Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Désolé, je suis American...please cook my steak again

I love the Eurostar. Whoever decided to build a tunnel under the English Channel is brilliant, and I shall a raise a pint in their honor next time I'm at the Anchor. I love the thought that I can take the RV1 bus from Bankside to Waterloo train station, hop on the Eurostar, and arrive in Brussels or Paris within 2:30 hours.


In January I took the Eurostar to Paris and a few days ago I took it to Brussels. Moira and I left London around 8am and got into Brussels before noon. We dropped our stuff off at the hotel and went to Grand Place, which is the main square of Brussels. Absolutely beautiful and, of course, full of tourists.

Our first task was to find an ATM that would give us Euros (seeing as Britain has stuck firmly to the pound sterling, our currency with the Queen's portrait was useless). Now, you would think that this would be an easy task, right? Well, it wasn't. NONE of the ATMs within walking distance of Grand Place had money. Let me repeat, THERE WERE NO EUROS IN BRUSSELS, THE CAPITAL OF EUROPE. We decided to check out the EU area, where all the EU government buildings are, and perhaps find an ATM that would dispense Euros so that we could purchase waffles and Belgian fries.

Luckily, we managed to find a working ATM in the EU area, and then went off in search of the seat of European power. We stopped in front of the European Commission:

and then headed to the European Parliament, which is home to this funny looking statue:

We also walked through a huge park, which has, among other things, a street named "Avenue John F. Kennedy." How cool is that?

After touring the EU area, which was really not that impressive, because, well, I don't know, modern glass buildings just don't scream powerful like the Capitol or Kremlin, we headed back to Grand Place for dinner. Now, this is where the trip takes a turn for the worse, because it was then that the Belgians tried to kill me. You may recall that when I was in Paris, the French tried to kill me with bad cheese. Well, the same thing (food poisoning) happened in Belgium, which makes me suspect that the French speaking countries of the world have some vendetta against me. You see, this time, I decided that it would be ideal to order a traditional Belgian dish, moules et frites (mussels and fries). BAD IDEA. I love mussels, but these mussels did not return my love. I ended up puking my guts out throughout the city of Brussels, starting at the Grand Place and eventually ending up in front of some official consulate type building that belongs to the French government (Fitting, no?), in full view of four CCTV cameras. So, watch for footage of me on "Belgium's Funniest CCTV Videos."

When I woke up the next morning, though, I felt absolutely fine, so we headed off to Bruges, a city that is a one hour train ride away. It's cute...sickeningly cute, actually...see for yourself:

Canals, old buildings, boat rides...absolutely beautiful. The city seemed like a Disney theme park, it was that perfect. And, to prove how good I felt the day after my food poisoning episode, I had a belgian waffle covered in cherries and whip cream for breakfast, a portion of fries drenched in mayonnaise, gnochi gorgonzola, and numerous Belgian beers. A little food poisoning won't stop me from enjoying Belgian food (OK, granted the gnochi isn't Belgian, but whatever). And for those of you who think "fries with mayonnaise? gross!" then I urge you to try it. The mayonnaise won me over in December, after a trip to the Lowlander in Covent Garden. Ketchup? No thanks, bring me they mayonnaise!

Oh, and the citizens of Bruges love their bikes:

Some other random stuff about Brussels...

They have a huge atom statue:


But, the most well known Brussels feature is apparently this fountain, which is called Mannekin Pis:

I kid you not, every souvenir shop has tons of products with this fountain on them (mugs, bottle openers, shirts, whatever). In Paris, all the stores have mini Eiffel Towers. In Brussels, they have mini Mannekin Pis statues. So weird. And has anyone else noticed that all the souvenir stores in Western Europe are the same? You can walk into a store in London, Paris, or Brussels, and no matter what, they will all have the same Brazil soccer scarves and 2Pac and Che flags. It's quite annoying, actually. Why would I want to buy a 2Pac flag in France???

Oh, and another weird thing about Brussels is the metro. They play Britney Spears and Mariah Carey over the loudspeakers in the metro...swear to God, "Hit me baby one more time" was playing while we were waiting for a train. I quite liked it, too. Also, you can basically ride the metro for free - there are many stations with no staff, and there are no gates to stop you from entering the metro without a ticket. It is the oddest thing I have seen in terms of public transportation. (Of course, being good Americans, we actually purchased a metro pass).

The rest of my Belgium photos are here. Nothing too exciting, though.

Brussels is a great city to visit, especially if you like chocolate, waffles, fries, and beer (Belgian beer = best beer ever? Yes, I think so!). Just be sure to stay away from the mussels. Ugh.

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