Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Beer, Blizzards and Frites, Part Trois

There are 2 tips I wanted to share before I begin: the first is that many places in Belgium don't accept credit cards. This came as quite a shock to me as I had planned to finance my trip that way and I come from the land where you can put a $1.69 coffee from 7-11 on plastic. Who would have thought? Definitely check first at a restaurant before you order.

The second is that (at least for the next month or so) the Brussels subway is free. Technically, it's on the honor system, but almost no one pays. The first time this happened to me was entirely not my fault. I was looking for the ticket taker or a guard, but there was no one anywhere. So I went to the platform figuring you must pay down there. But no. Apparently, whoever was in charge of constructing the subway figured people don't need to be policed and forced into paying. They would just do it of their own free volition. Obviously, this didn't happen. So they are in the process of installing turnstiles, ala NYC, but as of now, it's a free-for-all.

On my 3rd day in Brussels, we went to CarreFour to buy boots (my Belgian friends were surprised to learn they have CarreFours in Brazil. I know this because I bought some chocolate in one and my friend Danielle and I found spiders in one of the chocolate bars. Eww).

My not so sexy, but oh so dry and warm boots.
My friend Delphine and I walked around quite a bit since it wasn't so snowy and we went everywhere. Including the European
Parliament, which truth be told, wasn't all that interesting. Even Delphine, who is majoring in European politics, kept muttering
about how lame it was. There weren't any Parlimentian (is this a word?) members there, and the audio tour spent such an inordinate amount of time waxing poetic about this abstract sculpture in the middle of the foyer, that it made me think they didn't have much else to say about the European Parliament.
Oh, they talked at great length about the architecture of the building too.

One nice thing I noticed about Brussels is that they give you a lot of free samples in an attempt to get you to buy something. But no one is pushy at all if you just want to try the free sample. Here is Delphine as we sampled free, and wonderful, hot chocolate and chocolate samples at a store downtown. I wish I could remember the name of the shop, as they had cool flavors like Japanese Citrus Chocolate, Black Pepper Chocolate and Chili Chocolate, but the store was all done up in pinks and it's down the street from the Royal Art Museum.

We also walked around the main touristy area. But as my local friends told me, don't eat on Butcher Street. This street is almost too cute to be believed, but I have it on good advice that it's completely nasty inside the kitchens of the restaurants (apparently they all connect in one big un-hygenic cellar underneath). The word on the streets is that all the seafood on display is rotten and will give you a nasty case of Montezuma's Revenge (or whatever the Belgian version is!). Also the waiters stand outside and harass you to come in and eat. Which is pretty much what they do in the Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego, so I almost felt at home.

I forgot to mention that the night before we had dinner at Second Element, a Thai restaurant, in the area called Place St. Boniface. This is a non-touristy but "hip" multi-cultural area, however, the thing I liked best was that you could ask for a to-go box/doggie bag and they knew what you were talking about! Apparently this staple of American life is not well
-known in Europe. All I can say is that they are seriously missing out! The doggie bag has been a godsend of breakfast for me for as
long as I can remember (I'm not a huge breakfast food fan). Plus, you end up getting 2 meals for the price of 1!

There is a "Lower Brussels" (which apparently doesn't rate very highly on Trip Advisor as it's number 59 and nobody could even be assed to write a review about it) but I'm not sure why. It's more of a residential and shopping neighborhood but still quite a good place for visitors. I actually prefer this type of neighborhood and it has plenty of great shops, including very nice home design shops and similar mixed in with local corner markets.

As we kept walking around, there were some spectacular views of Brussels from the downtown area, including this look-out point.

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