Wednesday, April 6, 2011

EuroTrip Day 6: Brussels

Day Six (July 15, 2009)

Day 6 was only yesterday, but already I am starting to forget what happened. Brussels is one huge blur of dirty streets; French speakers and bewildering beauty in one very concentrated area.

The day started at 10:50 (an improvement) when I rushed out of bed realizing that I told Deanna to be in the lobby at 11. So the shower was quick, but I’m getting pretty good at keeping the water in the tub. Day 6 was Waffle Day, so I didn't have to worry about eating coco pops and questionable milk. The nice thing about waffles in Belgium is that they're amazing. The better thing is that you can get them any time of day. So we strolled down to the waffle place (literally one on every corner) and got a plain Belgium waffle. You can get them dipped in chocolate with ice cream or banana coatings, caramel drizzled, almost anyway you like. But for a real control group to measure against US Belgium Waffles, I went for the plain one. OH my Lord!! It was so heavenly. Like it had been cooked in maple syrup, but not too much. And it was crispy on the outside, I was perplexed. I am going to try my best to repeat this amazing taste at home, but my doubt level is pretty high. Great start to what was an endless day.

With waffle in hand, Deanna and I made our way to the Train station that Dan and I had gotten such a horrible impression of on the night we arrived in Brussels. The group had made tentative plans to go to Brugges the next day, and I needed to buy the tickets for Dan and me to get the hell out of Brussels and into Paris.

What a nightmare?! It was so unpleasant an experience in fact, that I completely forget to write about it the first time I told the tale of day 6. We walked for probably an hour before we got to the station. The neighborhoods we passed were sketchy in our American opinions: it was about noon or so on a Wednesday in July, and a bunch of middle-aged men were standing on stoops, sitting on bench and doing… well, nothing. Deanna first picked up on this strange vibe and wondered aloud where the women could be. My suggestion was that they were hiding from all of the sketchy men, and we should do our best to avoid getting lost this time around. By the time we arrived at the Station, it had actually turned a bit chilly and windy, but you never would have guessed when you walked through the doors of the station.

Hot, impatient and surrounded by a sea of exceptionally foul smelling people, Deanna and I waited to buy my ticket to Paris. The way to buy a train ticket in Brussels is to first and foremost figure out the right room to go into. The room for buying tickets to Paris was different than the room to buy tickets to Brugges, or to London… everything was completely segregated out by location… and, of course, the explanation of that crazy policy was in French, or Dutch, or some mangled combination of the two that I would equate to Puerto Rican Spanglish. When we finally found the right room, we took a number and waited. Yes, a number… like the deli.

When our number was next, I stood very close to the counter that I thought I would be directed to. After all, having been to the DMV many times in Connecticut has taught me that when your number is next, you will go to the next available customer service person. However, in Brussels you don’t do a damn thing until your number is literally called out. I had to learn this the hard way. As I proceeded to the open desk I was told to get back in line until my number was called. I related to the service person that my number was next, so I wasn’t cutting. She didn’t care. So back to the line I went and waited for another 2 minutes to finally be called to another person. Are you kidding me!? She just didn’t want to wait on me, and that’s ridiculous. No wonder why these people hate Americans so much, we’re crazy enough to expect them to do their job – and in a timely fashion! It was madness I tell you, absolute madness.

When we finally got my tickets, we got out of that stanky station as quickly as possible and made our way over to the only brewery left in Brussels: Cantillion Brewery. I don't know too much about beer, but Deanna's husband Reed brews his own, so she was there to explain why this particular place was so different. Naturally, we got lost a bit on the way there. We thought for sure my Brussels Book had led us astray again, but as it turned out, we just passed the brewery without noticing. The place was so low-key we had walked right by the heavy wooden doors! When we finally entered, we were beyond pleased to find someone who was able to speak English, and handed us the English tour guide book. The brewery was really old, and definitely unique.

As we guided ourselves around with our books, we learned about the one really unique thing this brewery did: the beer goes under a "spontaneous fermentation" Meaning that literally, the yeast creates itself out of thin air. This particular process can only be done in this one spot in the world where the air contains the exact amounts of the right types of bacteria to create yeast in a barrel. Amazing. It's also the reason why the beer ferments in the barrels for three years before it can be used as a base for other types of beers: Krieks mostly. But they also use 1 year, 2 year and 3 year "lambics" to create a beer called "gueze". Because the beer ferments for so long, the sugars that you would taste in a regular beer that make it sweet don't exist in lambics. "But beer isn't sweet" I can hear you saying to yourself. And that's only because you don't know what a lambic beer tastes like. Another interesting thing about this brewery is that they make their beer the same way they did when the brewery opened in the late 1800's. They pour the mixture in a huge shallow copper bin to cool. When the cooling process begins, it must stay at a cold temperature, so they only brew when they know it can be kept cold: October through April. Within the brewery there must have been thousands of wooden barrels full of beer as well as tens of thousands of glass bottles (75 mL size) full of Cantillion's Beers. The tour ended with a tasting of the most sour beer I have ever tasted! The Gueze I had first was actually kind of good... more like a sparkling wine than a beer, it was so sour! The 2nd and 3rd beers we sampled were much harder to get down, definitely an acquired taste. But we enjoyed the old fashioned brewery and were glad to have found it.

The walk back was less successful.

We were trying to get to the Palais de Justice, yet another amazing work of architecture. However, we never made it. My Brussels book stopped labeling every street in one particular corner and it just so happened, that was the corner we were in. As we zig zagged our way around the city, we finally stumbled back to the mannequin pis area, and gave up on finding the palais. Since we were in the area, we decided to have fries again for lunch. Well worth it. This time I wanted ketchup, but there were like 5 different types of ketchup, so I said "American Ketchup" but that looked more like a combo of mayonnaise and ketchup. So I said "tomato ketchup" Next thing I know the dude is pouring mayo all over my fries. Then I shouted, "no no no! It’s red, tomato, tomato!" He said "Ohhhh! toe-mAe-toe.." Needless to say, I said fries with mayo again, just another funny little Brussels experience.

Back at the hotel I wrote about days 4 and 5 while I waited for Dan to be ready for dinner. I also found a real map of Brussels and drew out the route Deanna and I had used to walk back. It was pretty plain to see we walked across the entire city, outside of the city limits in fact. At 7:00, Deanna and I convinced the Engineers we could eat in the hotel so we wouldn't have to walk far. Dinner was pretty good, I had a bacon cheeseburger with fries (what else?) and one amazing glass of ice water. It is somehow impossible to get a cold beverage over here that isn't a beer, but this glass of water was really top notch. The thing was, I knew that if I asked for another glass it would probably take an hour or more to actually have it on the table. Service is not on par in Europe. That must be the reason why they include the tip automatically; no one in their right mind would leave a tip for a job well-done.

We wrapped up dinner with a round of strange beers on the roof of the hotel. I did not take pictures of this however, because my memory card was full and my battery had died.


Day 6 ended with me taking a Benadryl to fall asleep around 1 am.

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