Day 3 - "Where Museums and Food Collide" - Brussels
June 12, 2013
There was a certain point in the night where I thought Elias must have died. No one can sleep that hard for that long. Even with jet lag. Lucky for me, he woke up at 3a to inhale a bottle of water. Then, he passed out again. I did too, so I didn't worry about him as much in my catatonic state. We both woke up around 7a to start the day out right.
One of my prerequisites of any hotel stay is the free breakfast. Especially in Europe. Food always costs more than expected (even more so when factoring in the Euro/Dollar conversion), so I tend to find places where we can load up on free food (mostly carbo-loading) so we can leave for our day bellies-full. This also helps if you want to have a bigger dinner. You can snack your way through the afternoon hours and not feel too bad. This was our plan for the day. We ate all of the bacon provided and most of the crepes. We drank more orange juice than any two people should consume (Elias was the culprit there...dude can DRINK his OJ). And we have a gameplan for how to attack the food tomorrow (get a pot for tea first, then grab all available bacon...it won't last for long). It was time to see Brussels fully awake and aware.
The plan for the day ended up coming together pretty quickly. We were going to try out the subway and head to the furthest point in the area, then we'd double back towards the middle of the city and work our way back to the hotel. And I'll be damned if it didn't work out pretty much on track. But let's just go on the record...as we leave a Metro stop and a decision has to be made about which way to go, please know I will always go the wrong way the first time. Always. I won't keep harping on that point, but assume it has happened at every stop. Once I know where I'm going, I'm golden. But as I'm searching out where we are versus where we need to be...it's the wrong direction,
Right outside of our hotel in St Catherine's Square, we have the Metro stop. Across the street. It's right there. Just existing. So we made our way down the steps and to the ticket area. The decision was made to get one 24 hour pass for each of us. We didn't know how many trips we'd want to take. By the second or third (maybe fourth) trip, the card had paid for itself, which was excellent. And as luck would have it, we were immediately on the right track for the subway ride. Sidebar...while I may have difficulties with directions and maps when getting out of a subway...or building...I am really good with subways and knowing where to go and how to get those connections. London, Moscow, DC, New York, Paris, shall I continue?? I can navigate around these no problem. Sidebar over. The trip began and we were on our way to the Atomium.
The Atomium was created for the 1958 Worlds Fair as a symbol of the future. It is actually pretty fun. Who would think about putting a giganto representation of an atom in the middle of a park. I like the fact that you could hang out inside of the spheres and not just look at them. As it always seems to happen, the days we choose to go to a city's symbol...a symbol you can usually ride straight to the top of to see lovely panoramic views of said city...those days are always overcast. Today was no exception. We didn't get the amazing shots of Brussels from the Atomium. Then again, there wasn't an amazing landscape between the Atomium and, well...Belgium. Not that it isn't pretty. It is just...there aren't that many distinguishing characteristics between the height of the Atomium and the city below. Whatever. It was still cool to be there.
The rest of the Atomium was fine, you went down elevators and escalators to see memories and paraphernalia from 1958. I particularly loved the Viewmaster and the slides. Another side note...why did I think the Viewmaster was invented in the 1970's?? We made our way through the rest of the exhibits and out the door where it was spitting rain. Almost like Manneken Pis was dousing a fire. And my umbrella...in the hotel room where it belonged. Bah!! Luckily, the Metro stop wasn't that far away. We walked near the Mini Europe area. Where apparently you can walk from country to country in minutes!! Meh...if it was free, I'd go. To pay for it, nope. Sounds like a nicer version of the crap that we love at Wisconsin Dells.
Stop two on our journey was the Parlimentarium. The Parlimentarium is an exhibition at the European Union Parliment building. It's a very high tech building which is geared more towards kids. Then again, neither of us know one lick about the EU and how their rules work. So it's like talking to kids. While I still don't know much more about the EU, I have a few ideas now and this was a nice (free!!) way to stay out of the rain. Plus, we stopped afterwards at a juice bar called Guapa. We ended up with smoothies, but not any smoothies you've ever had. These were (we think) just fruit that were juiced together. Yum!! While I couldn't find anything that was banana-free, I loved my smoothie/juice. Of course my first thought was, "I need to get a Vitamix." Followed by, "Why can't I get a discount on a Vitamix??" Happily, I didn't think about putting together a buy for Vitamix, so still haven't thought about work once (sorry, guys!!). Bottom line, smoothies were good.
Another jaunt on the Metro (this time without an impromptu walk in the opposite direction, thankyouverymuch) and we ended up in a park while on our way to the Museum of Musical Instruments (MIM). The park looked a little rapey to begin with, but once we passed the ominous entrance and went near another entrance, we found a lovely space in the city. Really, we just found a fab fountain. Elias is not jazzed by fountains. I am super jazzed by them. And because I am in charge (Dad said I am Elias's Overlord for this trip. I totally need to make business cards for the future with that title. It could work in any situation), I said we go see the fountain. It didn't disappoint. Though we nearly got beaned by a slightly deflated kickball that three boys were playing with as we walked by the fountain. Luckily, the boy had bad aim. Or good aim...either way, no one got pelted.
As for the MIM. I had been looking forward to this museum since I had heard about it when I first started researching Brussels. For some, I get it...a big snore. But the idea that there is a museum just about Musical instruments was cool. We were given a headset to wear and as you walked around, music from some of the instruments played. It was pretty cool. I know Elias was bored to tears, but...Overlord!!
