Brussels and Brugges in the rain

Brussels, Belgium:

As soon as I boarded the train from Amsterdam destined for Brussels, I should have taken note of the solitary gray color that the sky had taken on, as this was simply a forwarning that my time spent in Belgium would be a wet and rainy one.  There has been a constant and steady drizzle for virtually the entire three days that I’ve spent here so far, but being that Brussels is one of the best beer cities in the world (and has a few delicious culinary options, as well), there hasn’t been a lack of indoor options to which I could turn.  So much like the lonely, gray sky did for me, I’ll forwarn you that this post will be a beer-and-food heavy one.

Before diving into that, however, I was able to squeeze out a few of the key sights to see inbetween the rain drops.  There also aren’t too many scenary shots around the city besides the couple provided below, as upon opening the map that the hostel provided for me (luckily, most do), the first sentence giving advice on city stated “Brussels is ugly, and we love it.”  I might not go so far as to call the city ugly, but it doesn’t quite have that physical personality or character of a few of the past cities I’ve been lucky enough to visit — unless you count the juxtaposition of run-down apartment complexes placed directly next to beautiful cathedrals and museums, that is.

Town Hall in the Grand Place seen through the buildings

Mannequin de Pis — Much like the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, this popular tourist attraction left a little to be desired when viewing it in real life

The Botanical Gardens seen during one of the only times the sun broke through the clouds for me

Randomly placed street art always attracts my eye

Atomium, a leftover from a past World’s Fair.  The drastic constrast between the alien-looking structure and the natural environment around it combine to form a truly surreal sight

Comic Walls appear throughout the city

Now on to the food and beer.  One phrase that I’ve heard a few times around Brussels is “ne fond leggen,” which means to “lay the base.”  For a country of beer drinkers, this refers to filling your stomache with a base of food before turning to the golden elixer, so we’ll do the same here.  Much like the cuisine in Amsterdam, the majority of the food was skewed towards the doughy and gooey or the fried side of things (aside from the mussels).

Rue des Bouchers — a winding street of nothing but restaurants. Supposedly, this is only for tourists, but it is still fun to walk down and hear the touts trying to entice you into their restaurant

The guys from “Taste of Belgium” in the Columbus weren’t kidding: this really is how they serve waffles in Belgium. Instead of the light and airy concoctions dusted with powedered sugar we think of, they are much smaller, denser, gooey, and with the sugar in the dough already caramelized to an almost-crunchy exterior

Frites avec sauce (Fries with mayo) — you can’t come here without trying this delicacy. It was invented here, afterall!

Now on to the fun part.  Some have casually refered to Belgium as the Disneyworld of beer (at least for the ale-lovers, lager-lovers may tend towards Germany).  Judging by the number and quality of operating breweries, as well as the availability and selection at any given store or bar, I’d say that the sentiment isn’t too far off.  Another benefit of having to spend some time in the rain in Brussels is the presence of the Delirium Cafe.  This place holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for the largest beer selection on the planet.  They must maintain at least 2,004 beers available at all times, but when I visited, that number was probably 100-200 higher.  It can be a bit intimidating to see the menu (which is basically a thick phone book), but it is great fun, regardless.

It is like passing through the gates to the Garden of Eden

Technically not even to the Cafe yet, the ground floor houses the Delirium Tap Room, with it’s dizzying array of kegs and tap lines

The basement houses the Delirium Cafe itself (the floor above the Tap Room houses the Hop Loft, if you’re curious). The lights were low, so it was difficult to get a good picture

Belgians always like to serve their beer in that beer’s specific glass, but with a selection like they have, this can lead to a bit of a glassware overload

One of several tasty Belgian selections that I chose

If you remember back to my “Food and Drink” post in Copenhagen, there was 1 particular beer that I was on a quest to taste by a brewery called Cantillon.  Well, it just so happens that that particular brewery is located in Brussels (and they allow you to wander around the brewhouse freely – yay!).

At this point I should note that whereas the caramely trappiste ales folks typically think of when thinking about Beglium do exist, the majority of the local beers are dominated by sours.  These are beers that are spontaneously fermented (as opposed to using a cultured yeast strain), which gives the beer a somewhat grassy, acidic, and sour quality.  For some nomenclature, a beer brewed in this manner may be refered to as a lambic; if 3 different years of lambic are blended together, it can be refered to as a geuze; and finally, if various fruits are added, it can take on names such as Kriek (cherries), Framboise (Raspberries), or Blabaer (Blueberries).  The Cantillon brewery is one of the last remaining breweries that utilized the tradition methods of brewing said beer, and their special edition ales can be very rare and quite valuable.

