I apologize because by now this post is very much delayed. I really need to catch up and thus will share some pictures of Brussels without much commentary . There weren’t that many must-see places for me in Brussels and the pictures below are some of the highlights. If you want my advice, I think a day and night is enough to get you the gist of what Brussels is like. I’m sure there are a lot more cooler areas surrounding the city center but I will have to discover them some other time.
Belgium is the birthplace of comics, of which Tintin and The Smurfs (original name is Les Schtroumpfs) would be the most well-known. So scattered all around Brussels are walls painted with comic characters. I thought it was really cool and stopped to take pictures of each wall I came across. I have quite a few but will just share three with you so as not to bore you. Comic walls might not be everyone’s thing.
It is extremely hot here in Lyon now- 36 degrees celsius outside. Not sure what is it in my room right now but it feels really hot even though I have a tiny fan from Carrefour blowing straight at me – the best 15 euros spent in my time here. I thank the Chinese for making it affordable. I feel so lethargic at home because of the heat. At work, I have no choice but to suck it up. As I am there dividing and shaping bread dough all I can think of is a nice cold watermelon. Seriously, a nice juicy red watermelon feels like heaven in this weather. So for the past two days, I head to Monoprix straight after work and buy me some watermelon! And some beer! Simple things in life.
At least my latest obsession is a healthy one, if not heavy one. Of course out elevator has to crap out as soon I as I get into this watermelon obsession. Nothing like making me work (through 4 flights of stairs) to eat my watermelon.
After Ghent, we hopped on the train again and 30mins later we arrived in Bruges. The rain had stopped so that was a good start. There were more people too in Bruges so we decided to again try to talk to the center of town even though in Ghent we had said we would take the bus in Bruges.
Our first real stop ended up being the “Le Halve Moon” brewery where we took a beer brewing tour for 6 euros. Well worth the price. It was unexpectedly very informative and both Babita and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I definitely learnt a lot about beer. The beer included at the end wasn’t my thing but apparently they change it up when this special beer is in season sometime in the winter.
The best thing about Bruges that day was this festival called Benenweek. Now I haven’t done any research as to what it is exactly but from my experience, it is like a big free dance and music festival. Various stages were set up around the city center each with a different “type” of music/dance. There are instructors there teaching a big group, and you can choose whether to watch or dance. We experienced the pop stage, flamenco and tango stage but spent most of our time in the ballroom dancing stage right in the market square, watching that is. In the afternoon, they were teaching people some moves but when we went back later on the night, it was a free form and it was a packed house with people (mostly older) dancing to oldies in different languages. Very cool and very fun. Too bad we had to catch train back to Brussels that night. I would have loved to stay on longer. More cities should organize such an event.
Ghent is city 30mins by train from Brussels and is right in between Brussels and Bruges. I wasn’t expecting to go to Ghent but since it was on the way and Babita had read great things about it, we decided to make a stop. It was a very rainy day when we arrived in Ghent, Belgium and although it didn’t give us a very good impression in the beginning, I am really really glad we went. I loved it!
Since it was a small town, we didn’t think the city center would be too far from town. We hadn’t had breakfast yet and the local who we stopped to ask said it would be about a 20min walk to town. Actually she kind of hinted that we should take the tram but we still didn’t think it was too far to walk. Besides it hs just started drizzling then. Maybe if it wasn’t raining it wouldn’t have seemed so far but my advice for anyone going to Ghent is to take the tram. There weren’t people on the streets we could ask either at 10:30pm. Babita needed to get an umbrella but all the stores were still closed. After what seemed more like 30-40mins, we finally passed a breakfast place which I mentioned in my “Weekend in Belgium – Snacks” post.
After a good breakfast and some good directions from the staff at Pain Perdu, we made it to the city center. Maybe because we had low expectations at that point,we were very impressed. The wow factor was there even though it was raining. It was so beautiful by the canal. Babita mentioned that it is kind of like Annecy. To me, it was a bigger and better version of Annecy with more unique architecture. Maybe it is because I have been in France too long so the Belgian architecture was new to me.
As with all my pictures, they do not do the place any justice. If you get the chance, you definitely have to go see it for yourself.
p.s. On a side note, I am headed down south to the Cote d’Azur this weekend and so won’t be able to continue my posts of Belgium until next week. I won’t have many pictures of the French riviera to share because I somehow broke my camera in my last few hours in Belgium. I’m so sad because I only have a few days left and it isn’t worth it to buy a new camera. Also i think it can be repaired. I don’t see any visible damages but the lens keeps coming out and retracting and it tells me to turn the power on and off. It just does the same thing when I do though. Anyone have the same problem with their Sony WD-350? I would be keen on hearing if you have a quick fix.
Laurent walks into work today and tells me it is Fête de la saint Hélène today. Huh? What kind of fête is that? Apparently there is something called la fête de la prenom also called “name day” in English. I guess its is a religious thing associated with saints of the past but but apparently, every given name has a day in the calendar. I had never heard of this and was confused as to what they where talking about. Then they showed me the calender….underneath August 18th was St. Hélène. ”But hey, that’s not my name!” I said. No one had heard of my name spelt as E-L-A-I-N-E before and it always confuses the French.
On an unrelated note, I was asking Yohann if the markings on the couche (bread cloth) that was indented on the baguette would appear after we bake it and he said no. That’s too bad because if it did, I would try to get a couche with my name on it. Then he suggested we could score my name on the baguette instead. So I scored it and he was confused as to what I was spelling. After it was baked, the other apprentice had a hard time making out what was written even after I said it was my name. (These guys were not part of the earlier discussion.) Anyways, below is the result….. not a very pretty baguette.
