Tuesday, March 15, 2011

To the land of waffles and chocolate!

This weekend I left Paris behind and went on search of waffles and chocolate in Belgium! Friday afternoon, we rushed out of our classes, scrambling to get to the bus station. Arriving just on time, we settled down for our 3 hour and 45 minute bus ride to Belgium. I watched out the window as kilometer after kilometer we drove through farmland. The green landscape oddly brought me right back to Ithaca, a nostalgia broken up by French highway signs and wind turbines. We arrived at the Brussels station and transferred to a train to take us to Bruges. It was after 10 by the time we finally arrived in the quiet Flanders town. We took a bus to the city center and wandered on foot to find our hostel. While wandering we got our first glimpses of this magical city. The Markt (Flemish isn't too big on vowels, except a's) was beautiful at night with lights shining up at the buildings, illuminating their whimsical, Disneyworld-like facades. After checking into our hostel, we walked around the streets, empty of tourists in the nighttime. We got our first taste of Belgian frites and enjoyed the quiet and serenity of Bruges, so different than Paris.
Bruges Markt and Belfry
Waffle with bananas and warm chocolate sauce
The next morning, we feasted on delicious fruit topped waffles and hot chocolate at a local café. We meandered through the streets of Bruges, full of chocolate and lace shops. Bruges is surrounded by water – a series of canals – garnering it the name “Venice of the North.” We took a boat tour through the canals, learned a bit of Bruges history and saw more of the storybook town. Medieval buildings and gothic churches lined the canals, and ducks and swans swam alongside our boat. Afterwards, we headed to the Church of Our Lady, where one of Michaelangelo’s few works to ever leave Italy is located – the sculpture, Madonna and Child. We spent the rest of our afternoon walking through the city, ogling at its beauty, shopping for chocolate and eating (of course!). 
Dog looking out at the canal
Swans on the canal

We departed for Brussels, arriving there in no time. In Brussels, we walked through a market on the square right by our hotel and then walked to the Grand Place, just a couple blocks away. Victor Hugo, who lived in Brussels for a time, called the Grand Place the most beautiful place in the world. The night we visited, it seemed that the Grand Place was glowing against the night sky. We dined at a restaurant off the place that was gilded in the belle époque era style. I tried an authentic Belgian dish called waterzooi, at the recommendation of the waiter. This chicken stew, of sorts, was quite delicious. Later that night, we returned to the Grand Place and sat in the middle, singing songs under the moonlight.
In front of Hotel de Ville on the Grand Place in Brussels
Cathedral in Brussels
The next day we woke up, ate breakfast at our hotel and befriended the guy at the reception desk, who gave us ideas of where to go in the city. We went to the most famed Cathedral in Brussels, where mass was just beginning. After snapping some photos and listening to the organ music for a few minutes, we headed out to go see the Royal Palace. We strolled through a grand park in front of the palace, which was adorned with statues symbolic of peace. We paused for a photo opp outside the Palais Royal and then continued our walk past many of Brussels’ notable art museums and went to Sablon Square. In this quiet, village-like square, we saw an antiques market full of jewelry, artwork and furs. We then walked from there through some of the winding streets of Brussels. We stopped in at a vintage store on the way and somehow ended up at one of Brussels’ most famed attractions – the Manneken Pis. Across from this fountain of a peeing boy, we picked up another round of Belgian waffles. Before we headed out, we got our last dose of frites. We sat on the steps of the Bourse (Brussels’ Stock Exchange) with many locals and ate our fries. A fine way to spend our last hour in this wondrous city. We headed back to the bus station and boarded our bus back to Paris. Four hours later I was home. With nearly a kilo of chocolate for souvenirs and 400+ pictures on my camera, I was back in Paris. We were sad to leave, but it’s hard to be disappointed to return to Paris. All in all, it was a great weekend!

Palais Royal

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