Friday, August 9, 2013

DBS Euro Trip 2013 - Brussels, Part 1

Brussels.  Man...this town.

We wanted so hard to like Brussels.  We were both really pulling for it to be the underdog of the trip so that we could extol its virtues when we got home.  But no...that won't be happening.

We (mostly me) found Brussels to be an immensely frustrating town.  It started off immediately when our Eurostar train got into the Gare du Midi station and we intended to take the Metro to our hotel, just 2 stops away.  We walked through the train station in an attempt to find the Metro...and walked...and walked.  To no avail.  You would think a Metro stop would be well highlighted at the major train station in the town, but no.

So we took a cab, which was an experience in itself.  My French is passable on the best of days, but very basic.  I wasn't expecting to be dropped into a situation immediately and having to navigate along with our cabbie.  Our cabbie was a Moroccan...that spoke Spanish...and Brussels, Belgium.  Naturally.

I told him the Pantone Hotel and the street (which was the side street, part of the problem, instead of the main street), but he couldn't find it.  He never even heard of it, then after 10-15 minutes mumbled "'s new, it was something else a couple of years ago."

We got to the Pantone and I was cranky.  The Pantone itself was nice, a very small 20 room boutique hotel.  Our room was not ready, but the desk guy said we had "the nicest room in the place on the top floor, just 2 rooms instead of 5 on the floor" so that was cool.  To kill time, we decided to go check out The Magritte Museum.

Rene Magritte was a surrealist painter.  His most famous work is what I call "Guy with Bowler Hat with apple in front of face".  It was a plot point in The Thomas Crown Affair and is one of DB~'s favorite artists.  On our way there, we decided to walk and check out the town.  It was blazing hot, at least 94 degrees out and we were drenched.  We actively sought out the shady side of the street and would cross repeatedly.

The day we got to Brussels was Belgium's Independence Day.  That was fun to see all the parades and people dressed up in the national colors.  We both got these paper crown/Burger King-looking crowns in the Belgium national colors to wear in an attempt to blend in a little bit.  We did catch a break in that the Magritte Museum's admission was only 1 euro that day per person.  Of course, the snooty guards outside made us take some convoluted path to get in and then a snooty guard inside made us check our backpack (for 2 euro!) in a locker.

There was no Guy with Apple at this museum -- it must be in a private collection or another museum, perhaps MOMA in New York like Thomas Crown Affair -- but there were lots of other great surrealist works by Magritte.

Perhaps the most famous attraction in Brussels is this odd little fountain a few minutes from the Magritte.  It's called Manneken Pis and it is of a little boy...pissing.  It's extremely old, like everything in Europe it seems, and has become the unofficial mascot of Brussels.  A local museum even dresses him up in different outfits on occasion and dedicates an exhibit to his sartorial choices, including Elvis Presley.

For some strange reason, DB~ was fascinated by this statue.  We ended up visiting it twice in the span of the 2-1/2 days we were in Brussels.  She kept hoping to see different outfits.  The weird part is the silhouette and likeness of Manneken Pis is put on T-shirts, coffee mugs, calendars, and a wide variety of other souvenirs.  It's like a whole city rallying around the Calvin (from Calvin and Hobbes) peeing on stuff likeness.

Right next to M.P. was one of the more recommended waffle shops in Brussels, so we tried one out.  DB~ loves the Leige style waffles at Wafflelonia in Squirrel Hill, so she just got a basic waffle with Nutella for 2 euro.  I splurged and got whipped cream and Nutella on mine for 3 euro.

They were excellent.  Here's a good waffle story and one that sort of sums up our (mine) frustration with Brussels.  We were looking for a different waffle place that was supposed to be the bees knees called the Maison Dandoy.  We got the address off the Net and used our ever-present Brussels downtown map to find the intersection (many of the streets sound the same) and we looked all over for it -- only to realize we had our back to it and it was closed for the night.  We just chuckled to ourselves.

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