Ahhh… Brussels, what can I say about this place?
A whole bunch as a matter of fact. Resting between France and Netherlands, the country has a very unique feel and culture all unto itself. We were there for four days and explored just a small amount of what it had to offer. Upon arriving in to Brussels Airport we noticed what appeared to be signs written in two languages.
Ha.. I was right! Everything was written in both French and Dutch,and both very confusing to me.
As in every city we visit, metro transit is our first choice of transportation, so we made our way down the several floors of escalators to the metro station. A line of people were trying to use the automated kiosk to get their metro cards.
Finally, it was my turn. Ok... English. I had this licked.
I was wrong.
We saw a smiling young lady who appeared to work for public transit. She did, but boy was I in for a surprise when I asked which train to take to downtown Brussels. What I got from our conversation lasting all of thirty seconds was “head down another escalator and take the train”.
And off we went down the escalator to wait for the train.
We weren't the only ones that were confused. We met another couple of American travelers and started talking to them, and guess what? She was a flight attendant also.
The train arrived and we were on our way to downtown, or so we thought. About five minutes of tunnel time, and we were out. I finally had cell signal and immediately went to Google maps. Why you ask? Because, Google knows everything!
Once it found my position I opened the map wider and noticed we were not headed in the right direction and the first stop was still fifteen minutes away.
I rallied the troops and we made the decision to hop off at the next station to try this again. Once we arrived we were equally as confused as we were at the airport station. After consulting a map on the wall, and Google, we had a solution.
Head the exact opposite direction we just came. “I think that will work!”
Along the way we met up with another traveler from Australia visiting Europe for his first time and he was just as lost as we were. So, our initial two now became five. We were becoming a force to reckon with.
Our train arrived and we gave it another shot. Thirty minutes later we arrived at Brussels Central Station. We all exited the train with a great sense of accomplishment, and we all knew we were lying to ourselves. We exchanged pleasantries and phone numbers and decided to meet up tonight for a few drinks at Delirium.
Erin, my wife, and I found our way out of the station and again asked Google how to get to our hotel.
Yeah that’s right we sprung for an actual hotel this time. Twenty-minute walk it said.
Yeah... as the crow flies maybe.
We walked for what seemed an hour and at this point I realized that bringing a rolling suitcase was a bad idea. I knew Europe was infamous for cobble stone streets, but I did it anyways. I defiantly learned a hard lesson this time.
We arrived at our hotel hours before normal check-in time and pleaded with the front desk to let us in. Fortunately, our room was already ready.
So, in European hotels I stay in for work, there seems to be a common style to the rooms. They are all very small and straight to the point. There was a queen bed in a room barely the size of a king bed wall to wall, so there was very little room to move. But they did have a tv with nothing but French and Dutch channels.
After a long exhausting flight, we couldn’t take it anymore and called it for a couple of hours. We awoke from about a two-hour nap and hunger hit like a ton of bricks.
We moseyed down the street in a general direction with no plans at all. We came across a square that was full of restaurants and on the far end... you guessed it. A church! We settled on a little place called Café Maison du Peuple. We walked in and were immediately greeted with a “bonjour!”
I was a little taken back by the simplicity of this little café, it was more of a hybrid bar with a sit-down restaurant. Once seated we were confronted with a beautiful menu, but the only problem again... French or Dutch. The waitress could see we were struggling to figure out what was going on and kindly asked if we needed English.
Was it that obvious were Americans? Apparently So!
I am adventurous when it comes to food so I gave something I have never had before a shot, Croque Biquette. It is something like a Cuban sandwich pressed like a panini accompanied with a small fresh greens salad with balsamic. Erin, my wife, ordered her first quiche not really knowing what it was and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have had quiche before but was not a huge fan of it. She offered and I obliged her request trying a small bite. The first thing out of my mouth was “It tastes like fish!” She started giggling.
“Yup yup, it has salmon in it.” she said. It was going to be a good bit of time before I trusted her giving me food. I hate fish!
Once we finished lunch we stopped back by the hotel and picked up a pretty rudimentary city map. We wanted to make our way to the city center where most of the attractions were located.
Now put me in a foreign country, in a city I don’t know, with a picture book map and it makes for some fun times. We had already seen where my sense of direction got us. But we did it anyway.
