Beer and Waffles and Mussels, Oh My!

Trip Start Aug 11, 2009
Trip End Oct 08, 2009

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Flag of Belgium  ,
Thursday, August 20, 2009

After the three hour train trip to Brussels I wasn’t messing around again with finding our hotel. I activated the Garmin European GPS system on my phone and let it tell us exactly where to go. I’m glad we did because even though the walk was only 10 minutes from Brussels Centraal Station it was through tiny, twisting streets and alleys that often led in completely different directions once you started going down them. If you’ve been to any European city you know what I’m talking about. Trying to keep track of north was nearly impossible. And the cobblestone in central Brussels is particularly brutal. Our bags are definitely the Humvees of luggage as they took a pounding and just brushed it off. (They probably get just as good as gas mileage as the vehicle version, too.)

C'est Brussels! Troy veut parler en francais! Really excited to get a chance to start speaking french again, but, man, am I rusty. I am surprisingly able to understand much, but my speaking skills really need some work. Good news is english is still the common language default for most people, but I've already had to work to be understood. I used to be fluent, so this is a sad situation. By Paris I'd better be back on my game.

Yes, we drank a lot of beer. We hunted down and found the Delirium Café (of Delirium Tremens fame – beer fanatics will know what it is) tucked away within the labyrinth of alleys. This is Mecca if you’re a European beer fan. They hold the Guinness Book World Record for most beers on site for a pub—over 2000 to choose from and they’ll toss you a book containing info on them all if you look lost (it’s like tossing an anvil to a drowning person.) There are pictures attached showing the entrance and inside of the lower bar, but there are three individual divisions to it all. The upstairs has about thirty taps, the downstairs has the live music (and a truly impressive collection of world wide beer paraphernalia) and then there is a café that is a bit mellower with outside seating crowding up the tiny dead end alley it inhabits. Officially Belgium went smoke free on January 1st, 2007, but this place (and a few others we found) is giving that policy a big middle finger. Hilariously, they have huge no smoking symbol signs hanging from the ceiling just to remind you that the law exists, but they don’t care. Smokers of Portland (or any other place that has gone smoke free), rejoice—you’ll find the joys of the nicotine cave alive and well in Brussels. We haven’t been that smoky after a visit in some time. But it was worth it. The quality of the beers, knowledgeable staff, surprisingly great snacks (only cold meats, cheese and bread for the most part, but all were high quality) and general atmosphere aren’t to be missed. I would describe it as rollicking and quite an international hub. The only Oregon beers they had were all Rogue. At least they gave Oregon a little love. Oh, and they’re open until 6 am EVERY night. You read that right.

There is a Belgian technique used for every beer poured where they take a small scraper and immediately take off the top part of the head of the beer right after being poured. Part of it is probably show, but it appears to stop the head from growing after that. Will need to do experimenting of my own at home.

The Grote Market square (see pictures) is gorgeous. It’s the central hub for central Brussels and we spent a lot of time hanging out there because there was a great waffle joint and a decent brew pub tucked into the corners of it. At 10 and 11 at night they do a brief 10 minute music and light show on the grand building that runs almost the full length of one side and it was fun to watch and listen to the crowd. Humorously, the entire affaire is made up off classical music until the last one minute flourish that is a classical version of The Final Countdown by 80’s hair band Europe. Classy.

We visited the local palace and it was beautiful (strangely we were not allowed to take any pictures- I’m assuming that they hold the monopoly on that and wish to continue to do so.) The most intriguing part was a room where they had recently commissioned a Belgian artist to create a ceiling treatment that was nothing more than 1.4 million shells of a particular Asian insect with a glassy green translucent body. Absolutely beautiful.

We had to do the tourist thing and visited the peeing boy (Manneken Pis) statue. Yes, it is oddly small and, yes, they dress it up in various outfits (it was a bishop’s outfit this time) and there are a billion souvenirs of it to be found. The crowd, frankly, was the most entertaining part. We preferred Jeanneke Pis, the female version found across from the Delirium Café and made in 1987 (a few hundred years younger and lesser known, but far cuter.)

For any future visitors: beware some of the smaller alley restaurant tourist traps. The guys out front are carnival-barker level businessman that don’t take no for answer very well and will try to shuttle you into their various establishments (from which we could tell after several pass-throughs all had the same craptacular menus). They are annoying enough to make you really want to find someplace with good beer immediately.



Notable local foods tried:

Shrimp Croquettes, when done right are lightly crusted on the outside and the creamy shrimp concoction inside is apparently delivered directly to your blood stream through the inside of your mouth. It’s food that does not need or want to be chewed. It is also addicting.

Waterzooi, a sort of thick, creamed chicken soup with seasonal veggies. Was one of our favorite foods so far.

Flemish Beef, cubes of beef stewed in beer and served with fries. Oh, and just about everything here comes with—

Frites (fries.) Most of the frites at the restaurants and tourist joints are clearly frozen supermarket quality fries and utter crap. We were able to find some, though, that were hand cut and properly fried. Awesome—especially some we had with a béarnaise sauce that was heavenly.

Waffles, of course, served the Liege way – thinner than Belgian style and needing nothing on them because they have a crusted exterior already possessing a syrup-like flavor. Pure breakfast crack. The smell of them is everywhere all day long and can’t be sufficiently described – they taste fantastic, but the smell of them is undeniably an experience unto its own. You won’t have to search for waffles – the smell will find you and drag you towards them.

Mussels. Mussels are found literally everywhere and for good reason—they are Belgium’s big sea catch and they are fantastic. Whether beer cooked, white wine or creamy wine they are good. They come in little mussel pots and are really a great bargain considering how many you get for the price. We ate ourselves sick with mussels because people here can always cook at least one thing well – mussels.

Several local (as in, brewed on premises) micro brews that were pretty good, but not outstanding. Portland makes us beer spoiled.

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