Ok, so this post is a lot about chocolate, waffles, and fries, separately. Although I think I may have just invented something big.
After our adventures in France, we headed to Belgium as a stop before we spent our final days together in Amsterdam. Ashley had found an amazing price flying home from Amsterdam, so we set it as our last location, and decided Belgium would be a good spot to stop on the way north.
Our first Belgian stop was Brussels, where we stayed in an AirBnb with Caroline, a super cool artist who makes incredible sculptures. The apartment was beautiful, with a metal spiral staircase, our own bathroom, and the same bed frame I had at home. We were so relieved to finally be in a space that was comfortable, clean, and well located. Caroline was amazing too- she even made us a guide to the city with all her favorite spots and things to do.
We arrived in the afternoon, so we spent the rest of the sunny hours wandering down to Brussels center, walking past endless thrift stores, art galleries, and fancy restaurants. Outside the center was a little more dodgy, but between the exotic markets and night shops there were really cool stores and cafes. You can tell there is a huge art community in Brussels, which we both loved.
As it got dark, the city began to light up and we found ourselves in the big square, surrounded by beautiful castle-like buildings. It was gorgeous. The busy streets by the square are filled with waffle shops and tourist traps, expensive restaurants and souvenier stands. There is also an area of big clothing stores, like the Rodeo Drive of Brussels. It was fun to walk through but, with the sea of people we had to swim through, once was enough.
One of the places on Caroline’s list of her favorite places was a bar called Goupil le Fol which she described as “walking into someone’s very strange house” so we knew we had to see it. Walking into the bar, we each ordered a beer and the bartender told us to find a seat. We headed to the back of the first floor, walking through rooms of paintings stacked on top of each other, rows of records lining the ceilings, dark red candles burning on old metal holders, and single long stemmed red roses in vases on each table. There was sad croony French music playing, and the lights were so low that everything around us took on a red glow. It was perfect. We ended up going back a second time the following day and I tried their special raspberry wine, and it was delicious. You have to go if you are in Brussels. Both times we were there we did hear people saying negative things about Americans, but it was never the staff and that’s travel for ya, so we brushed it off.
For dinner on our first night we decided on Caroline’s favorite Belgian restaurant, Restobieres with the promise of quality classic Belgian food. I ordered the salmon and Ashley ordered the Rabbit. She’s so adventurous. The restaurant was kitchy and cute, and I loved the upside-down cake stands hanging from the ceiling.
The food was very good. The salmon was crispy on the skin side and perfectly cooked, and the sauce and mashed potatoes that accompanied it were both great. Ashley convinced me to try a bite of her rabbit (I guess I’m reeeaalllyyyy not a vegetarian anymore!) and it was actually delicious. It was soft and flavorful, and it came with a root vegetable mash that went perfectly. All in all a good meal. It was on the pricier side, so we wouldn’t have gone more than once but it was fun to try.
For dessert, we split some of the best chocolates I have ever had. Again under Caroline’s recomendation, we picked up a few from Pierre Marcolini including earl grey, ginger, something crunchy and amazing, and a raspberry lime truffle. Ashley said the ginger might have been the best chocolate she’s ever had! Chocolate tip: Ask to buy chocolates by the piece in bags, boxes cost extra but they won’t tell you that until you’ve already filled one up!
Day two in Brussels was similar to day one in that we wandered through thrift stores looking for the perfect second-hand flannel or purse, ventured through Christmas shops (yuck too soon), and went back to see the center in the day light. For breakfast, we ordered Croque Monsieur for breakfast, which turned out to be two sandwiches for each of us- ridiculous but cost effective.
Closer to town, we stopped at L’atelier En Ville, a concept store combining a cafe with an art gallery with a clothing boutique, and I was in love. I don’t know how many times I looked at Ashley and said “this is my dream store” or “I need to own this store” or “I wish I could live in here” but I know it was a lot. We both ordered tea, mine with chamomile and lemon, Ashley’s with cinnamon and ginger. The coolest thing was that there was no bag, it was literally a glass mug filled with the ingredients and hot water poured over the top. Delicious, beautiful, and so much fun. We didn’t get anything to eat but the soup and cakes looked amazing. If I’m ever back in Brussels it will be my first stop!
Shelby you’ve been ranting forever and you still haven’t mentioned waffles!!
And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for! My first Belgian waffle!! We decided that waffles would be a perfectly balanced meal (right along with second dessert in my book), so we headed to a little stand that smelled like sugar and vanilla right outside the bustling center. We both ordered waffles with strawberries and dark chocolate topped with whipped cream. Hoollllyyyyy shit. Excuse my language but they were GOOD. The waffle was crispy and warm, the chocolate was rich, the strawberries were the perfect tartness. Yes. Please. We ate them standing under an awning hiding from the sprinkling of rain that was starting, but my vision was so blurred by my melted chocolate coma that I barely noticed.
We avoided the rain the best way we knew how, shopping and eventually heading back for drinks at Goupil le Fol. Exhausted from our day of picking up our feet and our forks, we ventured back to Caroline’s in the rain to regroup and Yelp restaurants for dinner. I found a little spot called Le Demoiselle near the apartment. They had great reviews, were close, and we were hungry believe it or not.
