Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Brussels n' Berlin


Since we spent most of yesterday road-tripping, we were happy to have another half-a-day in Brussels. We began with breakfast at Le Clef D’Or, a little diner-type place. We started with some Lambic beers. These beers are brewed in Belgium, usually in the Brussels region, and fermented by wild yeast found in Brussels' air. The beer is somewhat sour but flavored with natural fruit juice. I had raspberry, John had cherry. Both were delicious.

[In Europe a dirty SpongeBob SquarePants doll lying face down in the street in front of your restaurant is the same thing as a positive Yelp rating.]

We had croque monsieurs to eat. These are basically grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. We always learned about these sandwiches in French class, but I’ve never seen them on a menu, so I was pretty excited.

[Lydia was much less excited about the little bowl of pickled onions.]

Right outside of the restaurant was a flea market, so of course we took a peek around there. They were selling the same things you find at American flea markets - old furniture, books, and knick-knacks.

Next we made our way towards Grand Place, the same spot we visited yesterday. Here we met up with a free tour of Brussels. Our tour guide told us all about the buildings on the square. The biggest, most impressive building is the town hall. It was built in several phases, so it’s quite lopsided. Pretty funny. Across from this building is another large, impressive building known as the Maison du Roi (King’s house) in French or the Broodhuis (bread house) in Dutch. I believe it was built by some ruler trying to prove he was more powerful than the local city government. The other buildings on the square are old guild houses. The only house still owned and operated by a guild is the brew house. Pretty fitting.

[I was amused by the large number of wine corks that had been driven in between the cobblestones by countless tourist feet.]

We left the square in search of Belgium’s most famous person. I thought for sure we were heading for the Manneken Pis, but it turned out to be the comic book character Tintin. I learned that Tintin was originally written as fascist propaganda for children. According to our guide, one of the stories, intended to promote Belgian imperialism,  takes place in the Congo and depicts the black people as stupid and lazy. If you’re interested, he said this version is now only available online.

Next, we did stop at the Manneken Pis. The Manneken Pis has hundreds and hundreds of outfits. When he is dressed in a new outfit, a special song is sung. [It's not super pretty coming from Google Translate but you get the idea:

Brussels little guy
Cute lucky
The most beautiful waters
Sprinkler all hearts
When it's "Pss Pss ... ..."
And again "Pss Pss ... ..."
On the sly
He pushes
Cheerfully "Pss Pss ... ..."
A huge
Sort full jet
His little whistle"

Really any song with onomatopoeia peeing sounds is a hit in my book.]

While I was listening to the tour guide tell about the Manneken Pis, John snuck off and bought me a surprise. A little chocolate-covered, meringue snowman. Woo hoo!

Our next stop was the Brussel opera house. Apparently it was here, after an opera about revolution, that the Belgians were inspired to declare their own independence in 1830.

[One shop was selling these interesting different kinds of chocolate on a spoon intended for making hot chocolates.]

It was at this point that John and I split from the rest of the group to have lunch. We went to 'T Kelderke. It was in a little cave-like space right on the Grand Place. John wanted Eel, but unfortunately they were out, so he settled for some Belgian fish. I was adventurous and ordered rabbit stewed in Belgian beer. Neither was very good. Luckily, we also got some Belgian fries, so we didn’t go hungry.

For dessert, we visited one of the fancy chocolate stores we passed last night. I got an assortment of delicious Belgian chocolates. Unfortunately I made a big ole’ mess with the chocolate covered cherry. Womp womp.

[We walked by the European Commission building at one point, which apparently houses the executive branch of the EU government.]

We walked back to the hotel, gathered our luggage, and set off for the airport. The Brussels airport was super, super nice. There was no line for security, the machines were fancy, and the security people were super nice. Also, the gates were nice and big and had plenty of outlets and chairs. What more could you want?

After an uneventful flight, we landed in Berlin. We took public transportation to our hotel, dropped off our bags, and went out for dinner.

We went to a place called Mommseneck which is known for serving over 100 types of beers. We both ordered some delicious German beer and tried currywurst. Currywurst is a German food consisting of wurst smothered in a ketchup/curry sauce. It wasn’t my favorite, but I’m glad I tried it.

[I had a ham chop thing. It was good.]

Outside of the restaurant was a small Christmas market, so we did some wandering. Amongst all the usual stands, we saw people tubing down a giant hill of fake snow. It looked pretty fun. We also saw a group of people playing a game that looked like a cross between bowling and curling. It was 40 euros for an hour of play, so just watched.

After a long day of travelling, we were excited to retire to our hotel room.

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