It would be a great injustice to Belguim in general and Brussels in particular to rave solely about the incredible beer produced by this small country, so, I’ll just have to save the best for last in this blog. After all, not everyone automatically thinks of Belgian beer when they ruminate on Brussels.
Michael and I recently went on an excursion to Brussels. We should have known that plans were going awry when we had to de-train in South Holland due to an accident ahead — and found we were on the wrong train to begin with. Eventually we made it to Brussels, and after getting royally lost in the two blocks between the central train station and our hotel, we managed to find our way to La Grande Place, or the main plaza and heart of Brussels. It is truly an amazing spectacle. Here are some of the buildings ringing the huge square:
Brussels’ historic center is like most medieval-era cities: the streets are twisted, narrow, and change names frequently. What amazed me to learn about Brussels and Belguim were the following:
1. As first a town, then city, Brussels has been in existence over 1,000 years.
2. Brussels is the headquarters of the European Economic Community, and the peopleyou see definitely reflect the multi-national nature of the city. Over a third of its million-strong population are non-Belgian.
3. I thought the cobblestones of Amsterdam were bad — the Belgian blocks are definitely ankle-murderers! Here’s an idea of how easy it is to get stuck between the gaps in the ancient stones. (My foot is not a photographic error, but there to provide some perspecitve of how big some of how easily a high heeled shoe could become trapped in these pitfalls.)
4. People really do eat “Belgian waffles”, and with just about any type of gooey, surgary, or chocla-ty topping(s) available.
5. Belguim is not the world’s leader in the production of chocolate candies (the U.S. is, due to sheer size alone), nor is it the biggest consumer — Switzerland is. Could have fooled me. There were chocolate stores everywhere. More than beer bars.
6. And what would a trip to Brussels be without a visit to the “mannekin pis”, or “little pissing boy”, who delights his fans by peeing into a basin on a busy street corner. This may not be the original statue, which dates back over 400 years but it is beloved by natives and tourists alike. In recent decades the city has authorized a “dresser” for the statue who decks out the statue in one of its 500 outfits on almost a daily basis.
In the city museum, there is a whole section devoted to this littly bronze tyke, providing some of his history and displaying a number of his costumes that have been donated by whole countries as well as individuals. Our hands down favorite was this one:
7. And, in conclusion, a few words about Belgian beer. Belguim has about 125 breweries, producing about 800 standard beers; if you add one-time beers to the count, it comes to about 8,700 types of beer. Only Germany, France (the French?) and the UK have more breweries. Belgians on average drink 93 liters of beer per year.
And our personal opinion: Belgian beer is simply the best beer we’ve ever tasted. Neither Michael nor I are big beer drinkers, favoring red wine as our libation of choice. However, in Utrecht we’d been introduced to a few different Belgian beers and were won over. Big time. In Brussels, we fell into the indulgent habit of sipping a late afternoon beer in a sidewalk cafe while reflecting on the passersby. Michael favors witte (“white”) beer, while I prefer the dark. Since leaving Brussels, we’ve contined the habit, often stopping off at a nearby cafe for a late afternoon, pre-prandial Belgian beer while we watch people pass by or hang out with their friends in the cafes. A very relaxing way to round out the day!
A few “beer pictures”:
As I mentioned, we’d been introduced to Belgian beer by friends in Utrecht. The site of our indoctrination was, quite ironically, a local establishment known (to ex-pats) as “The Beer Church”. Yup. A former church converted into a Belgian beer-drinking establishment. And I do mean the emphasis is on Belgian beer — the bar even flies the Belgian flag outside. It seems not one patron bears any qualms about the former church’s current use. Au contraire. As one friend put it, “Finally! A religious establishment dedicated to something useful and rewarding — beer!” So to finish off this posting, here are a few pics of that famous (or infamous) establishment.