Bonjour pretty faced ones,
On December 28 we felt like it was high time to take advantage of the fact that we could just hop on a bus and you’re in another country. Brussels was a cheap(ish) bus ride away, considering we had left the booking to the night before the bus trip. So we decided to be young and spontaneous, and head over to Brussels. It was one of the best decisons we’ve ever made. Oh my goodness, the Christmas decorations in Paris blew me away. Then we got to Brussels, and I felt the spirit of Santa himself was guiding me through the city while I patted Rudolph and threw gifts at people and snow delicately fell on my nose and I ate waffles. On the first day we walked into the town it dawned on me that I was in the land of Belgium chocolates, pommes frites and hot chocolates. How my heart sank.
We noticed two things straight away that were a constant throughout the trip. Firstly, the beautiful architecture. Gorgeous, large, historical buildings that oozed grandeur. It really added an element of charm while we walked around and gazed at these beautiful buildings that looked like giant pieces of artwork all around us. The next thing we noticed was just how friendly the people were. All we experienced were smiles and welcomes. When we tried to speak in French, they would patiently wait while we got the words out. Also it’s such a multicultural city, which always gets points from me. Seriously lovely, warm humans.
We were advised to head to the town centre. On the way we came across our first chocolate pitstop, Mary Artisan Chocolate. Store fitout was gorgeous but Sweet Chocolate Frogs the chocolates were something else. Ed had a lemon cream and I had a dark chocolate and praline. Hands down the best chocolates we tried while in Brussels.
We were in the home of chocolates but I never really thought about what that meant. What it meant was that the standard level was high, so nothing tasted bad, in our experience. The other thing is that I guess partially because these are businesses jostling for attention in a saturated industry means that they need to get your attention to walk into their stores. And they do this with some of the most complex, imaginative and visually stunning window displays. Unfortunately I can’t pop a video under here (unless I create a YouTube channel, and that is not happening because working out how this blog works is a mystery in itself). So I’ve just included a screenshot of a video I took. Imagine that the little skaters were skating around the rink; because they were.
From there we meandered to the town centre, which, it turns out was a giant Christmas market/shopping haven that had been covered in thick, sparkly, perfect layers of Christmas lights and decorations. We walked through the main town square and there seemed to be a crowd gathering, and because I enjoy being a little sheep every now and then, we stayed without realising what for. Turns out sheep are highly intelligent, because the entire square and all its gorgeous buildings lit up for a music and light show. I was looking at the lights the way I would look if Pierre Herme knocked on my door and demanded that I work for him IMMÉDIATEMENT.
Then it spiralled out of control and we had chocolates from Pierre Marcolini (tasty but too much hype?) and Leonida’s (they gave it to us for free because we only bought one. I like them and their free chocolate). In the end they all tasted good, but definitely not as flavoursome as old mate Mary was shelling out.
Dinner on the first night was pommes frites (stop reading now please, Mama) from Fritland. Chippies get here now. The queue was over 30 minutes. Look, they were good and I’m sure the excitement of being in a new country made it taste better. But the more I had the more I realised that they were overly greasy, like see through the chip greasy. We got one cone each which is what everyone seemed to be doing, but we should have just shared. *Ed wants me to add that he thought they were amazing, and he thinks I’m a crazed nightmare for suggesting otherwise*
The next morning we thought we would try a popular cafe called Chez Franz. It was disappointing, because after selecting our breakfasts, we were told that there were only two options- bread and a drink, or a pastry and a drink. Bit weird. The menu did look good so perhaps we just came at the wrong time. This is me smiling through hangryness:
We also stumbled upon this beautiful Portuguese Pasteleria, Forcado where Ed had a little pastry filled with creamy rice. He made sounds of approval while eating, so wins all around. The shop assistant was also super duper friendly (why wouldn’t she be? She’s from Belgium) and wrote down a list of places for us to visit, as well as recommending the Use-It app to download to get around the city, as well as a bunch of other European cities.
