We welcomed our first visitors to Brussels! Brynn and Scott were here last weekend on the last leg of their Euro trip and we were very excited to have them with us for a few days! I won’t give away too many details on what we did so I can build-up suspense and encourage people to visit and see for themselves (hehe), but it was a successful weekend of waffles, chocolate, Belgian beer, frites, and plenty of site-seeing. Yes, you too can have all those things if you come and visit!
I picked them up at the train station on Friday morning, and we stopped at home for a quick breakfast before we kicked off a walking tour of Brussels, hosted by yours truly. Dan and I had identified some Brussels points of interest ahead of time, so the night before their arrival I scoped out a walk from our place, to the city center, and back that would make it possible to hit all these spots in one day. On the way there, this also included a spontaneous stop at Zara for some quick shopping (Brynn’s idea but I 100% supported it) and a pop into a very exceptional antique store where you could easily spend a few hours looking at art, antler chandeliers, and downward dog statues. Scott and Brynn claimed I did a good job of supplying interesting facts and tidbits about what we were seeing along the way, but even still, we found ourselves in new-to-me parts of town and there were a couple times I had no idea as to the significance of what we were seeing. I am still a tourist in this city too!
On Friday night, the four of us headed to dinner nearby where sadly, we were told by our waitress that mussels are not currently in season and therefore they don’t recommend ordering or simply don’t have them available to serve to you. I was previously instructed by my team members that you should follow the mantra of “’You eat mussels only during those months containing an ‘r.’” However, according to other sources, mussel season runs from July through mid-April the following year. So I guess we missed the mussels by one day (we were there on August 31st) or somebody is very confused… maybe it’s us. Brynn and Scott said they didn’t feel deprived though seeing as they got their frites and some delicious oysters instead (actually I’m not sure that Brynn would say oysters are delicious). After our 2.5 hr. dinner (typical here), we tried and failed to get ice cream, but instead made due with some Digestives that Brynn had transported from London.
Saturday morning started with a long run in the Bois as Dan and I figured we are due to start our ½-marathon training, and more importantly, we were also excited to show off this beautiful park/ forest of ours. We followed our work-out with brunch at a place just up the street which was new to all of us but did not disappoint. The brunch consisted of quite the variety of what I would call “non-traditional” brunch fare, at least by our American standards of brunch, but we were impressed. My personal favorite was the fried polenta sticks and Brynn said she liked the couscous salad, but Dan seemed impressed by the pork knuckle and Scott had plenty of croissants.
After brunch we headed to Ghent since it’s an easy half-day excursion and Dan and I think the city has a lot to offer. Dan and I visited Ghent on our first weekend in Brussels so while we’re still tourists, we had some insight this time around. We parked our car at the lot just outside the old town that we knew had a free bathroom (HOORAY!) and headed to some of the main attractions- Sint-Michielshelling street with its three cathedrals, the Gravensteen castle, and of course the canals of the Patershol neighborhood. We picked out a good stop near the Gravensteen to enjoy some Belgian beers, since both Brynn and Scott were interested in trying more Trappist brews, and then decided it was time for a waffle, because one needs to try a waffle in each new Belgian city. I was insistent that the waffles were also accompanied by cuberdons, the local cone-shaped treat that also started the “war of the noses” (because the cone-shaped candies apparently look like noses) a few years ago when two street-vendors got into an argument about whose noses were freshest. I don’t know whose nose we tried or which is “better”, but I can tell you that we all preferred the waffle over the cuberdon. The general consensus was that no matter the flavor- orange, raspberry, original (grape I think), or blue-berry, those things are not good. Similar consistency to a gusher, but even sweeter with a taste that is akin to children’s medicine. Still worth a try, but I’ll be sticking to my Liege waffle!
Fortunately, because we are in Belgium, there is no shortage of chocolate shops where you can spend your money and forget you ever tried a cuberdon. After a careful selection process, Brynn decided to make a purchase at Neuhaus and would tell you herself that she was not disappointed in this choice. The Neuhaus attendant was kind enough to point out that unless Brynn was purchasing the chocolates as a gift, she would recommend that she “fill the bag” instead of “fill the box” for a better deal. We then were kind enough to point out to Brynn that it wasn’t even likely the chocolates would make it on the plane ride home with her so she best opt for filling the bag to maximize her chocolate purchase and not worry about chocolate preservation past 24 hours. The chocolates made it out the door and into the plaza across the street before the bag was opened. But Brynn generously let us sample a few and we can now all join the club of those who highly recommend Neuhaus chocolate- don’t turn it down if offered!
We made our way to dinner on the canal at the same place Dan and I had been to on our first trip to Ghent- is it a “go-to” spot if you’ve been there twice…? We really enjoy the food and friendly service, and you can’t go wrong with a canal-side table for four. After dinner, we were on our way back to Brussels to try, yet again, for the elusive ice cream. Our second attempt at getting some of the top-rated ice cream in Brussels was yet again a failure, but I knew I could hold out until Sunday when we would head to Luxembourg for a day trip. This time I knew where to find that delicious pistachio ice cream.
Arriving in Luxembourg just after noon on Sunday, we parked the car in the city center and headed on our way to walk the old city walls and wind our way along the streets of the Grund quarter. We were a little worried that there wouldn’t be much open on a Sunday in Luxembourg, but we tracked down lunch easily and counted ourselves lucky that we were able to explore the calm streets without fighting crowds. In the words of Brynn and Scott, Luxembourg is a relaxing city- there may not be much going on, but there is still a lot to look at that feels very unique. I think that’s what makes it a great day trip- it offers a completely different perspective of what a European city can offer. After spending a few hours walking around, we were back in the car and on our way back to Belgium, but not before a successful stop for ice cream (finally)!
On our way back to Brussels, we diverted off the highway for a stop just outside Bastogne as Brynn and Scott had expressed interest in seeing the foxholes in the woods from the Battle of the Bulge. Dan and I had inadvertently missed these when we last visited Bastogne and the Peace Forest, but this time we did know a bit more about the area so were hoping they wouldn’t be too hard to track down. After a little research, we thought we had figured out where we could see said foxholes in the woods, however I don’t want to build this up too much, because upon further investigation after our stop, we realized that the foxholes we saw are likely not the real Easy Company foxholes (as seen in Band of Brothers). Rather, it sounds like the ones we saw that overlook the town of Foy are more recently dug up and used for reenactments that take place in the area. So the verdict is still out on how genuine the foxholes we saw are, but it sounds like the real foxholes, or what remains, are not too far away on a piece of farm land that looks a little different now than it did then. Part of that forest where the Battle was fought has been cut down, but it sounds like you can still see a few of the original holes if you know where to look. I’m sure we will be back to Bastogne in the near future, so next time we will make it our goal to find the originals, but if nothing else, the ones that we saw this weekend do give you a sense of what the troops went through during a very cold December 1944 thru January 1945.
Our Sunday night was spent back in Brussels, but before we could send Brynn and Scott back home on Monday, we had to share our new favorite Deliveroo restaurant with them- PokiPoke. Seeing as those two are also Poke fans, we needed to do a comparison to their beloved Denver Poke. Our Brussels bowls were deemed excellent by our visitors, as was our first weekend of hosting. I even requested some constructive feedback from these two in order to improve our tour guide skills, so hopefully our next visitors will be impressed by even more fun facts that I will be learning over the next month. It was great to be able to show Brynn and Scott around Brussels and we look forward to their return!