We joined a day tour to Belgium and woah, it’s the smallest group tour ever! 3 Singaporeans (that’s us), 2 Italians, 1 driver and 1 guide, and off we went to Antwerp, our first stop and the second largest city in Belgium. Honestly, being a tourist, Antwerp was not on my radar. And that’s precisely why I’m pleasantly surprised to find that it’s such a colourful charming little city.
At the heart of the old city is the Grote Markt with its Town Hall, guild houses and a statue of Brabo (above). Legend has it that those who refused to pay a toll to the nasty giant controlling the river traffic would have a hand cut off. One day, Silvus Brabo, a brave young man, killed the giant, cut off his hand, and threw it into the Scheldt River.
A short distance away is the gothic Cathedral of Our Lady, an immediate eye-catcher even from afar. We didn’t enter the cathedral cuz it was much more fun to wander around outside. Notice the bottom left pic below? There was a group of people taking shots of the ivy-covered building so monkey see, monkey do, I did too. I’ve tried googling to find out if it’s a special place but till now, no such luck~ Oh well, it may be a completely random building, who knows.
Before long, our (slightly more than) one hour in Antwerp was up and we settled back for the ride to Brussels, the official capital of Belgium and the unofficial capital of the European Union.
En route, we stopped for a snap shot of the Atomium, a lasting monument built for the 1958 World Fair of Brussels. Personally, I didn’t think much of the structure and was glad we didn’t linger long. Oh, the joy of being in a small tour group!
We parked, and we walked along quaint narrow cobbled streets to…
Grand Place, the medieval square and main tourist attraction of Brussels. I like it slightly more than Antwerp’s Grote Markt cuz it’s so much more dramatic, noisy, and colourful.
There are lots of pavement cafes/restaurants surrounding the square and we picked a random one for lunch since I didn’t do my homework beforehand on where to eat -_- All I know is what I want: beer, mussels and fries, in that order, please.
We checked out a few restaurants (some are obviously tourist traps) and decided on La Rose Blanche (Grand-Place 11) since the view, price and setting were all good.
They say Belgium is the place for beers and I’m convinced after taking a sip of Blanche de Bruges (Belgian white beer recommended by the friendly waiter since I’m a noob when it comes to alcohol). It’s slightly tart and citrusy, and has a nice finish that’s not too dry.
Like beers, mussels are a must in Belgium! Apparently they are served everywhere and a bucket (€22.50) here is big enough for 2 to share (or in our case, it’s even too much for 3 of us). We chose to have the mussels cooked in Grimbergen Triple (a type of beer, what else) and I find them just alright, nothing fantastic since I’m not a fan of these shellfish in the first place. For the greatest authenticity, remember to use an empty shell to pry out the meat!
When there’s mussels, there’s frites (fries). Afterall, they are the Belgian national dish. A pile was served a la Belgique, with mayonnaise. Like mussels, fries are not my favourite food on earth.
After lunch, we made an obligatory stop at the minute statue of Manneken-Pis (bottom left), Brussels’ mascot. He’s found 3 blocks off the Grand Place along Rue de l’Etuve and traditionally, costumes are sent to Brussels from all over the world for him to wear. And there’s even a published schedule on his wardrobe for the week, which I thought was pretty hilarious, haha.
Besides a mural of Tintin (Brussels is the home of his creator, Hergé), there’s also many little waffle shops lining the same street. With so many choices, I think there’s no better place to savour a Belgian waffle! My thumb of rule is to buy freshly made ones instead of those that’s been sitting out too long.
Look at the mouth-watering display! Have it plain with powdered sugar or get a fancy one topped with strawberries, bananas, kiwi, whipped cream, Nutella etc etc.
How can anyone resist a waffle smothered with whipped cream, strawberries and wickedly sinful chocolate sauce! I have to admit, I’ve never liked waffles but gosh, I’m a convert when it comes to Belgian waffles. It’s unlike any so-called waffles I’ve tried in Singapore. This is thick but light, crisp on the outside with a crunchy layer of caramelized sugar on top and soft on the inside. Bliss~
Striking waffles off my list, I tackled chocolates next. There’s Neuhaus, Galler, Wittamer, Valrhona etc etc.
Godiva’s first shop was on the Grand Place 22 and it’s still standing there today!
Although I can get Godiva’s pralines and drinks in Singapore, there’s just something different when one is standing in the original shop and being tempted by all that lovely goodies.
The Chocolixir was somewhat disappointing. I was expecting a really thick and rich chocolate blended drink laced with raspberry but this was rather thin… Didn’t give that ‘shiok!’ feeling at all =(
Leonidas (Rue au Beurre 34) didn’t excite me much since the confections are machine-made instead of handmade ones like Godiva.
But that’s before I saw this gorgeous chocolate fountain beckoning me…
… and skewers of bright red strawberries!
Alas, my impromptu treat: incredibly sweet and juicy strawberries coated with a smooth and lush dark chocolate sauce~
If I ever have the chance to go back to Belgium, I’m going to buy a tub of this mean chocolate sauce, dozens of plain waffles, and stuff myself silly!
That’s not the end of my chocolate adventure! I’ve found my favourite chocolatier in Belgium, and love his chocolates so much that they deserve to be featured in a post solely for them =) Stay tune for that.
To Belgium, cheers.
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