Getting to Brussels from Berlin was fun: Hop on a train, settle down to sleep and wake up in the land of beer and waffles! Brussels at 9.00 AM was a great sight. Soft puffy clouds, a perfectly cool, crisp day, the best weather I’d ever seen – so naturally, out came the camera, even before I found my accommodations!
I did eventually get settled in, though, and set off on the first of many adventures. Brussels is the home of Tintin, the Mannekin Pis (a small statue of a urinating boy) Belgian fries, chocolates, waffles… and beer! I began my day with a self-guided walking tour through the city. Brussels is an old city, with a lot of history – from palaces that awe you with their grandeur (and you can even visit the palace of the king, where he works) to monuments and churches that dazzle you with their architectural splendor.
On my walking tour I saw many such sights, but the unequivocal winner was the Grand Place, the square at the heart of Brussels where all tourists are eventually drawn, to sit on the cobblestones and eat and ice cream and gawk at the Gothic art and architecture all around. In my case, I found that I kept returning to the Grand Place every now and then across my time in the city, for some reason or the other. Call it a mystical connection or just good urban planning, there was no getting away from the area!
Some of the highlights of the day: eating the best chocolate I’ve ever eaten – and some pretty unorthodox flavors too. Like earl grey. Or orange and chili. I also had pistolets, which are not guns nor violent in any way, except perhaps violently delicious. They’re a kind of round bread with a hole kind of slashed in the top, half-heartedly. Imagine a Mumbai ‘pav’ with a cut across the top, made with whole wheat flour and not as oily / buttery. Oh and it’s a lot larger too! It’s called a pistolet because one pistole (which was an old coin) was how much it cost to buy in the olden days. In Belgium, the Pistolet has numerous cousins, often similar in nature but bearing different names: ‘miche’, bun, ‘faluche’ or even ‘Brötchen’ in the German-speaking eastern part of the country. Anyway, long story short, pistolets with lobster and mayo stuffed inside is an amazing dish and must be tried by every single person who can stomach lobster. Period.
I spent pretty much the whole day walking around and sampling various food items. At night, though, I went looking for beer. Brussels is home to many different local beers and the recipes of some are hundreds of years old. Trappist monks have been brewing beer for ages and it was time to let some of that old-timey goodness slide down my gullet. I went first to Delirium, which is a three-storey beer pub a few steps away from Grand Place, which has the honour of serving over 2,000 kinds of beer. I didn’t get to sample all the brews – in fact, since the menu looks like a phone book (a big papery thing with peoples’ phone numbers printed in it, for people who were born after the internet was a thing), so all I could do was flail violently at the pages and hope I landed on a good brew. What you’re supposed to do in situations like this, is have a chat with the barman about your beer tastes – do you like it pale or dark? Mild? Bitter? Lots of head? After listening to your wide and varied specifications, the barman is then supposed to go off and rub his prayer beads or polish his beer handles and come back with a brew that fits your description. Unfortunately, Delirium is in the Guinness book of Records, so everyone and their uncle was at the place and it took 20 minutes to get my order to the bar – asking for a suggestion would have been nigh on impossible. Still, I didn’t do too badly. I had a German beer, a particularly hoppy brew and then, because I was feeling saucy, I ordered a strawberry flavored beer, just to see what would happen. It tasted sweet and a bit tart. Just like a strawberry.
The Belgians are very enthusiastic about their beers, though and if you make your way to a proper Belgian beer shop like I did the next day far from the center of town, you’ll have a better time. This time I was indeed able to have a quick chat with the waiter and he went off to do a bit of research and returned with probably the best white beer I’ve ever had the joy of sampling. So good that in a place that served over 30 beers, I had another glass of the same kind. Sacrilege, yes, but it was that good.
If I have one regret, it is that I had budgeted far too little time for Brussels. There was much more in the city to do and see, but alas I had to move on for Tomorrowland, which was in a couple of days’ time.