Bruxelles, Rawr.


I’m pretty proud of myself for finding decent vegetarian and vegan food for most of our trip. It didn’t even take as much searching as I expected. There was no doubt in my mind, though, that I would be breaking veg in Brussels for moules frites. Mussels in Brussels. Which begs the question, If Brussels = Bruxelles, why doesn’t Mussels = Muxelles? I digress.

Brussels was the one city we were 100% certain we needed to visit from the start. I am enamored with Belgian-style beers, so I needed to go to the country that started it all. In fact, I wasn’t more than a casual beer drinker [read: Corona at bars] until Shaun and I started dating. We took a trip to Blue Mountain Brewery and did a tasting and I fell in love with a beer for the first time: their Evil 8 Belgian Style Dubbel. To be honest, I went to the brewery thinking I was taking one for the team and being the cool girlfriend who drank beer, but I left with my own six pack and have really developed my beer palate ever since. It doesn’t hurt that one of Shaun’s oldest and dearest friends Kyler is a brewer extraordinaire with a killer blog and awesome beers. No seriously, check him out, he’s the stuff of Brooklyn legend already. I’m surrounded by beer nerds, and I love it.

So Brussels was a no-brainer. It’s made for all kinds of nerds, not just the beer kind: political nerds, history nerds, food nerds, architecture nerds, you name it. It’s the center of European government. You can find NATO, the Council of Europe, and  the European Parliament [which our hotel overlooked…fantastic] within the city’s borders. Belgium literally makes the best chocolate in the world. It’s a multi-lingual country with a food culture to back it. They’ve been brewing beer since before the country even existed. It’s a pretty stellar cultural center all around.

Our first full day was a “beer day.” We started the afternoon with a tour of Cantillon, one of the two breweries still in operation inside the city of Brussels. They brew only gueuze, lambic and fruit-style beers using a process called “spontaneous fermentation” on the original 19th-Century equipment. It is one of the only traditional lambic breweries still in existence [that hasn’t switched to contemporary beer production methods, in which spontaneous fermentation is often disallowed].

really incredible, really old equipment.

Spontaneous fermentation requires cold temperatures, so Lambic is brewed only from November to March. The key stage in the process occurs when the wort [the mashed-grain liquid that will ferment into alcohol] is poured into a large, open copper tray in the attic of the brewery. Once the wort reaches a cool temperature, airborne “fermenting agents” [wild yeasts and bacteria] begin to mix into the wort and ferment the beer. According to our guide book,

Researchers at the University of Leuven studying the organic chemistry aspects of Lambic fermentation have identified 100 different strains of yeasts, 27 strains of acetic acid bacteria…and 38 strains of lactic acid bacteria…in just one type of Lambic.

Wild. Literally. These bacteria then travel with the wort into oak barrels where the beer is left to ferment, age and create the traditional sour Lambic flavor.

oak and chestnut barrels.

bottled beers at Cantillon.

Gueuze and fruit beers are produced from Lambic. Gueuze [sour] beer is a combination of one, two, and three-year-old Lambics, each vintage adding a different type of sugar and flavor to create the final product. Fruit beers are made by soaking regional fruits for three months and adding them to Lambic. The final products look and taste bright and effervescent:

Kriek and Gueuze

They are really unique. We grabbed a few bottles to bring home with us before leaving Cantillon for Delirium Village. Delirium Village is exactly what it sounds like, a huge complex of beer-themed buildings owned by Belgian beer company Delirium. You know, the little pink elephant. There’s Delirium Cafe,  Delirium Store, Delirium Taphouse, Delirium Beer Cave, Delirium Floris [the absinthe and whisky bar], Delirium Monasterium, Delirium Hoppy Loft, Delirium Garden and Delirium Tequileria, all on this tiny one-way street in the center of town. Delirious yet? It’s arguably one of the most touristy things in the city; however, it’s actually really cool. Take that, Munich.

We opted for the Monasterium and the Beer Cave. The Monasterium was a small, darkly lit bar with a monstrous tap list. I had my first beer in Belgium: La Trappe Quad. It turned out to be my favorite of the trip. Unfortunately, it is NOT four dollars in the states like in Belgium. It is twenty dollars. I will never have it again. This is extremely depressing. We also shared some awesome bar food: black bread and pickles.

this counts as a meal.

