If there was an award for the most concise, most descriptive one-word travel blog entry ever written, I would win with the following: WALKED. And if the entry guidelines allowed for up to four words, then I would win with WALKED A CRAP LOAD.
Traveling to an unknown city is one of the best diets in the world. Every time I do it, no matter what or how much I eat, I always come back in better shape than when I left. Because I walk everywhere. For hours. Eight to ten hours per day I am on my feet; walking to all of the sites, walking around the museums, exploring the neighborhoods, etc. — stopping only long enough to have lunch or enjoy an espresso at a corner cafe. I am loath to take cabs, and try to avoid the metro because I find that by walking everywhere I often stumble upon lesser-known but fabulous little museums and local-only bistros and shops.
I started day two with an over-the-top chocolate and almond croissant from PAUL, a french bakery chain that makes their goodies on premises and smells like heaven — if heaven were made out of butter. Which, frankly, it should be. (I linked to the US site so you can read the history.)
I then froggered (remember, no traffic lights) my way toward the Place du Grand Sablon, a fashionable collection of antique shops, galleries and restaurants. It’s all quaintness and windey, cobbley streets, with beautiful, one-of-a-kind treasures on display (which can be yours for the right price).
As I explored the area, I came across The Jewish Museum of Belgium, which houses a large collection of religious objects from as early as the 16th century. I am sure I would have found it fascinating had there been descriptions written in English, but no suck luck. So with my useless copy of Berlitz’s French Phrase Book and Dictionary at my side, and all of the self-righteous indignation of an American traveling to a foreign country I could muster, I prepared to leave. But then I saw this….
It was intricate and beautiful. Each piece, representing various aspects of Jewish culture and religion, was expertly crafted in careful and precise detail. I leaned in to get a closer look, my nose almost touching the surrounding protective plexiglass case….
Don’t know what I’m referring to yet? Here’s a closer look.
As the realization of what I was looking at set in, and the thoughts “Ouch.”, “That poor little boo boo.”, “I am SO glad I’m not a dude.” and “That’s a pretty big knife for such a tiny penis. Is this to scale?” flitted through my mind in quick succession, my animosity toward the museum fell away and I was able to continue through the remainder of the exhibits.
Lunch was next on the agenda. I did a quick search on “good lunch in Sablon” and landed on Orphyse Chaussette. I opted to sit outside (even though the inside was quirky and ridiculously charming) and settled on the pre fixe. The food was yummy, the service attentive and the price reasonable. Highly recommend if you are in the area.
I then proceeded to get hopelessly lost for an hour trying to find the Grand-Place, which is supposedly the #1 attraction in Brussels, and “one of the most beautiful theatres in the world”. Which it totally is not in the slightest. It was a bitch to find and was so crowded with tourists, crappy cafes and street vendors that I felt like I was in a smaller version of what Times Square would now be like if it had been built in the 15th century.
I walked to the middle of the square, took a few photos and decided to bail. (Note: the ability to ditch whenever and on whatever you want is one of the sweet luxuries of solo travel.) As I turned to leave, however, something once again grabbed my attention. It was a large yellow sandwich board announcing the entrance to the Brewery Museum and that a beer was included in the 5 euro price of admission. Taking this as a sign that Brussels was trying to make it up to me for luring me to its version of the third circle of hell, I went in.
It’s a tiny space, with nothing much to see. But the beer was frosty delicious and it was nice to just sit and watch a video about how much a country loves the craft of beer brewing. Seriously, they are like really into it.
tipsy refreshed, I took the long way back to my hotel to freshen up before heading out to a different part of town. When I got to my room, these were waiting for me:
Those of you that know me can attest to the fact that I am not often mushy or sentimental — at least not outwardly. But I want you and the rest of the Internet to know that I am engaged to one of the kindest and most thoughtful men I have ever known. J has been incredibly supportive of my decision to quit my job, and encouraged me to take this celebratory trip. I want to take this very public opportunity to thank him for his goodness, his friendship, and his love. Thank you honey. I love you.
Well, enough of that.
My final stop, on what turned out to be a really long ass day, was the Horta Museum. Victor Horta was a brilliant and prolific architect, whose beautifully designed buildings can be seen throughout Brussels. The Horta Museum was once Horta’s private residence and contains much of the original furniture and personal possessions of Horta and his family. It is a stunning example of Art Nouveau and no photograph can do it justice — mine in particular. So you’ll just have to go see it for yourself.
Oh okay…one crappy picture of the exterior.
I finished off the day with a very forgettable dinner near my hotel. And a very unforgettable waffle in the hotel lounge.
A pilgrimage is defined as “any log journey, especially one undertaken as a quest for a spiritual or moral purpose.” Apparently, my second day in Brussels was a pilgrimage to Waffle.