Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Mussels from Brussels

Offline update
We arrived at Bruxelle-Midi/Zuid/whateverthehellyouwanttocallit train station with no problems. I got in touch with Kimchi, a friend of mine who now lives in Brussels, and got metro directions to go meet up with her for our own little mini-tour of the center of town. Sarah and Spencer split off to do some shopping, while Elena, J and I spent some time figuring out how to ride to the De Brouckere stop. Once we did get on the metro, it was pretty fast and easy, and a bargain at €4 for a day pass. And I was excited that I got to buy our tickets in French, a language I'm not all that self conscious about using, as opposed to say, Dutch or Spanish.

As we were rounding the corner to the escalator out of the station, we heard "Omid!" It still doesn't cease to amaze me when I see friends who live part way around the world. It warms my heart that the world's become so small that it's not inconceivable to meet up with buddies in other countries at a moment's notice.

One thing I did notice, though, is that people in Brussels are ugly. I mean, really really homely. Not to be judgemental of people's looks, but it was hard not to stare at the masses of genetically unblessed, or simply fashion clueless. Not that I'm any sort of Adonis or anything, but like being in Houston or St. Louis, I felt like a supermodel walking around here. That's pretty bad.

But they make up for it by being friendly and warm. Having a lot of French friends, and having absorbed French pop culture, I know it's in fashion to bash the Belgians. Honestly, I don't see why. There wasn't a single shopkeep or transit employee or waiter who wasn't friendly and courteous. Instead of the Parisian cool I'd been used to, I experienced Bruxelloise warmth.

And Bruxelloise mussels and fries - or moules frites if you're so inclined. After walking around the Grand Place and getting the gist of the tourist traps around town, Kimchi took us to Chez Léon, venerable home to the quintessential Belgian dish. Despite the touristy atmosphere, Léon boasts over 100 years of history and is supposed to serve hands down the best moules frites in town, all at some of the best prices. And I don't doubt that. We all gorged on big pots of mussels, going almost completely silent other than the occasional "Mmmmmm!" while we ate.

The obligatory stop at the Manneken-Pis (the pissing boy statue), was followed by all the obligatory statements of how underwhelming the thing is. Kimchi likened it to the Mona Lisa - you hear about it for years and years, it's world famous, and it's practically a must-see institution for anyone who's in Brussels. But then you see it, see how tiny it is, and walk off a bit unsatisified. Oh well - at least the guy at the gift shop across from the Manneken-Pis was entertaining. I went in to buy a Belgium patch for my backpack, and walked off with a social commentary railing on about Turks, North Africans, East Europeans, and pickpocketry. Ahh, good to see that political correctness hasn't spread to old Belgian shopkeeper curmudgeons!

Next stop: Au Bon Vieux Temps (Flemish: De Goede Oude Tijd, English The Good Old Times), a very cozy, traditional beer bar featuring over 20 various Belgian ales. J and I opted for La Double - apparently the only Trappiste ale on draft, while Kimchi and Elena, being girls, went for the raspberry and cherry lambics. If you know Belgian ales, you know they're not chugging beers. They're perfect for slowly sipping while talking to friends after work, the type of lifestyle I could totally get used to.

Our time in Brussels was winding down, so it was off to Leonidas to buy a load of chocolate. Sure, there are the more famous Godiva and Côte d'Or outlets, but I can get those easily at home. Leonidas is apparently "the people's choice" for both quality and value, and having not been steered wrong with Chez Léon, I wasn't about to doubt Kimchi's now-expert opinion on Belgian food. We pretty much spent our remaining time in Brussels picking out tons and tons of chocolate to take home. How it was going to fit in our luggage, I wasn't at all sure, but we'd figure something out.

Eventually, it was time to get back to Midi/Zuid/watchamacallit and check in for the Eurostar. Now this is how travel should be. Check in, go through light security, and grab your seat on the high speed Chunnel train. Unfortunately, being nightfall, there was little to see, so we got bored pretty quickly. Elena was feeling sick and trying to sleep, while J and I were fidgety.

Besides the four Jupilers we'd brought on board, and summarily downed, we decided to keep going back to the bar car for beer and snacks. I mentioned earlier that Belgian ales aren't for chugging. We decided to toss logic out the window and pounded back Duvels like they were going out of style. With a nice beer buzz from 9% strength brew, the ride was slightly less boring. Of course, I do stupid things when I'm drunk and have cabin fever. Like eat a bunch of waffles. Or take a £20 bet to lick the bottom of Elena's Adidas. You know, the same Adidas that have strolled the shit and vomit-laden streets of Barcelona, Amsterdam, and now Brussels. Bring it on - if it doesn't kill me, it'll make me stronger, right? Or give me something that'll help me shed the pounds I've packed on during this gustatory trip.

1 comment:

  1. You are so right about Brussels. For handsome men, one must go to Denmark or Switzerland.