The bartender at the Monasterium recommended we check out the Beer Cave before heading out, which we did. It’s extremely cool. The tables are oak barrels and the walls are lined with beer paraphernalia and really old, really good beers. It wasn’t overwhelmingly crowded, even on a weekend. I’d highly recommend the Village to anyone looking for a fun Belgian afternoon. We slowly made our way back to the hotel [stopping for a Belgian waffle on the street, of course, oh my god they’re half-baked and delicious] and ended up spending the evening at the hotel bar with a couple from Canada, talking about life and travel. They were cute and awesome, and it’s always nice to work on your English again.

The second day was a “chocolate day.” Belgium is world-famous for chocolate so we had to give it a try. We headed to the Sablon, a square lined with chocolate shops that doubles as an antique market on Saturdays. The antiques were antique-y, but the best part was a French food festival in the middle of the square [what’s up with these countries all having French festivals when we were there?]. Shaun had a pork rillette sandwich and I had some fresh chestnut yogurt, and we took off around the square to try the chocolates. There’s Godiva, of course, but we bypassed it for Neuhaus [speculoos truffle], Leonidas [rum truffle], Wittamer [milk chocolate truffle with Grand Marnier cream], and one I can’t remember [a lemon-chocolate macaron]. We tried one little chocolate at each place. This chocolate was so rich that even though we technically only had two pieces each, it made me ill [I’m not a big chocolate person, it makes me sick]. Wittamer won the day because that Grand Marnier joint was outstanding, but also because the women inside were so sweet and so fun. They snuck us a little framboise flower before we left. That might have been my favorite, but then again, I’m not big on chocolate.

Obviously, the best way to settle an upset chocolate stomach is with coffee.Le Cercle des Voyageurs was a place I was really excited about, and it did NOT disappoint. It’s a cafe, library, and wine cave, and it’s beautiful. There’s an awesome grand piano and live music almost every day, and the coffees are delicious. We spent a little bit of time there so I could rest my foot before heading to a place recommended to us by a couple on our wine tourA La Mort Subite [“At the Sudden Death”]. To get there we passed through Grand-Place, and took a moment to admire the odd peeing mannequin. I don’t have anything to say about him, other than that he was dressed up for Mexican Independence Day.

A la Mort Subite is named such because employees at the National Bank of Belgium would spend their lunch breaks in the pub playing a game called “Sudden Death,” and the owner got a kick out of it. It is what you’d imagine an old French pub to look like: high ceilings, ornate walls, old tables, gorgeous bar, fancy wait staff. This was another resting spot before our walk back to our part of town, and although it’s a little pricey I really think it’s worth a visit. They have a tiny food menu and really good teas, too [I recommend the mint]. At this point, my chocolate-coffee stomach was extremely unhappy, so we headed to dinner at L’Entre-Tempswhere I let the chef surprise me with a vegetarian plate and Shaun had a gorgeous duck salad.

The final day of our entire honeymoon? Museums and mussels. Sunday, September 16th was “No Car Day” in Brussels. People were biking, walking and skateboarding through the streets. An added bonus was that the metros and museums were free. Another added bonus was that it was an absolutely gorgeous day. We picked up a picnic lunch and headed to the Museum of Natural Sciences, which has one of the largest dinosaur collections in the world. IN THE WORLD.

I love science museums, if you can’t tell. This one was extremely interactive which I found fun because I am actually a five-year-old at heart. I drew a dinosaur using some weird Microsoft Paint-style program while little children patiently waited their turns. There was a really unique exhibit called “BiodiverCITY,” which explained how plants and animals live and are being impacted by urbanization. I got hung up on regenerating earthworms for a good half hour. You have to admit, that’s REALLY STRANGE.

After the museum, we had to hit a place I had been dreaming about for a really, really long time. This involves some back story. When we were in Asheville, we discovered Battery Park Book Exchange, a pet-friendly bar/coffee house/bookstore where you could bring your pet, order drinks, and browse the books while sitting on huge comfy couches. I really, really, wanted to do this but when we went to the shop the next day it was closed for “New Year’s Vacation.” I never got my bookstore/bar experience. This was really devastating. Then, when we were in Munich, I found a bookstore/cafe/bar recommended by the New York Times, we walked all the way there [about 2 miles each way], and found it closed for the weekend. I thought this was fate, but ignored fate and gave it one more shot at Cook and Book in Brussels. Massive, massive success. It’s a huge complex with a square/playground in the middle out in the residential area of Brussels. The bookstore is set up in a half circle, with each room offering a different genre [“food,” “English,” “music,” etc.] and different type of seating. The music room had a sweet bar, the food room had these giant red couches and old-school library desks. It had an insane food and bar menu, and we spent a few hours browsing and drinking. I continued my fresh mint tea addiction. It came with a tiny almond biscuit. I read The Economist [GREAT article on The Guardian in there]. I was in heaven. It was exactly what I wanted. I wish Grady could have been with us, but a sheepdog at the table next to ours gave us some entertainment as he desperately tried to swallow napkins whole. Almost the same.