The bistro was really cute, with a chic almost 1970s vibe. Our waiter was hilarious. He was loud, flamboyant, and explained the menu to us in full theatrics. He even called a friend on the phone to help translate the word for “wheat.” Ashley and I both ordered the steak entree, and a glass of a red wine he suggested.
While the meat wasn’t a cut I’ve had before, the whole meal was delicious and one of my favorites from the whole trip thus far. The meat was cooked well (almost a little over but still great) and the mashed potatoes were delicious. Who doesn’t like mashed potatoes, come on. The real star for me was the little salad places gently next to the steak. It was some sort of thinly shredded vegetable, I think zucchini, that was dressed in the most deliciously simple vinegrette and topped with crumbled fried onions. I literally couldn’t get enough of these little zucchini strings. I”ll probably spend six months trying to recreate them when I get home.
Successfully navigating the train system, we arrived in Bruges the next day (after getting kicked out of first class with second class tickets woops silly Americans). We checked into Snuffel Backpacker Hostel but were early and had to wait for access to our room. We decided to grab a beer at the hostel bar (it was 1pm don’t worry) and were approached by a guy in his late 30s. He introduced himself, asked us where we were from, then asked us to read an explicit Tinder conversation he was having with a girl who didn’t speak English very well. I couldn’t make this up if I tried. He went on for the next 30 minutes, telling us things we never wanted to know and I loudly asked Ashley if we were being Punk’d. He finally left, I tried to get the bright shade of red I had turned to go away, and we ran to our room.
Friends: “Shelby, have you met any guys abroad????????”
It was about 4pm, so we decided on heading to Bruge’s oldest pub for a beer and a snack. Cafe Vlissinghe can be found on a tiny little street in a beautiful old stone building, now celebrating their 500th year in business. We luckily found a spot and ordered drinks (I had a Triple Karmeliet and it was great) and their house onion soup. A little Jack Rusell Terrier bounced from table to table begging for scraps, clearly unaware of the sign hanging on the wall that read, “Please do not feed the dog” with his picture on it. He was adorable, and between the dog and the women playing trivial pursuit at the table near by, it makes sense that Cafe Vlissinghe has been around so long. We ate our perfect onion soups feeling like we were sitting in a friend’s home.
Bruges is definitely one of the most expensive cities we have been to food wise, so finding options in our budget was difficult. We settled for mushroom pizza for dinner which was actually more exciting than it seems because the woman who took our order thought we each wanted an entire pizza so we had to argue over that in a series of grunts, hand waves,saying “one” while holding up one finger.. you get it.
I had an awesome surprise in Bruges: I was able to reconnect with a friend I hadn’t seen in almost four years. LC (or Lauren to some people) and I met at the George Washington University when I joined the women’s rugby team. While I was only there for two semesters before transferring, this team had a huge impact on me and it was so nice to be able to catch up and reminisce. I’m sure LC’s boyfriend, Ward, and Ashley loved listening to us talk about matches, the time I fractured my pelvis, and our drunken team adventures, but they were good sports about it. Thank you LC and Ward for coming to meet us, it was so much fun!
There isn’t a whole lot to do in Bruges besides walk and take in the beauty around you. After a delightful hostel breakfast of bread and jam (ugh) we walked the town. We explored the canals and side streets, tried not to get run over by horse and buggies, and found a cute little artisan market. We shared a paper cone of fries with jobie sauce, a Belgian curry-ish sauce, which were amazing.
Being in chocolate country, we knew we couldn’t leave without having chocolate in all it’s wonderful forms. Looking for hot chocolate we settled on a little cafe that had open seats at the window bar. Now, this isn’t some ordinary hot chocolate experience. No powder allowed. In Belgium, you are given a mug of steamed milk and a spoon with a cube of solid chocolate around it. Swirling the spoon in the milk, the chocolate melts and makes the most delicious hot chocolate you’ve ever had. We shared mugs of both milk chocolate and dark chocolate and couldn’t believe how different they tasted. Talk about having fun with your food.
We continued our wanderings, walking through the store at De Halve Man brewery, watching a group of swans hang out by the river, fighting the desire to buy everything in a beautiful kitchen store we found. I wish I had more to tell but Bruges really isn’t about what you can do, it’s about appreciating what you can see.
For our final meal in Bruges, I found a restaurant called Pita Huis that had some good reviews. I was expecting an average fast food kebab shop, but it turned out to be a really nice little restaurant. They had a great selection of fillings for pitas, and some other options as well. I ordered the small falafel pita and Ashley chose the small lamb pita. Both were delicious, especially because of the plate of sauces they brought us. The sauces absolutely made the meal, and I found myself mixing three or four of them at a time. It was the perfect amount of food for a pretty good price!
Bruges was beautiful, sweet, and it was nice that we felt like we could see the whole city in the short time we had. I loved wandering the streets, and of course the fact that chocolate is an acceptible addition to every meal. I definitely recommend seeing it and taking a trip back in time while getting lost in the little medieval streets.
Next, we’re off to Amsterdam- the final leg of our tag team journey. Wish us luck!