This is my third post about my 4 days in Brussels, and I haven’t even talked about the Tintin Museum (or the weird city, Nouvain le Neuve, where its located) or Ghent, which is possibly one of the most beautiful places in the world.
While in Brussels, we searched for every Victor Horta building we could find. Apparently the city went through a heritage-trashing phase in the 1960s, and a lot of incredible old buildings were lost. But many have been reused – an old department store became the Comic Book Center, and the Musical Instrument Museum, which is surprisingly cool, is in an old Horta commercial building as well (that’s the floor in the lobby on the bottom right, above). And some of the detritus from the buildings that were destroyed have been re-purposed, most notably in the Horta Metro Station (above). I couldn’t believe how many beautiful details there were on even the more mundane buildings – incredible balconies, transom windows, doors, ironwork…its so sad that Art Nouveau was so short-lived as a movement, even if it is decadent and wasteful. I love it.
The other highlight of the time in Brussels was the beer. Belgian-style beers are called lambics, and use open-air fermentation. That means they just let the beer pick up whatever yeast happens to be floating around in the air and ferment that way; the result is a sour sort of flavor (seeing as its the same process used to make sourdough, that’s not surprising). Lambics are often sweetened with sugar or fruit, but we brought home 5 bottles of the darker stuff (our favorite, Faro, can explode if not consumed in 2-3 weeks, so maybe its just as well that they were sold out). The drinking in Brussels was awesome.
We went to the Carillon brewery (loved it. Amazing. Don’t miss it); the Delirium Tremens complex (five bars adjacent to each other, all selling Delirium products); and to a number of other more low-key establishments, including a crepe place where I got cider in a teacup. I thought that was delightful. We also tried ginevre, a Belgium gin-derivative that is delicious if you like the taste of paint thinner. And the best part is, it was super cheap (the beer, not the paint thinner). I hadn’t anticipated taking multiple trips to Belgium, but we are talking about a trip to Luxembourg via Belgium, if only to stop off and bring more beer home with us.
Over Christmas, my sister and I talked a lot about how organizing a holiday around food was a completely reasonable thing to do. I decided to treat my long weekend in Belgium as a test case and I can tell you that, while my cheeks are fuller than they were four days ago, it was an absolutely brilliant time and I can’t wait to eat my way through somewhere else.
We spent two days in Brussels and two days in Ghent. Brussels is a city that reveals itself slowly; I think living there is probably much more fun than visiting – which is saying something, because visiting was great. Above, photos from the Comic Book Museum, a Victor Horta Art Nouveau staircase, Cathedrale de Saint-Michele-et-Gudules, a waffle, the Carillon Brewery and the Delirium Tremens Bar.
On Saturday, Ian and I cycled to Grantchester, a town a couple miles outside of Cambridge, to attend the Green Man Pub Beer Festival. To get there, we cycled through Grantchester Meadows, a famously scenic walking/cycling path along the river. Even though it was cold and gross out and we had to dodge many, many cow pies, it was a beautiful journey and I saw my first English robin:
The Thing to Do in Cambridge in nice weather is to walk to the Grantchester Tea Room and have a full cream tea. I’m rapidly developing a taste for scones and I’m looking forward to it.
We arrived at the Green Man Pub and settled in with a sausage roll and a drink each. I enjoyed the festival because I kicked it off with an 8% alcohol cider; Ian was disappointed with the beer but that’s par for the course in the UK; and we sat for three hours listening to jazz (two groups – one played “The Pink Panther” and classics from the 60s; one played “Wabash Blues” and 1920s-era classics). I’ve rediscovered the “O Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack lately, and the second group was a welcome tangent, but both groups were way better than what I would’ve expected to find at a beer festival in a tiny town outside Cambridge.
Over the course of the afternoon, while drinking beer and listening to music, Ian and I slowly worked our way through the ENTIRE snack menu. We ate sausage rolls and Scotch eggs (a hard boiled egg, wrapped in meat, breaded, fried, and traditionally eaten cold. Its the big fried ball in the collage above) I’d never had one before and had spent an entire year in this country blissfully unaware of their existence. It was as disgusting as it sounds. We also ate chips/fries, onion rings, and finally a steak sandwich before finally calling it a day and cycling home in the darkness to watch “Frozen Planet.” Saturday well spent.