Sometimes we have to remember...not everything is the same in Europe as it is in the US. Like elevators. Lifts, as it were. I am used to lifts opening on their own accord. Not so at the MIM. The woman sent the lift down to us and shoved us in. As she shut the door, she said "4". So that's the button we pushed. We got to 4 and nothing happened. Nothing at all. So much nothing that after a few seconds of nothing, the elevator slowly started going back downstairs. To the disapproving woman who shoved us into the lift to begin with. We tried it again. This time, we noticed a blue hand sign on the door. I tried shoving it off to the side. That wasn't happening. Sadly, I was pretty sure I was going to die in this elevator. Then, I touched the elevator in a very specific place (the blue hand). And the doors opened. I was not defeated by a door!! Though I was nearly defeated by a door.
I have had people from home talking to me about frites for the last few days. "You gotta have frites!! Have you had frites yet?? When are you eating the frites?!?!?!?!?" TODAY!! We're trying them today!!
The plan was this...see the sights, double back to the Grand Place and get some frites, then go to Frederick Blondeel for chocolates and tea. We barely made it back to the Grand Place and a frites place beckoned. I don't know find it was a good or bad one, but there was a crowd sitting outside of it, so I voted for good. A small frites was only €2,50 and that became our lunch. The decision had to be made...mayonnaise or ketchup?? Curry ketchup?? Elias voted negative on the mayo. He definitely was keen on the regular ketchup. So, we went with regular ketchup (pretty sure it was Heinz, so good for our client). They gave us a cone of fries and squirted the ketchup on top. Then, we were given little plastic forks. I love these things. They provided them when we had our waffles yesterday. They just make for a better way of eating. Unless you're trying to tear apart a waffle. Those things are a bit unwieldy. Elias dug the frites. I enjoyed them as much as I can. I'm not a huge potato person. But they were hot and crispy and delightful, so frites were a win.
Now that we knew our way around the city, getting back to the hotel area wasn't that difficult. We kept seeing landmarks - McDonalds!! Pizza Hut!! Hey, there's that restaurant we had looked at online!! So when we turned a corner, it was obvious were back in our neighborhood. Our neighborhood with the tea shop.
On the list of chocolate places in Brussels, Frederick Blondeel was always on the list. And coincidently, he was also across the street from our hotel. He had two shops. One was a takeaway shop. One was a tea shop with sit down service. We didn't have to just hang back in our room, so we decided to sit down and have a snack. Yes, immediately after we had the frites. Remember my second paragraph?? Stick with me here. Elias went with the Madagascar Hot Chocolate. I had the Earl Gray Tea. We both decided on two truffles each. It was a cute shop. Little, but most places here are. And sometimes the best places are the smallest. We enjoyed our snack. The truffles were good. Not extraordinary, but good. After a bit of time, we went across the street to our room. It was time for a break before dinner.
The time before dinner was when Elias collapsed into a heap last night. We never had dinner. But tonight, I had reservations. We just relaxed before dinner. I posted pictures on Facebook, sent a few e-mails, finished writing yesterday's blog. Before we knew it, we had to leave for dinner. And it was definitely going to happen tonight. There was no reason to sleep in.
As I'm putting together the itinerary for any trip, I scour TripAdvisor for many suggestions. Definitely the hotel, but even more so for the food. I don't have to follow it to the letter, but just having a handful of places that would work is helpful. For dinner tonight, I found one of those places. It was a little hole in the wall place down the street from Grand Place. Down the street from the Hard Rock Cafe. YES!! These still exist. And there was a wait to get in. Just so sad. We didn't end up at the HRC. Nope. We ended up at ABrussel. Touted as a Belgium Gastronomic Innovator and with a three course dinner for €22, I didn't think we could go wrong. I think I read there were only 22 seats at the restaurant. I made reservations a few weeks ago and hoped Elias was going to be cool with the menu. They served steak, so I assumed he'd have to be. But before we ordered dinner, there was one decision that had to be made.
Elias ordered wine.
Well, I ordered the wine for him. I started asking the adorable (think a Belgian Chris Messina) waiter about legal age limits and he chuckled and said, "We don't check ID's here". Well, then...Elias got some wine. I started him light. A moscato. It's light and sweet and harmless. It might not have gone with his steak, but I didn't think he'd be ready for a heavy red. Baby steps here. I think he was a little nervous about drinking the wine, but he drank the whole glass. It may have taken him an hour and a half to do so, but he drank it. Which gotta say...a little disappointed for me. I was hoping to finish the glass off.
We had a lobster dish in a martini glass and a foie gras terrine. Then we had a steak and a chicken "stew" (a very Belgian dish, says Belgian Chris Messina). The dessert was a strawberry soup with a champagne sorbet and a mango and coconut tiramisu. All very good. Both Belgian Chris Messina and the chef came out to make sure we had a good time. Belgian Chris Messina checked in on me when Elias was using the restroom and he asked, "was this his first glass of wine??" He was surprised when I said yes. Apparently, Elias looked like a pro. I told Elias that I would not be supplying him wine when we returned back to the states. I'm too cute to end up in jail for aiding a minor in alcohol consumption.
After a quick stop for a waffle on the walk home (what?? When in Belgium...), we made it back to the hotel. This was our last night at the Welcome Hotel, so we needed to pack and get ready for the next journey. We also made time for a bit of FaceTime with the parents. FaceTime is always fun while on vacation. Elias turned in first and I wasn't long after. It was a long day and a pretty good run in Brussels. Tomorrow, we hit the road to the Netherlands.