While walking I had a very familiar feeling at my feet. Yup there it was again. Cobblestone streets. Not just any street but the street we had walked down earlier.
While venturing deeper into my sense of direction, we stumbled across a statue in a courtyard that resembled one from the map.
Okay, not lost! Good.
Landmarks have been my savior in almost every country I have been in. They make the weakest of navigators look like Chris Columbus. This very large courtyard we found had some of the prettiest landscaping I had ever seen. Imagine the original Alice In Wonderland when she enters the Queen's garden.
I had the same sense of awe! After several minutes of taking pictures, and observing some guy finding a random corner to pee in, we decided it was time to go.
Again we were off with me in the lead. We headed deeper into the abyss of Brussels through small side streets that are full of the “Best Food in All of Brussels” or so the hawkers were shouting. It reminded me of old timey carnies trying to lure you into this tent or that tent.
This was high pressure sales at its finest and no place for the faint of heart or weak of mind.
It came up out of the blue. I really did look like a great explorer.
The city center was a very large area that seemed to go one for days. It was surrounded by restaurants, corporate buildings, residential. It was a hodge-podge. The architecture was like nothing I had ever seen. Well, not in person anyways. Towering spires and clock towers all made up this beautiful area of town. We wandered around the area for a little while and found a covered street full of very high-end shopping. The sounds of street performers filled the air ranging from Game of Thrones instrumental to someone singing Michael Jackson.
Sunset seemed to come early that night so I messaged my fellow travelers and we set a time to meet at Delirium. We arrived at a scene reminiscent of a college bar with loud dance music mixed with the musk of singles looking to have a great night.
Everyone congregated at the bar area and took turns ordering and exiting the congested area. I scoured the menu that was behind the bar and above the bar keeps. I locked in on the highest % beer I could find.
Ooh yeah there it was.
I can’t remember its name because by the end of the night I was feeling incredible but I do know it was 11.6% ABV and it was a triple from Belgium. We graduated from the bar area up to the second level where it was less crowded but none quieter.
My first beer went down with little difficulty. I knew this was going to be a great night. Once finished I made my way to the bar and in true form I ordered another of the same % and then another after that one. By now I was a little inebriated and ready to keep going.
Our other travelers had apparently invited some friends that were living there and now our posse just increased to seven. Well this was turning out to be an interesting night. A short while later and another beer down the suggestion was made to go across the street and have some absinth.
Hmmm. Let me think... Ah yeah, I’m down. We rolled out of that joint like we owned the place just to look like asses when we arrived across the street.
This place was literally across the street.
So, our posse/entourage made it here in record time. Approximately one minute and fice seconds. I got the feeling that this bar was more sophisticated than the beer bar just by the environment and the people inside. I soon found out it didn’t matter how sophisticated it is, if you have young twenty-somethings drinking, it will turn into a college frat party. Guaranteed.
One of the locals suggested we try something called a suicide shot. Shot was all I heard come out of his mouth and I was all in. I still remember this little devil on my shoulder whispering in my ear "do it! do it!" and I was primed to go. But for some reason I had this other more powerful voice that I was guessing reason and boy was it loud.
It was my wife yelling "Don’t do it you idiot!" over the blaring loud music.
Well I listened to reason, I mean my wife, that night and did not do the shot. Now the others that were there, that was a different story. Here came three shot glasses and the bartender with his sadistic smile from ear to ear.
I could imagine what was going through his head. Either "stupid Americans" or "someone is going to die tonight". Well no one died that night so it was a good night.
Suicide shots were foreign to me until I saw one that night. Three flaming glasses of absinthe. First up, the inhale. The bartender covered the shot snuffing the flame and released the fumes and the shot taker inhaled them. Sounds disgusting right? It apparently was.
Second comes the actual shot which isn’t so bad other than the black licorice flavor that stays in your mouth for months. Then coup de gras, the snort. A small shot is on the bottom of an upturned shot glass, snorts the liquid. Now the poor shot taker is almost in tears from the agonizing burn of pure alcohol up their nose. He survived or at least he had by the time we parted ways.
By this time of the night, I was done. "Let's head back."
It was 2am, drunk in another country and walking to the hotel almost two miles away. Brussels was defiantly a walking city but with as much as I had to drink it was more of a stumble mixed with a wobble.
But we made it.