January 5-6, 2017: Belgian Chocolate, Fries and Waffles

Photos from Belgium: https://goo.gl/photos/UzqbECoiC9a5PULj7

In Belgium, we were staying at an Airbnb in an up and coming Portuguese neighborhood near the train station. It was still a little sketchy but the apartment was actually really nice with high ceilings. It is a modern apartment with a terrace as big as the apartment. The beds were solid and comfortable. Mom was not happy about having to make our own bed. It’s not a big deal, but she really didn’t like that.

The restaurant recommended by our host was closed. And then yelp found us a restaurant that didn’t serve food. But third time was the charm. We found a little place for Portuguese roast chicken/pork. We were waited on by a nice guy that spoke English and looked like Waldo.

I can’t remember exactly when we discovered that my tuxedo was missing but at some point, mom realized that she couldn’t find my tuxedo that she brought from New York that I needed for the Vienna Ball in February. We desperately tried to contact the Airbnb host from Rome but had trouble reaching her and her brother. We came up with all these theories about why they might not be responding. We waited days before making real progress. At what point do we offer a monetary reward? This was a real debate we had. A debate that should have been unnecessary but was very pertinent. I was worried that there was no time for me to go down to Rome and pick it up because I had exams and then I’d be away for break. I even started looking into renting a tuxedo and other alternatives. We were this whole mess. I’ll update you on this in a later post.

We took a day trip to Bruges, the Venice of the North, and saved 80 euros by my card getting denied at the machine. It forced us to go to the counter instead and we got a promotion at the window. We had to wait a bit because we missed the earlier train because Morgan took a long time. She usually takes a long time.

Bruges is really pretty. Minnewater Lake (lake of love) has a powder tower and a park. The trees there look like cactuses or menorahs. There are tons of swans and colorful ducks. And to add to the charm there are some smelly horses and carriages. The Beguin Beguinhof Museum is this open space that we didn’t quite understand. We didn’t pay, we just walked right into the complex and walked around. The town’s Belfry Tower in the main square is pretty cool. I just enjoyed taking pictures of all the architecture in Bruges.

We had traditional Belgian food for lunch. Belgian fries are really just fries. They are nothing special or different. They’re really into stews, beef stew, chicken stew, and shrimp croquettes. We didn’t know the proper tipping etiquette. Turns out it is included in the fee. But it is not added as a separate item. In each item, a fraction is the tip. We didn’t know, but we to be fair, we weren’t tipping anyways.

We did a canal tour that I did not like. It made me really dizzy turning around and staring at the sun. Plus the tour guide was awful. He was speaking 3 languages but not really saying much in any language. You get to the see the city from a different angle, I guess, but I was so dizzy I wasn’t really seeing anything. I had my eyes closed half the time so I wouldn’t look at the bright sun.

In terms of stores, they are basically all chocolate stores or waffle stores. There are so many chocolate shops I don’t know how you make any distinction between them. They must just compete each other down. It was very overwhelming. I thought I liked chocolate but I was kind of flustered by all the chocolate. How do you know which one to buy? Or where to buy from? It’s all more or less the same really. We got some samples and I was satisfied with that. Morgan got a hot chocolate, which is a chocolate lollipop that you mix into a cup of hot milk. What was less satisfying was our Belgian waffle. By the time we’d decided we wanted one, most places were closed. We ended up at one where the guy microwaved the waffle. So obviously, it was not the freshest waffle. It was a disappointing waffle.

Back in our neighborhood we had Portuguese again for dinner. This time we went to the place that the host recommended. It took forever but it was good food. The menu is in Portuguese and French. I can kind of decipher it. The strange thing is that my French and Portuguese are both very basic. I know words but I can’t really string together phrases. But which language do I use if I can’t really speak either of them? Morgan is really impressed with my French, but it’s really nothing. So long as you mumble and your pronunciation is kind of close and can be chalked off to accent, it’s good enough.

The second day we explored Brussels. We started at the stock market and the Grand Place, which might just be one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. They were still taking down the Christmas market and so we didn’t get the Christmas market nor did we get the flower carpet that is usually in the center. It was the worst time to be there.  There is gold on the buildings. The town hall and the guild halls are these incredible works of architecture. But amidst all of this stunning architecture, there is not really too much to do in Brussels.

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There are of course the chocolate shops. Morgan got a Nutella drenched waffle for breakfast. The Galeries Royale Saint Hubert mall has a pretty covering. We walked into a Tintin store. There is Tintin artwork all over the city. There is some art in the metro system too. We paid for the metro even though they didn’t take my card. And a lot of people sneak on and they never check anyways. I always feel like a sucker paying for public transportation in Europe. The tram actually goes underground and becomes a metro. It’s kind of strange. We walked by a record store with artwork on the outside. Dad found a mural of Bruce Springsteen. There was poop right next to that wall though. Morgan got a picture with Hendrix/Dylan/Lennon.

We walked down a street that is all cheap restaurants with annoying overwhelming hawkers. They all talk to us and om and dad are too polite talking to all of them. They’re racist and aggressive but we ate at one of them anyways. The food wasn’t great, but it was 10 euros for a lot of food. I was ready to eat at the Asian noodle place, but Morgan didn’t want that. It was the only place without a hawker. And sometimes you have to show some solidarity with the diaspora.

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Mannekin Pis is one of the main attractions in Brussels and I think it might go right under the clock in Prague and right above the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen. It is tiny. It is so small and underwhelming. It is a fountain of a pissing boy. The statues outside the gift shops are bigger than the real deal. One of the Belgian students at school explained that it is like a joke. It is emblematic of Belgian humor. I just don’t get it.

There really isn’t much in Brussels. We started running out of things to do. The Royal Palace is empty. It’s not a tourist attraction, but it’s a cool building. We went into the Magritte Museum for a bit. They don’t have his most famous works there. But there was a free exhibit and a gift shop. The Musical Instruments Museum looked really cool from the outside. But we didn’t want to pay to go in. Instead we just wandered around. We went back through the Grand Place a few times. There was a public skating rink with little kids holding onto these plastic penguins to keep themselves up.

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We looked at some shops. Morgan took us to Primark. I’d never heard of Primark before. They have one in Boston. I think it’s a British fast fashion brand. It is very cheap low quality. But it was so crowded they even had a queue outside to get in. It looked like something was happening inside. Walking down the street, there was a stampeded coming towards us. We weren’t sure what was happening so we took shelter in a Foot Locker for a bit. Who knows what it could’ve been? We took to Twitter to find out. Twitter said someone said “bomb” to distract security from a shoplifter. But a bomb scare in Brussels has to be taken seriously. There were helicopters and army guys with guns descending upon the area within minutes.

Our last meal in Belgium was a good one Morgan found on Yelp. I had a Shepherd’s pie. I actually didn’t have beer at all while I was in Belgium. I was sort of overwhelmed by the selection. Water was already so expensive, as much as 8 or 9 euros sometimes. That’s almost as bad as Switzerland. I still maintain that it’s ridiculous to be paying that much for water. But we can’t go without it.

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