours riding on a dry train than traipsing around in pouring down rain in Brussels. (You can read more about Luxembourg in that section of the WTG.)

We returned to Brussels the following day around noon and set off exploring on foot. Grand-Place is one of the finest public squares in all of Europe. It is surrounded by buildings of incredible design and as is usually the case in Europe, it was full of people. In this particular case it was nearing Christmas time and all kinds of special "booths" were set up selling various holiday items including candles.

Lunch came,by accident, at a wonderful little place called L’Auberge des Chapeliers at Rue des Chapeliers 1-3 just a few steps from Grand-Place. We had intended to chow down at a highly recommended place called Brasserie de la Roue d’Or because it specialized in a local favorite—stoemp. In fact, the owner was billed as "The King of Stoemp." Well the place was absolutely full and the not so kind headwaiter gestured us out of the place muttering something in French.  I'm not sure but I think he was scolding us for being so bold as to waltz in off the street and even think that they might have an empty seat or two!

So we stumbled down the way and found L’Auberge des Chapeliers. It couldn’t have been better. It was a small place in a very old building. It had three stories connected by the smallest and narrowest steps we’ve ever seen. We were seated on the second floor and ordered some mussel soup and our main courses—stoemp with sausages. If there’s one food that the people of Brussels enjoy more than any other it’s mussels. Each year’s crop is carefully evaluated, especially since they are actually harvested from the waters of nearby Holland and don’t actually come from Belgium. My soup was outstanding and the mussels incredibly plump. Our stoemp was good. I enjoyed it. Cindy gave it a so-so rating. But then again, I am adventurous and she is not. Stoemp is a dish consisting of mashed potatoes and finely chopped veggies all mushed together. I can’t say for sure what was in our stoemp "of the day" but I suspect cauliflower was in there and perhaps a little cabbage. Cindy noticed something rather curious on the menu---horse steak!!!! We’ve traveled around the world and we’ve never seen horse steak on a menu. We lingered over our Coke Lights and wondered whether they raised horses for their meat in Belgium or just "retired them" to the dinner table when they got old?!!!! By the way, if you like pure diet Coke in Europe, you’re out of luck. The closest thing they offer is Coke Light and when you’re used to diet soda, it just doesn’t measure up. Oh well….

Our hotel in Brussels—the Hotel Metropole---was a nice one although not a 5 star. I’d give it a strong four stars and while the room we had was rather stark, the public facilities at this hotel were incredible. The hotel is OLD and it shows—in a very nice and appealing way. It dates back to 1895 and features a ton of marble, gilt, super high ceilings, plants, flowers and interesting people milling about. Even in the nasty winter they have an outdoor Café that is covered and heated and it was very popular. We got a super rate on our room and it even included a typical European buffet for breakfast. That means rolls, cereals, hot scrambled eggs, and cold cuts, cheese, fruit juices, yogurt, etc. The Metropole’s location is outstanding---just a couple of blocks away from Grand-Place.

If you love mussels as the Belgians do, then you should try and hit a restaurant called Au Vieux Bruxelles at Rue Saint-Boniface 35. They cook mussels in a zillion different ways.


Our choice for a fresh fish dinner was a restaurant in the old Marche Aux Poissons area—the Old Fishmarket. The concierge at the Metropole highly recommended La Belle Maraichere so that’s where we headed on foot. It should have only been a five minute walk but we got turned around and finally arrived about 35 minutes later! Oy!!!

This was an elegant restaurant and I’m glad we had reservations because after we got there at 7:15 the place really filled up and fast. Tables were EXTREMELY close together, which we didn’t much care for. Our table for two literally had less than an inch and a half of space on each side separating our tables from others. The waiter had to pull the entire table out to seat us and then scoot it back in. We each enjoyed a five course set price meal and it was quite good. Our main course was sole meuniere—fish sautéed in butter. Dinner isn’t cheap in the Fishmarket area. Our tab came to just over $150 U.S. including cocktails. The meal was proceeded by a bowl of well seasoned teensy-tiny snails, compliments of the house. They provided a little pin like device to dig them out. Tasty!

There is one thing that I really appreciate about the French culture—and they speak French in Brussels—and that’s their love of dogs. While were dining at the fish place a couple came in with a little schnauzer and they were all seated at a table with the doggie nibbling off the woman’s plate from time to time! That’s cute, don’t you think?

We meandered around some more in the city and stopped by for a snapshot of the city’s most famous statue---Manneken-Pis. Think about those French words for a second and maybe it’ll come to you. (Give up?) Mannequin—statue, right? And pis…. We add an extra "s" on the end in the U.S. Yep—the peeing statue. It’s a lot smaller than we thought it would be.

An overall observation of Brussels is that it has one of the most extensive close-in freeway systems that we’ve seen in Europe and plenty of tunnels in the downtown area making it quite confusing to the newcomer. Let’s just say I’d never rent a car there!

We found the people of Brussels to be friendly and dignified and as Anglophones, we were surprisingly well received. In some unnamed countries (it starts with an "F" and rimes with dance!) Americans aren’t made to feel too terribly welcome in some cases.

Items you might want to shop for while in Brussels include their famous chocolates. If you wait until you head to the airport you can purchase them duty free before your flight. Brussels National Airport has a nice variety of duty free shops once you clear security.

Things you might want to do in Brussels that we didn't have time for might include a stroll through one of the city's many parks.  Many museums and places of interest are located along one road including the Royal Conservatory of Music, the Royal Fine Arts Museum, and Parliament--to name a few.

If you are "normal" travelers you'll probably have a chance not only to spend a decent amount of time in Brussels but will be able to get out an explore other areas of this surprisingly interesting country like Antwerp.

Belgium holds a powerful position in Europe.  Brussels is the host city for the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is also based in the city.

I wish we had had more time in Brussels. But as usual, if given a chance to take a three-day trip to Belgium and Luxembourg or NOT take the trip…I’ll take the trip anytime. And besides, we got a great Delta fare and upgraded to Biz Elite through miles.

Currency is the Euro.  It used to be the Belgian Franc.  Driving is on the right side of the road. You'll need a passport for a trip to Belgium.

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