Brussels Series: Dinner at the Plattesteen

One of the form of transportation within Brussels is thru what is known as the Premetro. It is narrow tram operating in an underground railway track. I find it so odd, the shape of the tram — it does not look like a good design for maximizing passenger load. It does actually feel like getting on a narrow bus that runs on underground tracks.

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Anyway, I was looking forward to trying a Belgian food called “stoemp avec saucissen”. The guidebook recommended a family restaurant called the Platessen and that serves old-fashioned Belgian food like the way they make it at home.

This family restaurant happens to lie in the middle of the gay neighborhood (“not that there is anything wrong with that”). I was determined to try stoemp that I went anyway. Oh yeah, there are a lot of guys on the streets and I kept my eyes to the pavement most of the time. I was afraid of the accidental eye contact … “not that there is anything wrong with that”.

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I don’t know if I made a mistake coming in here. Hmmm … I saw two burly man kissing each other in the lips (“not that there is anything wrong with that”). Also, right across from my table was another guy eating alone. I swear he was watching me. :-0

I looked around the restaurant for the tell-tale rainbow flag. Nope, none around.

Oh, guess what … the waiter told me that they don’t serve Stoemp that night. Shoot! Since it was quite late already and I had no Plan B for dinner, I decided to stay on.

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Brussels Series: Manneken Pis, Snails and Amaretto

Sometimes one can know the character of a city just by observing the people going about doing their business. I can relate to a city like Brussels. This city is well maintain, clean, graffiti free and have very little vagrants. The subway felt bright and safe.

I stumbled on the Parc du Bruxelles while trying to look for the Unknown Soldier Panorama. I must have made a wrong turn somewhere and came upon this place. I enjoyed this park. In a cold early spring weather, there are quite a lot of people running during their lunch break. It reminds me a lot of Vancouver where when the weather is good, people do don their running gears and go for a run.

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In every European city, there is a cathedral at the center of the city. Brussel’s cathedral is called the St Michael and Gudula Cathedral. I had seen enough of churches already and gave this a miss.

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Brussels is a compact city. I came across the Manneken Pis again. Since there are better light this time, I took out my long lens and managed to get a closer shot of the famous sculpture. Sometimes they do dress up the Manneken Pis in costumes but not this time.

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Brussels Series: Lunch Snack at the Atomium and Brupark

The highlight of the day is to visit the Atomium. This monument is a national icon of Belgium and is as iconic as the Eiffel to Paris. I have seen pictures of the Atomium but had no idea what is was like up close. More about the Atomium later …

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I went to Brussel Centraal railway station to catch a train to Heysel Park.

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I was still hungry after that little breakfast of Waffle. I stopped at a food stall at the train station called Maciotto. I had seen Maciotto in several stations before and thought I should check this out. They sell traditional Italian snacks. Since I thought that there would be nothing much for lunch at the Atomium, I got myself a snack as brunch.

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I got something called the Diavoletto Pollo (I think the word diavoletto means devil in Italian). This 3 Euros snack contains tomato, chicken and olives. Anyone can tell me more about Diavoletto? I had never come across this before.

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Brussels Series: Breakfast at the Grand Place

Woke up extra early today. I think I have adjusted to the time zone and all the walking the past one week. I must have walked at least 10 kilometers every day since I started from London. Also, I have stopped noticing how heavy my backpack had been. Oh … I am beginning to feel homesick!

I thought I start off the day in the Grand Place and have a look at it under dry weather. I was pretty sure there are some places that I can have breakfast around the area.

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I found this place just off the Grand Place for breakfast. What do Belgians normally have for breakfast? My impression is that Belgian breakfasts consists of waffle. Oh well … waffles sounds OK for me.

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Brussels Series: Mussels and Frites at Chez Leon

After the Waffle snack (or should I call it a meal?), I went walking about the sidestreets back to my hotel. I am liking Brussels more and more. Oh yeah, it drizzled the afternoon I was there but this is nothing to me because Vancouver at this time of the year rains like there’s no tomorrow anymore. Talking about rain, did you know what the record for continuous days of rain in Vancouver is? 28 days! Oh yeah … 28 days. So, this is like a sunny day to me. 🙂

Let’s see … ah … Belgium is famous for it laces. I don’t care much for laces but they look very nice. I bet Suanne would love to have one of the nice lacy blouses. Know how much they cost? 150 Euros! Gosh! BTW, one need to be careful these days buying these lacey products … many of them are manufactured in China … caveat emptor.

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Of course, the other famous product from Belgian is, what else, Belgian Chocolates. There are so many chocolate stores here. Some of the names I could recognize were Guylian, Godiva, and Neuhaus but they are so many others. Most of the chocs are so expensive … and some are so pretty that I will not be able to force myself to eat them.

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There are also Chocolate Truffles. That little box costs about 9 Euros … $12USD / $14CAD.

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Like the Latin Quarter in Paris, there is a street that has a huge concentration of restaurants. I just bumped into this place and oh yeah, perfect … this is where I am gonna have my dinner. Each of them have sign boards that describes their fix price menu. If you end up ordering what is on the board, you’ll be OK. Once inside, they have a “better” menu which could cost a lot more. Continue reading

Brussels Series: Belgian Waffle at the Grand Place

I hardly spent a few minutes in the hotel room. The sky is getting dark and I wanted to at least spend sometime getting to the centre of Brussels. So, I dropped my bags, had a quick clean-up and headed out immediately. I am so glad for this room because compared to the dump in Paris this is much comfortable. I got a good deal from Orbitz which is only USD$60 per night.

