||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
||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
||...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,
||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
||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
||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
||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.