Happy Saint Helene/Elaine day everyone!
Belgium was great! I especially enjoyed Ghent and Bruges. Again I have quite a few pictures to share so I shall continue with the the same format I shared my pictures from Madrid. First the food, and more specifically, Snacks!
The first night we arrived in Brussels, I was starving and in search of some mussels and fries. We ended up at the tourist street near the Grand Place and had mussels from Chez Leon as it was recommended from a random guy we asked who was about to enter his apartment. The mussels and my raspberry beer were good, but the fries and shrimp croquettes were blah. I was so hungry and anxious to dig in that I forgot to take a picture. I also forgot to take a picture of our breakfast the next morning in Ghent. It was pouring when we arrived and thinking the town center wasn’t too far off from the train station we decided to walk. There wasn’t a single soul on the street at 10:30am. This must be a party town since it seems that people don’t wake up until later. We were not enjoying Ghent at that point as it was raining, very quiet and most importantly, we were hungry!! Closer to civilization we stopped at the first place that seemed to serve breakfast – a place called Pain Perdu. It is very very similar to Le Pain Quotidien (which I just learnt is from Belgium). In fact I was hesitant to eat there because I thought it was a Le Pain Quotidien and I’d rather not go to a place where I can go to back in LA. But I’m sure glad my stomach spoke up because I thoroughly enjoyed breakfast there. Their spreads were so good. I order a set that included a hot beverage, juice, a viennoiserie, and a choice of bread. The pain au raisin wasn’t great so I could have done without that but I was addicted to the spreads they had and couldn’t stop eating it with my bread. They had strawberry, rhubarb, apple and pear and a praline tartiner. Again, sorry no pictures except for the outside.
The rest of our meals in Belgium really comes down to snacks and beer. The most memorable were the fries in Bruges (actually its more about the sauces then the fries) and the trappist beer.
There are two green frites stands in the market square of Bruges. I think they are both equally good – again, its all about the different sauces, but we tried the one on the left when you stand facing the Belfry tower.
After the fries, we tried to occupy ourselves in Bruges but we came across Bittersweet cafe too soon. I had read about this place and wasn’t quite sure I’d be able to find it without a map. Since we just happened to come across it, it was a sign we had to stop off for some Belgian waffles. Despite being full I also ordered the tulip hot chocolate. The presentation was really cool – a tulip chocolate filled with chocolate shavings which you drop in its entirety into the hot milk. Yum yum yum – really good! Equally good were the waffles – the perfect crunchy texture and the perfect sweetness. It was good on its own. I didn’t need the Speculoos spread, but its hard for an addict to say no.
After all the snacks, our dinner that night consisted of just a beer.
Back in Brussels, we skipped breakfast the next day to have an early seafood lunch. Its a stand-up place in a corner of Place Saint-Catherine (walking distance from the Grand Place). You go up, order at the counter and eat at the counter. Because it was a cool cloudy day, the fish stew was very appealing. I was satisfyingly good. Unfortunately, the shrimp croquettes (I figured I had to give this Belgian specialty another try) and the sardines were disappointing. I regret not ordering the mussels!
Belgium seems to be the capital of chocolates but since I’m not a big fan of chocolate, I chose to have the ice cream instead from this famous chocolatier. I have been craving ice cream for a very long time so that might explain why I loved the caramal crunch ice cream so much. It wasn’t a big portion so it was just right. The texture, taste and everything was divine. For the price it should be though. I’m glad I tried it. I also tried three macarons – mojito (interesting), lemon tea with chocolate (weird) and the pierre marcolini (good) which apparently is made from chocolate sourced from three origins.
We had waffles again but this time from a packed touristy spot near the Maneken Pis statue in Brussels. Blah, it was terrible! Ridiculously sweet and too soft even though I just had a sprinkle of powdered sugar on mine. I think I only took two bites. Do not go to Le Funambule for waffles. Unfortunately I don’t have any recommendations for waffles in Brussels because I only had stomach left to try a trappist beer. Good choice on my part. Trappist beers are brewed under the control of Trappist monks. I don’t know much about beer but these monks sure know how to brew a good beer! Cheers or Sante to them!
But it was not to be my last beer of the day. While heading towards the comic musuem, I passed by a bar I had read about that served a really good peach lambic beer. Another thing I learnt – lambic beer is a type of beer that is only brewed in an area in Belgium, close to brussels. I just had a beer but when in Belgium, why not another? Especially one that was only brewed in region. The first taste wasn’t that great but a few more sips, I grew really like it. It has a distinct ciderish taste.
It has been awhile since I’ve had a pastry posting. As a gastronomic capital, Lyon isn’t really known for its patisseries. Its what I miss most about Paris, but in a sense its better for me since I won’t be tempted. There are two places that are well known in Lyon for beautiful pastries – one is Seve, where I got my birthday cake, and two is Bouillet, as in Sebastien Bouillet. He has places in Lyon and Tokyo and anyone looking for good pastries in Lyon should go there. I always think about going there to get something but the main store is a bit of a hike uphill, in a hippie area called La Croix Rousse. Carolina staged there for 3 months and she came back to visit them yesterday. Knowing this, I asked her to bring some pastries and this is what she selected…..
Both were good but the St Honore was REALLY good. Instead of pastry cream, they fill it with salted caramel pastry cream. And the chantilly cream was really good too… light, tasty and not overly sweet. Hmm, now I’m not sure which pastry shop has the better St Honore – Patisserie des Reves in Paris, or Bouillet in Lyon. I might have to make that hike to Bouillet before I leave Lyon. Apparently, they’re Fraisier’s are really good too. I’ll let you know…..