Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Brussels, Day 1

So, for our first real day in Brussels, we had breakfast.  It was nice breakfast in the Galeries Royales Saint Hubert.  Having food on the brain, we didn't really know it a the time that this was a place we wanted to see, but once we were satiated, we looked up and were impressed by the glass-covered pedestrian area that had a bunch of shops and eateries.  We ate at Mokafé, and were pleased: Waffles with chocolate, fruit and whipped cream... yes, please!

After breakfast, we wandered into the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula.  It was pretty amazing, and was close by.  It was our first church of the trip, so we were quite impressed.  It was absolutely beautiful.

Following that, we procured a couple of multi-day transit passes that proved quite useful while in the city.  The transit system of Brussels is very robust, and we would not have gotten to as many of the sights without them.

Time to put the transit to use!  First stop: the Cantillon brewery in the neighborhood of Anderlecht.  This is not the best part of town, but the brewery was completely worth it.  It's an old operation that refuses to grow with demand, preferring to continue making lambic (and gueuze) the same way they did 100 years ago.

Time for food!  We found a rather promising Ethiopian place on the interwebs called Kokob, but it was a bit closed (due to Christmas eve and all).  We settled for a falafel wraps that were so-so.  It was a small corner place, and we got fed, so... yay!

On the way from lunch, we happened across a small, pretty church called the Chapel of Our Lady of Refuge.  It was probably free to visit, but there was a gentleman off to the side demanding 1€ per visitor.  We skeptically paid up, but later decided we got scammed... lesson learned!

Off to the neighborhood of Sablon!  This is sort of south of the city center.  Here we saw the huge Palais de justice de Bruxelles which was undergoing renovation and encrusted with scaffolding.  Elizabeth got a couple of candid shots of a fellow in court robes, so, you know... it's legit.  Sablon also has the Notre-Dame du Sablon (another church!!).  Again, beautiful.

So, then we went to the Horta Museum (also in the neighborhood of Sablon).  It's the fantastic house and studio of the architect Victor Horta, who was huge in the art nouveau movement.  While it was quite impressive, we were a bit disappointed by the lack of educational material, and moved through it quicker than normal.

Back in the center of town, we finally experienced waffle insanity.  Of course, there was a group of tourists crowding a shop, se we (being tourists ourselves) joined the insanity and were rewarded with a pile of whipped cream and chocolate that obscured the gooey, doughy waffle thing underneath.  This was nothing like the light, crispy thing we had at breakfast, but probably as healthy.

After a failed attempt at visiting A La Becasse (more on this later), we decided to go and continue our pee-pee tourism and find the not-so-well-known Zinneke Pis.  Turns out, it's a statue of a dog taking a pee on a pole on a dark-ish corner.  2 down.... 1 to go!

OK.  Time for a nice Christmas Eve dinner... Right?  Wrong.  We knew many places would be closed on this particular night, so we made reservations at a place called La Kasbah.  We were not so impressed.  The food was a bit bland and odd.  We are fairly adventurous, but this was just plain nasty.  Oh well.  We did fill our bellies for more adventure, so let's just move along, OK?

During all of the vacation research, we read all about the Christmas markets throughout Europe, and specifically about the one in Brussels.  We decided to find it and have a walk around.  Turns out, Christmas eve isn't the best time to do this either.  It was closing around 6:30pm.  The market stalls are near the Place Ste. Catherine.  In the middle of this, there is a cathedral (I'll let you guess the name).  As it turns out, there is a series of about 4 urinals along one of the walls for the use of the public (sorry, Elizabeth!).  After determining it was kosher (ha!), I went ahead and made use of it.  Even though the market was closed, there was a cool projected light show on the front that incorporated the architecture of the front of the church.  Pretty neat stuff!

Following that, we went to Au Bon Vieux Temps to grab a beer.  As it turns out, they serve Westvleteren 12, the most rare of the Belgian Trappist ales.  It was fantastic (better be at 10€ per bottle)!  This is a great little bar that's down a tiny alley... and that's saying a lot since the streets in the area are pretty narrow to begin with.

Seeing how it was Christmas eve, we thought it would be nice to include Jesus in our travels.  Since he didn't come to us, we went to him.  We went back to our first church of the day and listened to the organ and choir in the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula.  It was pretty fantastic!  Definitely something I'd like to do again.

OK.  Wow.  That was a big day!  What's in store for Brussels, Day 2?  Not sure, but I have to sleep now, so it's going to have to wait for tomorrow.

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