For dinner, we headed to the African quarter of Brussels to a restaurant called Au Vieux Bruxelles, which reportedly has some of the best mussels in the city. It’s exactly what a bistro should look like [it’s been open since 1882, to boot], no one speaks English, and you can smell the mussels from a block away. My mussels in leek and blue cheese broth ranks in my top two meals in Europe [see also Maitrea], although the frites did not wow me. Shaun ordered a steak tartare but I think he had food regret after he helped me finish my dish [IT WAS HUGE]. If you’re looking for mussels off the beaten path [i.e., not Chez Leon] this place is 100% worth it for atmosphere, price, and general awesomeness.

Eating like monsters had to end sometime, and the next day we got on a plane and headed back to the states to start Real Life again. After a relatively painless [minus my stupid foot] flight, we were reunited with Grady and had a delicious meal with Shaun’s parents before returning to Philly. We’ve got a ton of memories [and a ton of wine] from our crazy trip, and we’re definitely happy we did it. I can’t say we’ll ever be able to travel for that length of time again [nor would we want to, honestly], so all in all I think we did our honeymoon right. And as my uncle pointed out, if we could survive that travel, our marriage is off to a good start. I concur.

I’ll leave you all with the complete list of Beers Shaun Tried in Brussels. His four-day Belgian Beer extravaganza is pretty impressive. Read it over, let me know which ones you’ve had, and then hate on Shaun for his fantastic, incomprehensible metabolism. Adios, au revoir, ciao, auf wiedersehen,viszontlátásra, na shledanou, tot kijk, thanks for reading. I’m sure I’ll have things to write about very, very soon. Like our wedding photos!

  1. Belle Vue Kriek Classique – 33cl Can
  2. Blanche de Bruges – 33cl Draft
  3. Boon Kriek – 375ml Bottle
  4. Cantillon Gueuze – 10cl pour from 750ml Bottle
  5. Cantillon Kriek – 10cl from 750ml Bottle
  6. Cantillon Lambic – 10cl from 750ml Bottle
  7. Charles Quint Blonde Doree – 33cl Draft
  8. Duchess de Bourgogne 6.2 – 33cl Bottle
  9. Duvel – 33cl Bottle
  10. Grimbergen Blonde – 33cl Bottle
  11. Guinness Special Export – 33cl Bottle
  12. Hoegaarden Rose – 33cl Draft
  13. Hopus Blonde – 33cl Draft
  14. La Biere des Druides Blanche – 33cl Bottle
  15. La Rulles Triple – 33cl Draft
  16. La Trappe Isid’or – 33cl Bottle
  17. La Trappe Quad – 33cl Draft
  18. Leffe 9 – 750ml Bottle
  19. Leffe Blonde – 50cl Draft
  20. Leffe Brune – 33cl Bottle
  21. Leon – 33cl Draft
  22. Maes – 33cl Draft
  23. Maredsous Abbaye 6 – 33cl Bottle
  24. Mystic White – 33cl Draft
  25. Orval – 33cl Bottle
  26. Rodenbach Grand Cru 6 – 33cl Bottle
  27. St. Idesbald Triple – 33cl Draft
  28. Tongerlo Blonde – 33cl Draft
  29. Tongerlo Triple Prior 9 – 33cl Bottle
  30. Val Dieu Triple – 33cl Draft
  31. Witkap Triple 7.5 – 33cl Bottle

[Bold indicates ones I had, too!]

* Not.

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Categories: Travel, Wedding

Author:ryesandshine

Courtney grew up in Reading, PA, and has lived in New York City (where she earned a bachelor's degree at NYU), Prague, Philadelphia, and Charlottesville (where she received a J.D. from UVa Law). Courtney and her new husband will settle in Philadelphia following a six-week Euro-trip extravaganza in September of 2012. Courtney's interests include music, writing, criticism, fitness, travel, cooking, and sports. Please enjoy the blog. LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/courtney-marello/1a/375/b30 Tumblr: http://abarrelofoddsandends.tumblr.com/

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2 Comments on “Bruxelles, Rawr.”

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  1. And We’re Back. | Ryes and 'Shine - October 2, 2012

    […] Stay tuned for: Madrid, Barcelona, Nice, Rome, Siena, Munich, Budapest, Prague, Amsterdam, and Brussels. If the Internet Guy gets here on time tomorrow, the posts will come sooner rather than later. […]

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