Our Second Four Days
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Our Second Four Days (in Brussels)...

Whoa! This thing moves! You can see the airplane-like interior of the EuroStar train. It looks a bit like the interior of an airplane, except some of the seats face each other so you can have a foursome at bridge (or a meal, or whatever it take four people to do.)
Once we got to Brussels we pulled our bags behind us and made our way to the Grote Markt (or Grand-Place in French). This was the view from our room, pretty spectacular huh? The only problem was that Belgium is rather cold. You can see the overcast. When asked when the weather was warm, one of the locals replied that they had one day per year and weren't sure when it was scheduled this time. Still there was plenty to see and do...
Another view out the window. On the weekend there were vendors who set up shop in the little square in front of the hotel. We ate breakfast at the little restaurant you see on the corner there. They served the best eggs I've ever had. The Belgians take nothing culinary for granted, but instead take special efforts to enhance what would elsewhere be a plain meal. They poured a small amount of white sauce on the side of my dish of eggs and sprinkled the whole plate with freshly chopped dill...not dried mind you, but FRESH! As in just before the plate was served. All our meals in Belgium were wonderful. Best kept secret in Europe.
The "Gulden Boot" (means golden boat -- go figure), a restaurant where we had our first dinner in Brussels. What a terrific place. The waiter was friendly, recommended some wonderfully prepared dishes, and evidently took great pleasure in being a part of visitors experiences. We left a generous tip.
Here's the appetizer our waiter recommended. Croquettes aux Crevettes (or something like that). It means they chop up some shrimp, mix it with some cream cheese, and then deep fry the whole thing. Extraordinarily good. Also, the beer, Leffe blond (blond meaning "light") was astonishingly good. Dining in Brussels is a treat.
Belgium only has a few claims to fame (more on the way with the EU and Brussels evolving role): dining, beer, chocolates, lace, tapestry, and the Manneken-Pis (more about that later). Here, Elena finds a nice runner for our table back in the States.
This is what Brussels bills as Europe's first "mall". This structure was constructed about 1850 and sure enough, is just like the forerunner of today's malls. There are shops on either side and an overhead cover (which I assume was added later). 
You can see three cranes in one view. There's a lot of construction going on in Brussels because of the rush to create the infrastructure for it's evolving role as the European Union's (EU's) "capitol". Unfortunately, they seem to obliterate many of the historical structures in their rush. See the condition of the abandoned royal palace in later shots.
Here's the Manneken-Pis. This is one of Brussels's claims to fame. He gets a different outfit depending on the season (or the month, whatever), and you can see he's in a black kilt outfit when we visited the fountain. I wasn't too impressed, but the place was swarming with tourists (see below).
...what'd I tell you?
Well, who can visit Belgium and not have waffles? I enjoyed a concoction with chocolate syrup, whipped cream, and dusted off with powdered sugar. Elena enjoyed one of the other varieties. I think mine was better. God knows it was messier. This was a little shop with the ordering window open to the street. They had heavy iron pans that they'd fill with batter, poke into one of many small ovens, and then out would pop a waffle. They could barely make them fast enough to keep up with the demand, and they must have had some 15 or so ovens going. Mmmm, good.
A couple of French boys poking their fingers into this rubbery statue's nose. Boys will be boys, no matter the language.
Elena pushed me into Brussels's most famous chocolatier: Wittamer. The chocolates filled with the fresh-cream-based sweets were the most exquisite candies I've ever had. Another testament to the Belgian's sense of gastronomic priorities. I like the way they think. The shop keeper told us that the chocolates with fresh cream must be eaten within a week, so unfortunately none survived our trip back home to you folks (heh, heh, heh).
Brussels has what they bill as Europe's oldest antique fair (which I doubt is true), but we did have a lot of fun looking through all the wares. We searched for (and found) an absinthe spoon for Elena's brother, Andrey...quite a rare commodity if gauged by our difficulties in locating one. An absinthe spoon is used in preparing this toxic liqueur for consumption...I think rubber gloves and protective goggles should also be required.
Here's a view of an abandoned wing of what once was the royal palace in Brussels. If you look carefully you can see trees growing out the windows and through gaping holes in the roof. And there in the leftmost background is one of the ubiquitous cranes ready to do it's dirty work. The Belgian's view their old palace quite differently than the venerating English do theirs. While circling the block simply to gape at the failing condition of the structures we observed pigeons roosting in the old buildings.
Hey, it's a SMART car (really, that's the name -- Smart). This was something you'd see every here and again. Elena thinks they're CUTE! And I must admit, they do look like they'd be fun to scoot around in. They're very small as you can see, only room for two people and a briefcase. They're purportedly very economical, and they must be easy to park.
I'm preparing to enjoy my Moules et Frittes (pronounced "mool eh freet"). That's French for mussels and fries. My friend Peter Goossens (a native Belgian) says they're called mosselen (which I guess is Dutch, the other main language in Belgium). I had the Provencal style mussels and Elena had some in a cream and white wine sauce. Both were quite good.
We saw these Russian street performers and Elena made me take a picture so I could show my son Tyler the huge balalaika the guy in back is playing. This was a comically oversized one, but it was remarkable similar (almost exactly) to one I saw the "Red Elvis's" (a Russian rock band) use as a bass guitar while they were playing at a mall in Valencia (California). Notice the ever-present "deposit money here, please" container in the front. I threw in some coins...I'm no cheap bum - I pay for the pictures I take (humph!).
The town hall in the Grand-Place (Grote Markt in Dutch). They light it up at night, and it's the center piece of the town square. People party there until the wee hours of the morning. It stays light until around 10:30 pm, so the whole population seems to shift their schedule somewhat.
This was a street adjacent to the mall. It looks like restaurant row doesn't it. If I had taken this picture just a little earlier (this was about 11:00 pm or so) they joint would have been absolutely teeming with humanity. Every restaurant was busy, and each had their hawking front-man asking you to come in and take a seat. Again, EVERY restaurant in Brussels serves excellent food. There are no bad meals there. There once was a place that was only mediocre, but the locals took the owner and hung him from a lamppost out of national shame; so much for mediocrity in Belgian dining.
Elena offers a passerby a small libation. The creature declined and was dispatched for his insolence.
Elena found a small shop that made custom, one-of-a-kind, sweaters. The owner's name seems to be Ferran-Miesse, and she showed Elena some 8 or 9 sweaters, each one a beauty.
Here the owner shows Elena some of the finer points of the item they're examining. When I asked the woman if they made the sweaters nearby, she pointed to the middle of the shop and said, "There's my chair". Sure enough, there was a chair with a half-finished sweater next to it on a table. She said that there were about 8 people who worked on these pieces.
Elena was having a lot of fun...
...but soon it was time to rush off to the train station for our return trip to London via EuroStar. Elena's pulling the little bag we had to buy to hold all of our purchases we made in Brussels. The little thing came in handy, but Elena paid a special price the following day with a very sore shoulder from her labors. Look at her go! You'd think there was more shopping to do.

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