Tuesday, September 27, 2016

European Odyssey - Part 4: Mussels in Brussels

I know it's shocking but we arrived in Brussels in the pouring rain.  But the weather was pretty much what I expected for a European trip in February, and I was prepared for it so it wasn't a problem.  My friend M. and her husband K. and their infant daughter L. met us at the Brussels North train station when we rolled into town and whisked us to their apartment in Evere.  Once there we gratefully crashed on their couch and air mattress for the night.  In the morning we had a breakfast of fresh bread, cheese and fruit then M. her son R. little L., S. and I trekked to the tram and journeyed to the Atomium in search of Sheldon.

L. wasn't so sure about us at first, but she warmed up eventually.

Little L. all bundled up and ready to roll.

R. and Amy quickly become partners in the search.

It would be 2 more months before blossoms appeared back in Logan.  I enjoyed as many blooms as I could.

L. couldn't understand why we were shivering.
Selfie sticks are for amateurs, I prefer to use art.

We searched high and low at the Atomium thinking for sure that Sheldon would have left some sign that he had been there, but after discovering nothing that would point us in his direction we called it a morning and headed over to Bruparck which had a wide variety of cuisines to choose from but we decided on traditional Belgian/French food at Brussel'Air.  The food was great, but the company was better.  There is something indescribable about enjoying a good hot meal inside with friends while the weather rages outside.

Amy and I ate our fill of bread, olives, frites, and vol au vent.
We grabbed the tram back towards home but took the scenic route after we disembarked and wandered through a nearby cemetery.  The rain had stopped so we took our times reading names, dates, and epigraphs.  One section of the cemetery had a heartbreaking little garden honoring the young men from the town who had been killed in WW1.  I couldn't bring myself to photograph that sad site, but I stopped for a moment of silence and gratitude.  After the cemetery we headed back to the flat and shed our rain gear.  S. and I did our laundry and M. prepared us dinner.  K. took R. to scouts, so us ladies stayed in and chatted late into the night. I hadn't seen M. in person in several years so we had a lot of catching up to do.

I forgot to adjust my white balance when we arrived at the cemetery and the overcast day cast a blue tint on everything.
A color corrected version of the columns in the cemetery.

The rain had stopped but there was a mist hanging about the cemetery, creating an appropriate somber mood.
As we were walking home the sun finally broke through the clouds.

Their living room light fixture threw the most interesting shadows, I loved staring up at the ceiling watching the light.
The next day dawned bright and shiny.  R. was needing to work on his photography merit badge for scouts, so he and I had a little lesson about the different parts of the camera and how they worked.  We even spent some time photographing each other.  It was a great way to start the day.  Once the lesson was over we traveled to downtown Brussels to see what we could see.  R. and I both took our cameras and practiced shooting along the way.

L. was our model for the lesson.
R. getting his photography on.

Practicing photography along the way.  We found a broken mirror on the sidewalk.

S. enjoying the sunshine and the sites.
Napping on the tram.

Amy knew she wouldn't find Sheldon in a church but she wanted to stop in and see the church of St. Michael and St. Gudula, the national Cathedral of Belgium.

From there we took the short walk over to the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert to find Belgian chocolates to take home.  The window shopping and people watching in this shopping area is fantastic.  After that it was a hop, skip, and a jump to the Grand Place.  This is a large cobblestone square surrounded by fantastic guild halls and the towering spire of the Brussels town hall.  It's a gathering place for tourists and locals alike and definitely worth seeing.  While we were taking in the views we were stopped by some students who were on a field trip. They had an assignment to practice their English, so we let them interview us for their project.  Once we'd had our fill of the square we wandered off in search of waffles and the Manneken pis, who was all dressed up for our visit.

We wanted to investigate this comic store for Sheldon but the cops showed up and we hightailed it out of there.

With all this walking we worked up an appetite and M. knew just the thing.  She took us to the best frites shop in all of Brussels.  Because we were there mid afternoon and it was frigid out there were none of the usual impressively long lines.  We all ordered our own frites, dipping sauces (Andalouse for me!) and beverages, and everything was amazing.  Sometimes in crowded restaurants I like to look around and see if I can spot which couples are on their first date, 10th date, or have been long married.  I loved one couple in particular, they had 1st date body language written all over them, it was very sweet.  When I turned back my people watching I discovered that Amy had polished off the last of my fries and then split to do some solo searching for Sheldon.

Well fed and ready to go we walked over to St Catherine's and the farmers market set up in the square in front of the church.  Then over to the St John the Baptiste at the Benguinage.  I was particularly impressed with the church of the Beguines.  Even though there are no modern day Beguines left, the church members carry on their good works.  In 2015 they used the church to shelter Syrian refugees until they could find them more permanent homes.  It may not have been the biggest, brightest, or most beautiful church in the city, but I loved it the most because of the actions of its members.

I loved the rain gutters on this tower at Sint-Katelijnekerk or St Catherine's Church.

The entry door of St John the Baptist at the Beguinage

I loved the worn grave markers set into the floor of the church.

The bell tower of the Beguines Church.
The rain rolled back in and we decided to head back towards home.  We took our time walking back through the Grand Place and stopped for a bit more shopping.  Once we reached the apartment we changed and I took a photo of my loot from the day. 

R. investigating one of the doors at the town hall
The cobblestone courtyard of the Brussels town hall.
S. looking out onto the Grand Place.
Round 2 of shopping.

I swear we were ogling the sweets and not the man buns.  Who am I kidding?  We were ogling both.  Photo by S.
When K. got home from work S. and I took M. and K. out to dinner at a great little restaurant called T'Kelderke.  The door to the restaurant is right on the Grand Place and you walk down a short set of stairs into the coziest bistro you've ever seen.  It has vaulted brick ceilings, candles on the tables, and the sort of ambience that is impossible to come by in Logan.  I talked S. into trying the Flemish stew and she wasn't disappointed!  I finally got what I'd been craving the entire trip, mussels in white wine with frites, or as their called in Belgium moules frites, I was in heaven.

My phone camera did NOT love the ambience as much as I did.  Amy didn't mind the candlelight either.
Luckily S.'s phone was much better at capturing low light images.  Isn't that a beautiful sight?
For dessert I had la dame noir.
After dinner we took a few more photos on the square.
L. photobombed us.
Obligatory tourist shot.

This was our third and final night in Brussels and we enjoyed every minute of it and were sad to see it end.  The next morning we packed up, said our goodbyes to our fabulous hosts, and M. dropped us off at the Brussels North train station where we grabbed a train to Amsterdam.  We left the way we came in...full, well cared for, happy, and waiting in the pouring rain.  I am so grateful for the friendship and hospitality we received in Brussels, it really made this a very special trip.

R. found my gigantic guide to the chocolates I bought while I was busy packing.

Next: Americans in Amsterdam.