belgium, 2006

Andrea and I have been meaning to cross the Channel for a while. In December Andrea decided to take me to Belgium or France for my birthday and we never got around to it because of the holidays. London is also a distracting place; it's easy to feel like you don't have to go elsewhere to have a fun weekend.

In the second weekend in February we finally got around to taking the Eurostar to Brussels. (Nice train, the Eurostar. I had been in the Channel Tunnel once before, but that was on Le Shuttle, which is a train that carries cars and coaches from Britain to Europe. So this was my first Eurostar trip.)

My main reason for wanting to visit Belgium was beer. Andrea's were waffles, chocolate and French fries (which were actually invented in Belgium). The country also has architecture, culture, and beurocracy (the latter in the form of the EU capital, which is in Brussels). But food and drink are the best reasons to go.

Andrea at Brussels Nord Station
Andrea demonstrates that we are at Brussels Noord Station ... or Bruxelles Nord. Quite a lot of places in Belgium have two names, since the country has two official languages. Flanders in the north is predominantly Flemish-speaking, whereas Wallonia is mostly French. We stayed at a hotel in Brussels, since the Eurostar station is there, and did a day trip to the quaint little medieval town of Bruges on the first day. We would have done the reverse, but that would have resulted in our arriving in Brussels on Sunday with luggage and nowhere to store it.
Ed in first class carriage of train at Brussels Nord Station
We sat in a nice carriage and wrote in our journals. Within minutes we were infirmed that we were sitting in first class, and had to relocate.
Andrea on street from station into Bruges
This is Andrea on the long road from the train station in Bruges to the city center. Almost all the streets in Bruges are cobbled.
Bruges from corner of Zonnekemeers
Looking toward th ecity center from a street called Zonnekemeers. Most of the buildings in the city are brick, which gives the town a warm feel but makes it difficult to judge the age of the buildings. It seems that most of the city dates to the seventeenth or eighteenth century, when it was a major industrial city between Brussels and the coast.
Andrea at canal from Zonnekemeers in Bruges
Andrea at a canal. There were a few of these in Bruges.
Street in Bruges
Bruges is full of nice shopping streets, and there is a chocolate shop or two nearly everywhere you go.
Horse and Sculpture on street in Bruges
We didn't bother to take a horse carriage tour, but we saw (and were nearly run over by) a number of them in the south side of the city. This photo at one of the horse drinking fountains in an area called Wal Plein seemed appropriate.
Bridge at Wal Plein in Bruges
Wal Plein is a rather pretty area, with a nice bridge and some mild-mannered waterfowl.
Belgian Waffle with chocolate in Bruges
This was reason enough to come to Belgium. No one makes waffles like the Belgians.
View from top of the Halve Maan in Bruges
I spotted a brewery called the Halve Maan near Wal Plein and we took a tour. Belgium makes some of the best beer in the world, in my opinion. This is the view from top of the brewery.
Alley in Bruges
An alley in Bruges.
Statue with Once
This is a statue near a cathedral called Once-Lieve-Vrouwekerk. I think the cathedral had both a French and a Flemish name.
View of Maarkt from Steenstraat in Bruges
The cultural heart of Bruges is a large plaza called Maarkt. This photo is looking into Markt from Steenstraat.
Belfry on Maarkt in Bruges
The massive belfry dominates the Maarkt.
Andrea at Maarkt in Bruges
Andrea at Maarkt, where we bought an order of French fries from a street vendor and had to restrain ourselves from buying a second.
Pano of Burg in Bruges
Just east of Markt is a slightly smaller square called Burg. I took a few photos to make a panorama, but because the buildings were close to me the pano came out distorted. I like it.
Hobbit Restaurant in Bruges
While looking for a bar that our guidebook recommended we found this Hobbit-themed restaurant.
Tolkein Restaurant in Bruges
Across the street there is either a companion restaurant or a competing one - we couldn't tell which.
Markt and belfry from side street in Bruges
The Markt and its belfry from a side street.
Restaurant Street near Grand Place in Brussels
The next day we explored Brussels. I rather liked Brussels, despite the fact that a lot of its older buildings have been replaced by ugly, concrete ones. There is still a lot to like about the city, including a very charming city center where we found this restaurant-lined street. This was mainly Italian, and a street perpendicular to this one was Middle Eastern.
Ed and Andrea in the King's Gallery in Brussels
Also near the city center was the King's and Queen's Galleries, lined with shops and covered by a long skylight. We pause in the gallery to reflect.
Andrea in the King's Gallery in Brussels
Andrea in the King's Gallery.
Charles Buls Statue in Brussels
This statue of burgermeister Charles Buls was rather interesting. He has a dog biting his arm.
Grand Place in Brussels
The Grand Place is Brussels' own main plaza, and it has remained relatively unchanged for centuries. We saw etchings in the local museum of people walking through the Grand place in the eighteenth and ninteenth centuries, and it looks exactly the same.
Grand Place in Brussels
Another view of the Grand Place, with Andrea in it.
Hotel De Ville at the Grand Place in Brussels
The Hotel De Ville is the large, tower-capped building at the Grand Place. In French, a Hotel de Ville is a town hall, not a hotel.
Hotel De Ville at the Grand Place in Brussels
More of the Hotel De Ville. Some of the neo-gothic columns don't go all the way to the ground, but rather terminate in a relief sculpture like this one.
Manneken Pis in Brussels
Manneken Pis is the most famous thing in Brussels. It's the symbol of the city, in fact. I'm not making this up; a statue of a boy peeing is part of the city's identity. This is not the original statue, since the original is rather old and was stolen a few times. The statue was originally placed here to feed a drinking fountain, of which there were several in the city.
Andrea under Manneken Pis in Brussels
Andrea under the Manneken Pis statue. They are juxtaposed just so.
Palais de Justice from Rue de la Regence in Brussels
The Palais de Justice from Rue de la Regence in Brussels.
Grimbergen beer in Grand Place bar in Brussels
This bar is called The Wheelbarrow, and is at Number 2 Grand Place. Note the roaring fire in the background - a lot of brewhouses had them, and it was a nice touch. This was probably the best beer I had in Belgium; I find that the blond ales are quite good, though the Trappist ales are also worth a try. Belgian beer tends to be made with the same sort of quality and attention to detail that the Germans employ, however in Belgium the breweries do not adhere to the German purity laws that limit the types of ingredients that can be used in the beer. This means that spices, fruits and other ingredients routinely end up in the beers, giving them rather unique flavors.
Kwak beer in Grand Place bar in Brussels
Belgian beers usually have their own custom glasses. Kwak beer had the most unusual one I've seen. It was round on the bottom and required the use of a wooden holder.
20 Euro Note in Grand Place bar in Brussels
This little thing made the trip very enjoyable. I hadn't been to Europe (the continent, that is) since the late 1990s, and the introduction of the single European currency makes life a lot easier. I did enjoy figuring out all the national currencies back when I visited in the 90s, however I find that it's even more fun to not have to figure them out. The Euro notes are all decorated with architectural drawings, rather than specific buildings and people, since they are used by many nations.
Snow on Grand Place in Brussels
When we emerged from the bar we discovered a very snowy Grand Place.
Andrea in snow on Brussels near Museums
We walked up toward the art museums, which looked nice but were about to close. It really started to snow while we were up there.
Wet restaurant street in Brussels near Museums
The restaurant-filled area near the Grand place after a fresh (melted) snowfall.