When we got off the train from London to Brussels, it was rainy and freezing. As the cab zipped along the busy city streets, we joked that Brussels looked like every other city in the US. It had a big array of restaurants from all over the world as well as a high concentration of U.S. chains like Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, ChiChi's, and Taco Bell. At first glance, I was a little disappointed. The city wasn't very appealing to me and didn't make much of an impression but despite the cold and rain, the city was still bustling along.
Baking up, a bit to when we were planning this trip, we hadn't intended to go to Brussels but we really wanted to go to Amsterdam. Since you have to pass through Brussels anyway to get from London to Amsterdam, we thought we'd pop in for a night, just because we couldn't let the opportunity to see one more city pass us by. We had to stop.
We pulled up to our hotel and after settling into our room and unloading our gear, we headed back out in the rain to give Brussels a chance. By this time, it was late afternoon and we were starving. We headed out and just about a block away from our hotel, we found ourselves in the center of the city. That's when everything changed about the way we saw Brussels and its charm, uniqueness and character seemed to bust out of every seam.
Our first bite was a cone full of frites from one of the many shops that line the cobblestone streets. They were good, hot, salty and satisfying. We walked a little further until we bumped into Menneken Pis. Have you heard about this guy? Here's the full story, but essentially it's a teeny tiny statue of a little boy peeing in a fountain. There's lots of theories as to why he exists and most often, he is dressed in different outfits and the locals and tourists alike love him. There's Menneken Pis everything all around the city. Belgian chocolate shops have chocolate replicas of him and there are metal casts of him in everything from wine openers to key chains. We snagged ourselves a Mennekin Pis bottle opener which we now proudly display on our bar. It's already been quite the conversation piece.
Moving on, the beer! Oh my god the beer. We stopped into this quirky bar right across the street from Manneken Pis and we were presented with a beer menu that was more like a book than a menu. It was full of beers we had never heard of, let alone could pronounce. We just blindly selected two and ordered a cheese plate as well. The beer was incredible. So full of flavor and such personality. I'm more of a wine girl usually but I've totally been sold on Belgium beers after this trip. The bar itself was very unique with creepy marionettes hanging off of every dimly lit nook and cranny. The bar was cluttered and cramped and crowded and we loved every second of this totally unique experience. We bar hopped around a bit more because we were so enthralled with the beer and the unique settings and because we had such limited time, we wanted to try as much as possible.
We found the people of Brussels to be short with their interactions and there wasn't as much warmth to them but we loved it all the same. The city had its own identity and personality that everyone seemed to subscribe to and there was a lot of charm to that. They weren't trying to impress or be polite, it's more of a take it or leave it type of feel, which is total opposite of what we saw in London. The center of the city is breathtakingly gorgeous with ornately details buildings and warn cobblestone streets that make it hard to walk fast on. Right in the center of it all, we saw a line for a waffle stand. Obviously, you can't be in Belgium without trying Belgian waffles. The smell was intoxicating and the list of what one could top their waffle with was intense. In efforts to save stomach room, we decided to split a waffle and top it with a dousing of speculoos. Speculoos is a kind of spice cookie that is popular there (and fortunately for us is making a name for itself stateside!) and there's a spread that they make with these crunched up cookies and it resembles a sandy and sweet peanut butter - like substance. It was so good as it stuck in each little cranny of the waffle. And the waffle, it was not like any waffle I've ever had before. It was yeasty and more dense and incredibly crackly on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside.
Belgium was great, really it was and I liked it more than I thought I would but at the same time, I don't feel like we needed more time there but I'd happily return. I'm also a forever in love with Belgium beer now and have a new found appreciation for waffles.
Next stop, Amsterdam.