6 April 2014

seeing stars

Location || Brussels, Bruxelles, Brussel | Belgium

When you have good friends abroad, and not that far away either, then you should go and visit them. I couldn't believe I hadn't visited my buddy Max until only recently. We lived together at University and it was about time that I got my friend-act together. So, some friends and I decided to pre-book a weekend to Brussels to visit Max and get a view of the city from our favourite local. On top of that, we had a simple wish list as a group: moules-frites, chocolate, waffles and [try some] beer. This list would be accomplished two days into the trip [we're an easy bunch to please], so the list grew to also include: Magritte and dürüms. After a heart-racing early start, +Diane made the Eurostar with about 6 minutes to spare [it was all a bit too much at 6am], we arrived in Brussels-Midi and this is what we got up to. I've been to Brussels a few times now, the last trip got a few snippets on the blog, but if you've never been hopefully this will give some ideas of what you can get up to. Enjoy!


Places to See

It's funny how despite you thinking you know a place relatively well, a local can always show you something new in a city. Lucky for us, Max knows Brussels like the back of his hand. The oldest of the last remaining Belgian Magic Mirrors [a travelling dance hall, bar and entertainment salon] currently sits in the middle of Place d'Espagne which looked beautiful with all its detailing against a backdrop of modern high-rises and office buildings. Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert is a destination I don't think I could get tired of - it's a spacious passage filled with luxury boutiques [and famous chocolate artisans] which has a special, almost exclusive feel to it. Brussels, I found out on this trip, is a pretty foodie destination too if you know where to look. I had lots of fun ogling menus and having a sneak peak of what diners were having through restaurant windows. La Roue D'Or and Les Crustaces both looked like fun places to try. Finally, although I didn't actually get to shop, getting to see the Christmas markets being built brought a touch of holiday fun to our trip.

Places to Walk

Although Max had a car, I actually think Brussels is a very walkable city. Most of the key places to see in town are close together and as with all of my trips to the city of blue stars: walking around the European Parliament buildings has become a little ritual. A car is useful, particularly as it was pretty cold when we went, but if you don't have one and aren't a fan of walking, there are also Vill'O! yellow public bikes [the equivalent of our Boris bikes]. There are some hilly parts [like climbing up to the Place Royale via Mont des Arts for the good views], but generally you'll be weaving around cobbled little streets, beautiful squares [like Grand Place], palaces [Palais de Bruxelles] and gardens. One of my favourite views this time around was at the top of the city in front of the Law Courts of Brussels - if I was a great cook, I would open up a pop-up restaurant on that roof top with those views!

Places to Eat

Did we eat well? Did we just… Our wish list items were either food or beverage related so I'm sure it's no surprise what we ended up focusing on to get this trip rocking and rolling. Number one on that list was chocolate: I made sure to visit the lovely folks at Neuhaus to stock up on some goodies for the family [and my secret stash of course]. Next stop was finding a beer us ladies thought was fun to drink: enter the delicious Pecheresse, a super fruity and refreshing golden bundle of joy. Try it, you won't be disappointed. When in Belgium, the other must-have is of course waffles: after a quick search in the guidebook, we opted for the most famous house of waffles Maison Dandoy on rue au beurre [aka butter street - how very apt]. I opted for the Liège waffle with some dark chocolate, cooked cherries and cream. YUM. [More about how they're made here.Maison Dandoy also make [and are very famous for] their speculoos biscuits so make sure to try those too. The next treat is number one for those who aren't going to Belgium for the sweet stuff, I am talking about mussels: I ended up having the classic white wine and garlic pot with some tasty frites on the side. I can rarely finish a pot of mussels but this was just too good to waste. Finally, probably one of the best meals I've had was at 'T Park in a little town called Tervuren near where Max lives. I had [one of the best] duck breast with seasonal veg followed by an apple tarte tatin - it. was. so. so. GOOD.

Other Things to Do

Brussels is not the biggest place and we were lucky to have a local who knows it well. However, even without local knowledge there's plenty to fill a weekend with [though not a full week, I would go to Bruges too if you have the time!]. The eating alone will take half your time. For the other half, you can learn about chocolate and waffle making, shop and browse the cute little markets and shops, and visit good old Manneken-Pis and his sister Jeanneke-Pis and get cultured: we ended up going to the René Magritte exhibition at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts. I only knew a little about Magritte's work [think apple-headed man in bowler hat, called The Son of Man] so it was a good opportunity to learn more about Surrealist art and get to know about Magritte's full portfolio on his home turf. Earlier in his career, Magritte designed these beautiful entertainment posters which I absolutely loved and as his style developed over time, you get to see his intelligence and humour shine through even more. Definitely worth a visit if you are interested in art - I'm really glad Max recommended it to us as was one of the highlights of the trip.

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