The Barrel Room

Bottles of the most recent geuze vintage being bottle-conditioned

When I asked if they had any of the Blaeber remaining, they scoffed, “Of course not, that’s only made for the Danish…”

Brugges, Belgium:

Besides just bar-hopping around Brussels, another excellent option is to take a day trip to the quaint city of Brugges, about an hour’s train ride away.  Some have described Brugges as evoking images from a fairytale, whereas others have said they find it dreary and depressing.  Either way, this formerly-walled-city has enough narrow, winding alleys, streets, passages, and canals to get lost in for hours (a great way to explore the city, actually).  It is, however, a bit of a tourist town, so some of the scenary and atmosphere can take on a bit of a manufactured feel.  I still found it to be quite a beautiful place to spend an afternoon:

The famous Belfrey (p.s. – if you mention anything about how this building was used in the Colin Farrel movie “In Brugges,” the locals will immediately hate you)

Another fun thing to do in Brugges: just off a busy street connecting two of the main squares…

…there is a tiny alley called “De Garre”…

…and down the tiny “De Garre” alley, there is a tiny bar called “De Garre”…

…in the bar “De Garre” on the alley “De Garre,” you can order a “De Garre” beer (no joke). This is supposedly another one of those “only place in the world you can get this” types of things, so I had to check it out

And I’ll end on a story about trying to eat while in a foreign country.  Usually, I always try to find restaurants or food stalls off the beaten path that aren’t solely catering to tourists.  This can be a bit challenging and intimidating, but I think the rewards more than justify the extra effort.

For example, while I was in Brugges, I was hunting for a nice local joint where I could sit down and have lunch.  But being that there are more tourists than locals at any given time in Brugges (it is quite a tourist hot-spot for being so small), this was no easy task.  After wandering around for about an hour, I finally found myself in a part of town with no knick-knack shops or street touts to be seen.  I found the nearest local-looking restaurant and walked in.  Almost immediately, every single table paused their conversations to turn and look at me with the “I can’t believe he just walked in here” look on their face — it was like I walked into a re-enactment of a scene from a movie in which the music screaches to a halt and a lonely tumbleweed drifts by.  Even despite the embarassing entrance, I knew I had at least found the type of place I was looking for, no matter how intimidating it may seem.  The immediate thought is to slink away and find another, easier spot to check out, but I stuck it out.  Luckily, on of the kind waitresses shuffled me over to a table and began to take care of me.

Being that I was in Belgium, the primary language spoken was French, and my primarly (and virtually only) language is English.  This added for a bit of back and forth with the waittress, but I was finally able to settle on the “Soup du jour” and the “Plate du jour” — the special of the day with a bowl of soup.  Of course I had no idea what I was getting as I didn’t understand a word of the french desciption, but I was excited anyway.  Lo and behold, the food came out and everything was as wonderfully simple and delicious as I could have hoped.  The wasn’t a shred of pretentiousness to either of the dishes — in fact, they reminded me of what I thought a rustic, home-cooked meal would be in a typical Belgium household (and for about 1/3 of the price, too).  I left quite satisfied that I got a chance to see a slightly deeper slice of the cultural pie, for which I am grateful.

The chunky mushroom soup turned out to be a never-ending bowl type of affair

The Plat du Jour turned out to be (as best as I could tell) poacked Halibut with a beurre blanc sauce and boiled potatoes. It was simply, but was exactly what I was looking for.

I’m writing this post after just arriving in Barcelona, Spain after a marathon travel day that included 4 trains, 3 subway systems, 3 countries, 7 stations, and roughly 13 hours of travel time.  Needless to say, I’m a bit worn out.  I’ll be hitting the town tomorrow after a good night’s sleep, so I should have another post coming out in the next few days in regards to my experiences in Spain.  Salut!

About andrewamiet

I'm a 29 (now 31) year-old former desk jockey who is now making my way around the world, experiencing all of the sights, sounds, tastes, people, and culture that the world has to offer.

6 Responses to “Brussels and Brugges in the rain”

  1. Wonderful post, Rew. I am glad you got to taste the
    beers of Belguim, despite the rain…and very happy you
    arrived safely in Barcelona. LOVE the pictures and your
    commentary. Be safe.

  2. My brother told me that Brugge was the Florida of Europe, at least in terms of the old people. Was that your experience also?

    • I wouldn’t say this it is strictly the elderly that visit, but more the fact that there a far more tourists there than locals at any given point, so it feels kind of like a medeival theme park.

  3. andrew your writing and pictures are very very good. What did you do with the real Andrew? I am enjoying it all. Keep going.

  4. Hey Andrew,
    It seems as though you are having one heck of a good time. I just love the pictures and descriptions. Keep on with your wonderful journey!

  5. A guy from Germany told me today that there were NO good beers from Belgium. I had to laugh internally and then thought of you.

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