Brussels in the Budding Springtime
This was only an overnight visit with friends, but fabulous enough to make me yearn to go back.
Getting there: German autobahns are not always what you’d expect. The Germans keep their roads in near perfect shape, but that means constant roadwork, which often adds time to a trip. “You can go as fast as you want,” is the common misconception. Yes and no, is the reality. On our way to Brussels, we’d go fast for a spell, then have our speed gradually stepped down from “Blur the Countryside Lamborghini Style” to 60 mph, to 50 mph, to 35 mph, and sometimes to 25 mph. And if there’s an accident, may mercy guide you and I hope you packed a lunch.
Trucks are restricted to 60 mph, but on our way, that didn’t stop two eighteen wheelers from flipping to their sides and straddling a few lanes. Police and fire trucks held a convention, fortunately on the opposing lanes.
Our trip to Brussels lengthened from three and a half hours to four and a half. We arrived in the city to face Friday’s rush hour traffic, hampered by unruly bicycle lanes and plagued by an impossible number of non-coordinated traffic lights. It’s not that Brussels’ drivers are bad drivers, but that the roads and oddly timed traffic signals promote a suicidal determination to get home or die trying. Capturing the right of way on city thoroughfares requires nerves of steel and obedience to one rule: Don’t make eye contact.
Tired, but satisfied, we finished the journey. Fortunately, the friends we were visiting have spots in a parking garage, a gift so rare as to bring tears of joy, kisses on both cheeks, and promises to the almighty to never sin again.
Those are the inconveniences. And now for the wonders of a city I refer to as the Small Paris. The streets are perfect for walking and walk we did. As you may know, Brussels is famous for two things: Beer and Chocolate. Every other store offers one or the other. And no matter which beer or chocolate you choose, rest assured it will be a bit pricy and unbelievably delicious.
Cobblestone streets are common in the shopping and drinking and chocolate areas of the city. But, that doesn’t prevent the curvaceous, lavishly attired Belgian ladies from strutting the cobblestones in high heels. This must take practice, but no more than riding a unicycle, while juggling silk scarves. Men, too are rather well dressed, but lack the unicycle skills.
On to the outdoor antiques market, with stall after tented stall of every rarity imaginable. Full sets of silver, the finest crystal goblets, luxurious fur coats, ornate walking sticks, and art of every description. Oddly enough, my companion found three sets of clip earrings at a price much lower than she would pay in a departments store, and also more beautiful, and at no extra charge, she can wear them remembering the romance of having earrings from an antiques market in Brussels.
We visited a very special chocolate store in Les Galaries Royales Saint-Hubert. This mall rivals London’s Burlington Arcadein elegance and price, although Burlington ArcadepredatesLes Galaries Royalese Saint-Hubert, 1819 vs 1846.
Mary’s Chocolatesis somewhere in the middle of this justly famous, enclosed shopping street. Les Galariesis home to every pricy brand, including half a dozen chocolate stores, some wonderful cafes, antique stores of the first order, bookstores, furniture stores offering wonderful designs, glove stores, jewelry stores, and so much more.
But, even in this royally priced area, Mary’s Chocolatesstands out. Prices are listed in ounces of gold……only kidding, but I walked out with a small bag full of chocolate and with my Visa Card melting in my hand, not in my mouth. This is chocolate to savor and remember and drop to your knees to thank the heavenly father for. The original Mary opened her store almost exactly one hundred years ago, in 1919.
The shop ladies are extraordinarily helpful and speak every language in Europe and the Far East. They also pass out samples that allowed us to taste almost everything in the small, brightly lit shop.
The range of confections is boundless and runs from the familiar truffles and filled chocolates, to real egg shells filled with soft chocolate, tall and slender confectionary roses. The rose flavored white chocolate truffles are heavenly. Mary’s confections are not just different, but sensationally delicious. Yes, we sampled the candies and drank large paper cups of rich hot chocolate. We left the shop poorer, but richer (pun intended) for the experience, and with a fierce determination to return.
Ok, we’d finished with chocolates, so it was time to trot across the road from Les Galaries, for a visit to my favorite Brussels beer hall, La Mort Subite, the name meaning sudden death, is named after a card game. I’ve written extensively about La Mort Subite, so I will give you a link and right now you’ll have to settle for newly taken photos.
Your immediate question may well be: What about the food??? You damn well better mention the food!!!!
Ok, I will, but sadly, I did not bring my camera to table. The bistro where we ate was in the old city, on a cobblestone walking street and carries a succinct name: C’est Bon C’est Belge! (It’s Good, It’s Belgian), featuring Belgian specialties, such as chicken in a rich cream sauce, and beef stew cooked in dark beer.
We’re led to a table, then order beers and talk awhile. There is no rush. We’re brought a tin tub of dark, grainy bread and a deliciously creamy butter.
The delicious aroma gets to the table before the main course. My stewed beef is in a sauce as dark as chocolate, but with a perfect melding of herbs and beer and beef. Magnifique!
Meal over and it’s back to the streets for a long walk home. Orange streetlights guide our way past massive stone building, a palace and the palace garden. A pleasant ending to a most pleasant evening.
I know I used the description “cobblestone “ a lot, but once you’ve seen the old part of the city, you’ll know why. In most older cities I’ve visited there have been a couple of stone streets, but only enough to offer a polite bow to the past. Not so in Brussels!
And if you want to blend, have your clothes tailored and dress well! I told you, it’s a small Paris.