Heading north

Trip Start Dec 30, 2006
Trip End Jul 27, 2007

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Flag of Belgium  ,
Monday, March 12, 2007

Belgium is pretty much known world-wide for three things - waffles, chocolate & beer.  Really, the three essential components to a full and happy life.  I think the people of Belgium hit on a great triple threat.

Due to a couple missed trains, I ended up catching the last one from Paris and got into Brussels around 11:30 at night with no place to stay.  I tried a couple hostels but all where full or not so clean.  I even tried a crown plaza hotel but it is hard to justify €250 ($400 cdn) for one night at a hotel, nerveless a crown plaza hotel.  I did find a "hostel" and crashed...very dirty and I got a couple hungry bed bugs as sleeping companions...nice.

Next day I found the hostel I originally wanted to go to but had been closed the night before when I had arrived in town.  Much nicer.  A lot like the hostel I stayed at in Lisbon - but bigger.

The place had a lounge area conducive to meeting people unlike the place I stayed at in Barcelona.  From the hostel I met a guy from Vancouver (now living in Arizona) and another guy on the last day who was living in Port Alberni. 

Ended up seeing a lot of Brussels, including some unique quirks.  I mean, who doesn't love a little boy peeing?  Nobody.  I was shown the Manneken Pis in his naked splendor one night by a girl from NYC but when I came back the next day with someone else we found that he had been clothed overnight.  Clothed to celebrate the Prince of Monaco.  It had been mentioned before that a costume museum existed showing all his outfits worn on special days but when we looked we could not find it after seeing him in his Monaco costume.  It is something that will have to be left to my imagination I guess.  I just hope he already has a mountie outfit for July 1st.  If not, I think someone has a project when they get home.

I was surprised to see a comics museum in Brussels and I was curious.  Curiosity got the better of me.  I went.  Home to Smurfs, Tin-Tin and a maniacal Disney-inspired mouse, the museum had some great material.  Although a lot of the displays where for comics I was not familiar with and could not read due to language differences.  The reality is, so long as Smurfette is in the museum, I'm a pretty happy guy.  I think like many children of the 80's I had a pretty big crush on Smurfette.  Don't judge me.

Waffles are everywhere and, yeah, I had a few.  I even had toppings.  I went all-out.  It's hard to tell the difference between the crap waffles and the very good waffles though - they all kind of tasted the same to me.  There is a definite price difference though.  I'm guessing that I am just not a waffle connoisseur like some people.  One day, perhaps.  A dream is born.

Not surprisingly, Stella Artois, the Belgian beer of choice in North America, was not the most popular choice of the locals.  It was available but Leffe, Jupiler and another one that I have now forgotten seemed to be the beers of choice.  I did try Gueuze, a family brewed beer by the Cantillon Brewery who have a 'tour' of their facility.  By tour, I mean they give you a booklet explaining the different areas and then give you unfettered access to their facility.  They do it old-school here, a true micro-brewery.  Due, in part, to the brewing process I did find the taste to be a little on the acidic side.  Not quite what I'm looking for in a beer.  It was alright though because I also had the pleasure of drinking lots of other great beers during my stay in Belgium.  So many delicious, delicious beers...

As if beer & waffles wasn't enough - the Belgiuns are also crafty chocolate makers.  It's like every third store in Brussels is a mini-purdy's that, for the most part, makes their chocolates on site.  We went to a chocolate museum and, after making way for the filming of a Japanese TV travel show (wild to watch) at the museum we got to talk to a 4th generation master chocolatier and he showed us the steps taken to make Belgium chocolates.  As he explained it, the real quality comes in the fillings and many quality choclatiers like himself use well-guarded secret recipes for the fillings to create chocolate that stands out from the crowd.

Brussels - I can still taste you...and you taste good.  Just keep that crazy naked Manneken away from the beer. 
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