Brussels: a load of waffle

Saturday 5th September

Rest day

Today we would be eating waffles… I mean… seeing Brussels.

From the start I had a good feeling about Brussels. It was mainly because famous Belgian foods include waffles, chocolate and chips (French fries were actually invented by the Belgians, who are, I am told, a bit annoyed that France took the credit). Brussels and I were going to get along just fine.

We took the bus in, got off where everybody else got off and began wandering our way to the centre. On the way we saw an impressive tomb of the unknown soldier.

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And a public garden with lots of cool old bronze statues.

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We had a look around the cathedral, which is very beautiful. Big windows make it feel airy and light.

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By the time we found the centre it was lunch time. We had frites and a kebab. It was great that we could eat junk food under the guise of it being a “local speciality”.

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A trip to tourist information, situated in the stunning central square, gave us a few ideas.

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Brussels has an incredibly imperial feel, which Eric told me is due to it being a city of significance during the Prussian and French empires (though now I have told him I’m writing this down he has started mumbling and suggesting that I look this up). There are amazing buildings everywhere.

And they sell waffles from vans.

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Then we went to The Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate! And I tell you what, they did not skimp on the free samples.

A preserved cocoa bean.

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I learnt lots of interesting things about chocolate, such as: it was given to Mayan sacrificial victims as a drink just before they had their hearts cut out. Also (on a lighter note) the reason that Belgian chocolate tastes so good is that in other countries they substitute cocoa butter with cheaper vegetable oils, whereas in Belgium they never do this (I think they were slipping in some advertising there).

Here are some statistics on chocolate consumption by country. As you can see, Germany wins, though we are not doing too bad.

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Here is a route for a chocolate tour around Europe (I thought: I need to have a record of this).

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We then watched a guy making some chocolates… and then he gave us the chocolate and we ate it.

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I was genuinely quite fascinated by it all as I really, really like chocolate. A lot.

They also had a chocolate replica of the famous Manneken Pis.

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We then went to see the real thing, which was wearing an Asterix and Obelix costume.

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Still on a bit of a sugar high, we shared a gigantic waffle, covered in banana, whipped cream and chocolate sauce. We were out of control!

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Time to walk it off. We went to see the palace, but got distracted on the way there by Stripfest. No, it’s not a festival about wallpaper removal. It was actually a comic book convention (hence why the Manneken Pis was dressed up like Obelix).

We wandered in, and many great photo opportunities presented themselves…

(I don’t know what the speech bubble was all about, I was just going with the flow.)

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I was trying to achieve a “strangled by Darth Vader” look here, but the very fact that I’m taking the time to explain this says it all.

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We enjoyed looking at the artwork and seeing the artists drawing or signing copies of their books. It made me wish that I was into comic books. I didn’t know anything about most of it, but it was fun anyway.

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After an hour or two there we left and stepped out into a misty, drizzly rain. Time to go back. We bought some food from a supermarket for dinner and headed back to the campsite.


Sunday 6th September

Rest day

We had decided to spend a second day in Brussels, as we were in no rush and there were still things we wanted to see.

We took the tube into the centre. Our first stop was the palace, which we had been intending to see yesterday before we got distracted.

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You can go in for free, which is rather nice. We walked around, herded along by signs with arrows and cordoned off areas, and saw some very fancy pants chandeliers.

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The palace was full of mirrors, which I guess increase the impression of space and light. They also serve to remind you of how scruffy you are compared to your surroundings. I caught sight of myself in a mirror and thought: I have been wearing these clothes for quite some time.

The palace also included a display about… insects. Why not?

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And it had a chandelier which was made from the carapace’s of iridescent beetles. Again, why not?

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Still feeling cultured, we headed to the nearby music museum, where the friendly ticket man gave us an under 25s discount when we admitted that we were 26.

This museum had a very nifty system in place. They give you an audio-guide that plays music by each instrument as you stand near it. What a clever idea! It’s basically like an educational silent disco (and we did some dancing when no one was looking).

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We had fun wandering around here, and we saw a lot of odd instruments, including a flute made from a human thigh bone (don’t remember what this sounded like, I imagine it would sound similar to when you blow over the rim of a glass bottle)!

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Also, remember ocarinas from The Legend of Zelda?

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And look at these…

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Then it was lunch time, and we were tempted in to another chip/kebab place by this (I don’t know why, in retrospect the feeling I get from this thing is “we will give you food poisoning”).

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Then we took the tube to see the Antomnium. Again, I don’t know why we went to see this. We were un-recommended this by our friend Steve. When we told him we would be visiting Brussels, he said ‘I’ve been there. I remember seeing this thing called the Antomnium. It was kind of rubbish.’

We joked a bit about seeing the Antomnium, and then somehow the idea gathered momentum, and now we were going on the tube to see it because Eric insisted that it would ‘be funny’, and I was protesting but not actually doing anything to stop this from happening.

So, this is the Antomnium.

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It is meant to be a model of an atom, but Science Man Eric tells me that it looks nothing like one.

You can go in and see a planetarium, but neither of us wanted to do this. We had a waffle instead.

Opposite the Antomnium is (from what I could gather) a sort of poor man’s theme park, full of vaguely interesting activities, overpriced restaurants and tired-looking parents. One of these activities was an attraction called Mini Europe, which has lots of models of famous European landmarks. We went to take a look at this, but were rooted to the spot with horror at the ticket price: 14.50 euros each! Poking our noses over the fence, we had the strong suspicion that it looked rubbish, so we decided not to go.

We took the tube back to the centre discussing options (I was suggesting things, Eric was saying that he didn’t like my suggestions). Eventually, we agreed on eating a waffle.

On the way through the centre we saw a solemn procession of men with beer, followed by a man playing the bagpipes. It was all very dignified.

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We went and asked a tired looking man at the tourist office where we could find the best waffles. He named a place nearby called Dindoys in a tone of voice that suggested “I’m fobbing off the idiot tourists”, but… we went there and the waffles tasted amazing. They are so big that we took another photo, because every time you eat one it feels like an event (I think Brussels needs a waffle/bagpipe parade).

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Final thought: why is it that when Brussels is so full of delicious things, it’s name gets prefixed onto a horrendous vegetable that nobody likes? It hardly seems fair.

So long Brussels, and thanks for all the waffles.

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