We didn't get off to a glowing start in Brussels, but we did get off to a funny start!
After we settled in at our hotel, we went to the front desk for some assistance in where to get dinner. We didn't want to walk far, but wanted a nice meal and a drink or two. The man at the front desk quickly gave us a map and with his yellow highlighter circled a spot that is about half a mile from the hotel. He said that is where we must go! It is Wednesday night and there is some sort of market that happens on Wednesdays and then everyone meets for drinks!
We are not too sure what that has to do with us, but we are trusting his advice and head to the market place. What we find when we arrive is what looks like a flea market that is in the process of being dismantled and makeshift bars are all over the square! It looks like a block party that has been going on all day and the diehards are still not going home.
Barrie spotted a pub and we grabbed two of the last chairs in the place. They have Aperol Spritz and Gin & Tonic - good start! As we drank the first round of drinks, my British guy said, "this is my kind of place!" My jury was still out. We placed our food orders and I ordered something that was supposed to be tomato stuffed with shrimp. It came to the table looking like canned/potted shrimp drowned in Thousand Island dressing with some really ugly tomatoes on the side! I haven't seen shrimp that tiny - maybe ever! If we were at home and this was served to me, I would have said, "Are you kidding me? Do you really expect me to eat this?" When traveling - I try not to act like "The Ugly American".
As the minutes ticked by I was able to watch some of the people in the pub and Barrie had his back to them. When I saw the toothless man go out the front door 3 times to smoke his cigarette, I decided that Barrie didn't have very good taste in his selection tonight. I told him if he likes this place, he was going to LOVE the Herrick Pool Hall when we go back to my hometown! If you are reading this and are from Herrick, you will know what I mean. If you aren't from Herrick, or haven't been there - it's pretty hard to describe.
So our dinner became frites, which are always good, and some cheese and bread. That healthy meal along with another round of drinks made for some good laughs as we walked back to our hotel. By the time we were leaving the restaurant, most of the chairs had been pulled outside to sit in the square for the local block party and we were being entertained by all sorts of characters!
Barrie doesn't get to choose restaurants for few days!
I am usually the eternal optimist, but am already pessimistic about Brussels as we go exploring the next morning. I know Rick Steve's loves Brussels, so I am determined to find something to like!
Sadly, I am counting the days until we are out of here and on to Paris! It's hard to get excited about a city whose major attraction is a statue of a little boy peeing - the Manneken Pis. Barrie, however, is keeping a stiff upper lip and looking for the good things in Brussels!
I remember the story of the little boy who is shown a room full of horse s—t and happily digs in because he knows with that much s—t, there has to be a pony in there? That's what Barrie's determination to like Brussels reminds me of! He's looking for the pony!
We found a great restaurant called La Buvetta. It is supposed to be the one place that you have to eat before leaving Brussels! The location used to be a butcher shop - for horses! Beautiful and interesting and sad all at the same time. The chef has a prix fixe menu for lunch - take it or leave it. Very interesting combinations of foods and even more interesting entertainment! We watch the waiters walk across the street to two other restaurants owned by the same man to get any supplies they need. Once our waiter crosses the street, only to return with a cheese grater. The next time, he actually goes across to bring a beer back to the fellow at the next table. Along with the beer, he came with a large loaf of crusty artisan bread for the kitchen! It's like watching a play while eating lunch.
I am so grateful for the walking we are doing - even though my feet are starting to really hurt again. The walking helps burn off the calories going in. Many of the places we are walking in Brussels are uphill! Take THAT you nine pounds that were stalking me!
We spent three days in Brussels and except for it getting us closer to Paris, there is nothing profound to write about. In many ways it reminded me of Napoli. Dirty, trying too hard, unsure of where or what it was meant to be. It felt devoid of life, of breath and of joy. And now Barrie has a bad cold, which makes it miserable for him as it is rainy and chilly.
So on the morning of our departure, I could not wait to get on the train and start for Paris. I usually have sadness in my heart when we leave a town, but not this one. We were ready to go.
In a true chance encounter, we were seated in front of a lady who was an American and had lived in Paris for many, many years. She was originally from San Francisco and years ago had met a French man, fallen in love, married, had children and remained in Paris. She was/is a human rights activist and her husband had been a writer and a publisher. Her nephew is currently running for the mayor of Anchorage AK and being challenged by the far right. She wanted to talk. . .she needed to talk.
Tilly was returning from Poland where she and her sister had visited Krakow. Their paternal grandparents had been killed there during WWII. She told me she was not prepared for the emotions she felt at the site of the concentration camps. Her own parents had moved to San Francisco before the Nazis had overcome so much of Europe. Her father's parents remained behind. She had grown up knowing "about" them, but not "knowing" them, so their life and death had always been something removed from her. She had no real attachment to them. Now she had been able to be in the last place they had been on earth and they were able to come alive for her. She said her hope was that they had gone quickly to their death. They were both in their seventies and it is believed older people were deemed unfit for work and were gassed almost as soon as they arrived in the camps.
She and I talked about the barbarism and how a nation could follow a madman like Hitler and do such atrocious acts to one another. Because of her human rights activism, I learned by using my ears instead of my mouth during the 90 minute train ride to Paris.
Barrie & I heard little news over the past few days and she was the one to tell me that ISIS had blocked out broadcasts on 11 channels of a French station, TV5Monde. We talked about ISIS and the ugliness of their hatred and murderous campaigns. When will it all end?
There is a quote I heard as a young girl that is attributed to Martin Luther King. It says (paraphrased): "We have learned to fly in the air like a bird and swim in the sea like a fish, when we have not yet learned to walk on the earth like a man." Tilly reminded me of this as we talked on the journey.
So with those thoughts swimming in my head, we arrive at Gare Nord to start our journey into the beautiful City of Lights.
The best thing about Brussels? One great restaurant (La Buvetta), one "so-so" restaurant with one great steak tartare, meeting an interesting lady on the train and getting us to Paris.