It Happened in Brussels

It seemed the Universe (capital U universe here) was conspiring against us. First, I left my passport in Zamora, sitting neatly in a forgotten drawer. My brain? I left that in the U.S. It’d be nice to have it back. Then Mario set two—count ’em, two—alarms and they both failed us. We woke up at 9, just as our bus to the Valladolid airport was leaving. Oops. Luckily for us, it was a holiday and Mario’s parents drove to Salamanca to take us to Valladolid. After that, however, things went more smoothly. I’ve had experience with RyanAir before. I lovingly call it “Contest Air,” but this time I was pleasantly surprised and pleased. We got seats on the emergency exits, affording us with a bit more legroom than usual and this subtle change was enough to lift my mood until we arrived in…BELGIUM!

Belgium is not a country one hears much about. Do not let that diminish its importance in your mind. It is, after all, the home of Brussels, the de facto capital of the European Union. Brussels (and Belgium) is a mixed bag of sorts. It is historically Dutch-speaking, but French is common and, in Brussels, English is the most common. It is quite the blessing to have English as one’s native language, as it is the go-to language for all international communication, and often leads to rather funny translations.

All that’s well and good, but let’s focus on the important things. Namely, chocolate. And waffles. A trip to Belgium would be incomplete without both of these confections, sold on every street corner and almost comical in their ubiquity.

Mario enjoying a waffle with chocolate sauce

But we mustn’t forget about their frites either, which are fried not once but two times and often served with garlicky mayonnaise. This scent is drool-inducing. We also sampled local beers, for which Belgium is quite famous. They’re also known for the mussels, moules, which are, you guessed it, served with frites and probably accompanied by a deliciously strong Belgian beer.

But enough about the food. How about some monuments? We visited:

The Grand-Place, the central square of Brussels, which is filled with flowers in the spring/summer.

The omnipresent Cathedral

Manneken Pis, literally meaning “man pee,” a small bronze statue depicting a naked boy peeing into the basin. The statue is dressed in costume several times per week according to a public schedule.

Um yes, more chocolate shops. What??!

We even found wooden shoes. And no, Dad, we didn’t buy any. Sorry ’bout your luck.

Nothing better than exploring a new city with the person you love!

Brussels might have been brutally cold, but it ain’t nothing compared to Chicago last year, as Mario reminded. Yet it was also strikingly beautiful, a city of two languages and cultures, meshed together with a cosmopolitan, European vibe. I liked it, but it was Bruges that captured both our hearts. More on that…next time.

P.S. A very happy birthday to my best friend!