Posted by: vlibrizzi | January 26, 2009

Mussels in Brussels: An “eating our way through Brussels” birthday weekend

 img_1956For my birthday, C. had the great idea of going to Brussels for the weekend. Only a 1.5 hour train from Paris, Brussels seemed to be the perfect place to get away for a quick weekend and celebrate. Of course, we wanted to see all the typical tourist sites, but we also wanted to check out the neighborhoods and restaurants where the locals go. So, we asked a newfound Belgian friend at INSEAD and a dear old friend from Boston who lived in Brussels for some recommendations. They definitely did not steer us wrong (thank you L. and B.!). Although we’re both probably about 10 pounds heavier after this weekend, C. and I had an amazing time visiting Brussels’ cute neighborhoods, tourist sites, and of course, restaurants.

img_1924It all started with moules et frites (mussels and fries that is, for us non-Frenchies). Once we arrived in Brussels Midi station, we dropped our bags off at our hotel, and took the metro to an off-the-beaten-path neighborhood where, according to our Belgian INSEAD friend, we could find a restaurant called La Bonne Humeur that has the best mussels in town. We walked into the place, and after looking around (as you can see in the photo above, it looks like a strip mall pizza joint in Jersey), we were a bit skeptical of our friends’ recommendation, but once the mussels and frites came out, in piping hot, huge dutch ovens, we thought we were in heaven. We both got a kilo of mussels (the smallest size possible!) and pigged out. It was amazing!

img_1927After lunch, we walked off our huge meal by walking around the trendy neighborhood called Louiza. We loved looking into the windows of the high end designer shops and the cute boutiques, but, in fact, we were on a mission….to find the best Belgian chocolate and buy lots of it! We stopped in this store called Neuhaus (recommended by another friend) and bought tons of sweets. Their chocolate (which I can at this exact moment attest to as I’m currently sipping on some hot cocoa that I bought from the store in the above photo) is so creamy and smooth. Again, I was in heaven…twice in one day…but it was my birthday afterall. 🙂

Later, we continued to walk around the city and marveled at some of the great sites, and basically just enjoyed exploring a new place. Later in the night we took our friend from Boston’s recommendation of her favorite restaurant in Brussels and headed out to another extreme corner of the town to go to this fabulousimg_1930 brasserie called La Quincaillerie (you can see me posing in the restaurant after an amazing dinner in the photo to the left). The restaurant has truly impressive art nouveau decor and is in a former hardware store, so little drawers line the walls that go up three stories. We sat on the second floor balcony overlooking this huge clock and the restaurant below. The food was amazing (C. was daring and tried ham knuckle and loved it) and the wine list was truly expansive. If you ever go to Brussels (which I highly recommend), you should definitely eat there.  

The next morning we woke up early and continued our gastronomical tour of the city. img_1931We only had three more traditional Belgian things to eat/drink, and less than 10 hours before our train back to Paris.

In the photo to the right, C. got the morning started by having belgian waffles with strawberries. You can see mine in the foreground of the photo with with chocolate (the traditional way) and bananas, but we all know that C. doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth (if only I were blessed with that gift too!).

After breakfast, we walked around the neighborhood surrounding our hotel. Cute shops lined the streets, but this is Europe, remember, no stores open on Sundays. So we window shopped and walked through the maze-like streets. We did find an outdoor antique market and then a cute jewelry market (where I bought this fabulous ring for only 5 euro!) later in the afternoon though. 

img_1944After our Saturday of acting like locals, we donned our fanny packs on Sunday (don’t worry, we didn’t really wear fanny packs) and visited all the typical tourist destinations in Brussels. First, we walked to the Grand Place (photographed to the left) which is where the old city hall and municipal buildings are. The place reminded me a bit of the Piazza de Campo in Siena in terms of size, but the buildings are much more ornate here with tons of statues all over them that my hastily-taken photograph doesn’t do justice. 

img_1948Then we visited the oddest, but truly most popular, tourist desination: the mannequin pis. Literally, it is a small statue of a little boy peeing. In my attempt to be a true tourist (sans fanny pack…see photographic evidence to the right), I had C. take a photo of me in front of the statue. I was not alone. We actually had to wait several minutes for me to be able to crowd in front of the rest of the tourists to take my photo in front of the statue…and why? It’s just a boy peeing! I don’t understand the significance of the statue…if any of you know, could you tell me why the people in Brussels love it so much? Seriously! The locals dress up the mannequin in different costumes for holidays, there are mini-replica statues in all the tourist shops…I don’t get it.

After visiting the statue, we walked through the rest of the tourist destinations: the Royal Palace, the Jardin de Sablons, etc. They were all quite nice, but honestly, as you can see in the photo of me above, it was darn cold outside and we weren’t up for being tourists in the frigid weather. So, we img_1961rounded out our day the way any American would—we went to a bar and had lots of Belgian beer. To be honest, we wanted to buy a beer glass for a souvenir (Belgians have a different beer glass for every type of beer they produce which is well over 300 types…pretty cool, eh?). But we didn’t want to buy just any glass, we wanted to buy the glass of our favorite Belgian beer…so naturally, we had to try a bunch to find our favorite. And, as you can probably tell, the rest of the weekend is a bit foggy from there. 🙂

But, rest assured, we did make it back to our train and, on the way, stopped for our final classically Belgian food…french fries (which originated in Belgium. Did you know that?) served with mayonnaise (the best way. Hey, don’t knock it until you try it) served in a paper cone. Fabulous!

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