The other thing we were both hanging out for was Tin Tin. We were in his hood. I love the drawings because I’m simple minded, but Ed on the other hand can’t help himself if he sees something Tin Tin related. He’s one of those ‘I’ve read all the books you guys’ guys. I know Tin Tin is problematic, to say the very least. This article sums it up well. For obvious reasons, I have a lot to say about colonialisation, White privilege and sweeping generalisations about groups of people and religions. But I cannot for the life of me stop loving the the way these comics were drawn. I think they’re beautiful drawings, the politics aside. And in this rare case, I do overlook the politics for the surface level prettiness. Yes, for a cartoon. Yes, I know I’m a flake. So we went to the Tin Tin museum and Ed grinned, and I clapped, and we bought nearly all the postcards. Nearly, because I did draw a line for Tin Tin in America (references to Red Indians amongst other hideous parts! Nope!) and Tin Tin in the Congo (have you seen the cover? Nope squared).
We also saw these while walking around and they both brought joy:
From there we went iceskating for 15 minutes, which I believe is just enough time to make you look like Gigi Hadid and justify the food frenzy that was about to occur. For dinner we had one of the most delicious, crispy, not-at-all greasy, let-me-at-it fish and chips I have ever been lucky enough to have, at Bia Mara. Fish and chips is akin to a food group for me. On a scale (see what I did there?) of 1-10, I cod (puns4lyf) only fairly give this place a 10. A 45 minute wait, again in the cold, was worth it.
Anti-diet update: great success.
The following day we were heading back home to Paris, so we only had a few hours in the morning. We decided to go to the Marolle flea market. We had read that it was as huge so huge, and worth a visit. The official Brussels tourism website even writes,“The flea market on place du Jeu de Balle is more than just a flea market, it’s an atmosphere!”
Perhaps the atmosphere was on a Christmas break because it was literally just people picking at things and putting them down. That’s probably overstating the activity levels. There wasn’t much variety; perhaps it’s because I’m not a bric-a-brac connoisseur, but it all looked the samesies to me. We had finished the circuit in 15 minutes. I was comparing it to the Camberwell Market back home. I don’t usually buy anything when I visit, but I can visibly see the difference in the products each stall is selling, there are cafes and the donut/hot dog truck, it’s usually crawling with people so it’s vibrant, and it takes lots of multiples of 15 minutes to complete. You should go to the Camberwell Market if you’re in Melbourne. Marolle Market, not so much.
We backed up the market with waffles from Maison Dandoy (go go go go go) and had amazing, warm, crispy waffles with icing sugar dusted on them. Ugh so good. They’re also known for specialising in speculoos flavoured things, so there were speculoos biscuts, truffles and spread. Amongst cakes and other biscuits and of course, waffles. There was a queue before they opened at 8am, and no over-hype here.
One note about the food culture in Brussels. We used the website The Brusselsprouts to get around, and it was an amazing resource. As we were only there for 2 days, we wanted to try the things Brussels is known for (hence the waffles, chips, chocolate). If we had had more time, we would have loved to have tried all the amazing, new cafes and restaurants that the city boasts (and keeps sprouting!). There’s a lot of genuine, excellent food happening over there, and this blog post is just a snapshot, and most definitely not a fair reflection of the city.
One last thing I nearly forgot to add. THE BUS TRIP HOME. We found the last pair of seats, and before my toosh had even touched the fabric, the smell from Satan’s loins itself hit me. Someone in very close proximity to us had not showered in possibly 7 weeks. We pulled our scarves up over our noses, and I whispered to Ed that I had one of those teeny tester perfume sprays in my bag. He replied with a mixture of anger, anxiety and depression, ‘it will only work for 2 seconds’. So we settled in, and dealt with it for 5 hours. When we arrived back in Paris we basically sprinted off the bus, and inhaled sweet air. As we walked back I said to Ed, “I know that was the cheapest option, but-” and he cut me off and said,”we’re too old for this shit”. Sure buses are great for short distances, but 5 hours will curdle your soul. When we reached our apartment I threw everything we were wearing in the wash and sat in the shower for maybe 3 hours, water usage be damned.
I had heard mostly negative reviews on Brussels, and had been told it’s not an appealing city to visit. Maybe Brussels during Christmas is extra special because Christmas does add a shine on things. Regardless, I think the sparkly atmosphere, food, beautiful streets, stunning architecture and LOVELY people, made for a perfect mini trip.
And no, you may not call me Miss Piggy. It’s Ms.