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The Brussels downtown core is so compact. You could walk to most places of interest. I read a lot about the Grand Place which is a central market square. This is the most visited tourist site in Brussels. The square is surrounded on all sides by grand buildings. The Gothic style City Hall, below, is 600 years old.

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UNESCO had declared the Grand Place as a World Heritage Site.

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The City Museum, located right across from the City Hall, is dedicate to the history of Brussels. There is a room that contains all the costume of the Manneken Pis.

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Paris Series: Thaly Train to Brussels

I learned another French word, Gare du Nord. That’s French for North Station. 🙂 I took the train from this station which is known to be one of the busiest train station in the world. The Gare du Nord even have an airport-like departure/arrival schedule board.

[Note: About a week after I left Paris, there was a major riot in this station where a few hundred people battled the police for roughly handling an African immigrant who did not have proper papers. When I was in the station, there was a large presence of police and military armed to the teeth. I can feel the tension.]

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My plan for the day is simple. Get an early train ride into Brussels and then spend a part of the evening exploring the city. Well, I did not count on needing to book a seat — I thought that it’s just to show up at the station and then you’ll get on the next available train. For that I had to wait two hours to get on the next available train.

I thought it was just an ordinary train from Paris to Brussels but it turned out to be a TGV variant called the Thalys. They run on dedicated high-speed rail track and on certain section on the same track that EuroStar uses.

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Although I had myself a first class ticket which just costs a bit more from second class, I did not expect the comfort at all. I thought it was just only wider, more comfortable seats. For one, there were free newspapers given out by the stewardess (yeah, they had stewardess on trains!). After so many days of French, I was glad to see an English newspaper.

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They came by with some disposable wet towels. Nice touch …

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They even served food on board. This is included as part of the ticket price. I was told that there will be snacks on board but I did not expect this.

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Paris Series: Breakfast at Paul

Ooops. I said that yesterday’s blog entry was my last on Paris. Well, I found a few more photos I missed and this means you gotta bear with another Paris blog today.

Never much of bread fan, I found myself falling in love with Parisian bread. Everywhere I go in Paris, I inevitably come across the chain of bakeries called Paul. They seem to be as prevalent in Paris as McDonalds and Starbucks in North America.

They have bakeries of every size. They have small counters at train stations and there are some full fledge bakeries. They are always busy and filled with a lot of people. There was one Paul bakery that had lines that snaked out the door. Their bread and pastry looked so tasty — the variety is bewildering.

The morning I left Paris, I stopped by the Paul at the Gare du Nord station. The one thing that I remember was that there were a lot of young gypsy girls asking me if I speak English. i always sternly tell me “No, I don’t speak English”. 🙂 Does anyone know what they really want? Are they just asking for money?

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This Paul outlet is just a small counter which is more than good enough for me. The board list a bunch of stuff they sell. I can’t tell what is what except for the Pains — that’s bread for French. See? I did learn some French here. 🙂 BTW, Paul was founded 120 years ago, believe it or not.

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My fav? The baguette. There are so much I learn about the humble baguette. Did you know why baguettes are shaped the way they are? Well, apparently there is a law in France that prohibits bakeries from working before 4am. This makes it impossible to make enough bread in time for breakfasts. The long slender baguette bakes faster than the rounder bread and thus it became what it is today. Does this story sound credible? Continue reading

Paris Series: Climbing the Eiffel and Gyros Dinner

After all these days in Paris, I had not climbed the Eiffel. I was at the base of the Eiffel a couple of night before but did not climb it because I was so dead tired. This time, I timed myself to start the climb before sun sets.

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There are three platforms on the Tower. The first two floors can be reached by stairs or by lifts. Taking the elevator to the 2nd floor costs 7.80 Euros while stairs costs 4.00 Euros with double the fun.

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Climbing up Eiffel is not easy. There are signs on the tower’s trivia after couple of landing. It was interesting reading and also a good chance to catch a breather.

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The first floor has the largest platform. There is quite a few displays and exhibitions of past and recent history here. There is also a post office on this level. Weird … is there a story behind this post office?

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The view from the second floor towards the Champs de Mars Park looked so beautiful. As much as I wanted to walk all the way to the end to take a picture of the Eiffel Tower from that end, I balked at walking all the way to the end. It must have been at least 3/4 of a mile end to end.

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Paris Series: The Palace of Versailles

Did you know that the city of Versailles was virtually the unofficial capital of France in the past? It is in his royal city that the seat of government was located although the official capital is Paris and the official palace was the Louvre. Versailles is extremely rich in history. It is located about 10 miles west of Paris and can easily be reached via RER trains.

Versailles is best known for the Chateau de Versailles (the Versailles Palace). I spent a good part of a day at Versailles. I have heard a lot of this place and its grandeur but had never knew much about it. When I reached the entrance, I was practically awe-stricken. I knew it was grand but I have never imagined how huge it was until I saw it with my eyes.

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I signed up for a guided tour and knew it was well worth every Euro. It indeed was. The guide assigned to us was not just any guide but a curator of the Versailles Palace. Man, she sure knew her stuff and amazed us with the answers that we threw at her. Because there were so many people around, we were given listening devices so that we can hear everything she was saying even though we are not within earshot. People who signs up for the tours gets to a different route and different places that is not opened to the general public.

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For three generations, from Louis XIV to Louis XVI had ruled France from this grand palace. As in the Louvre the opulence from that era shows. There were precious paintings still remaining in the Versailles but most of them had been sold by the government after the French Revolution. The Versailles is trying to restore this palace to it original but it will take a lot of money and a long time, if at all possible.

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The Versailles Palace is currently undergoing extensive renovations and refurbishments. Continue reading