Romance in Bruges and mussels in Brussels

brusselsThis summer we explored Belgium and once again fell in love with Jacques Brel. Brussels was our base for a day trip to Bruges, Belgium’s most spectacular medieval city.

As crowded as it was with thousands of tourists, we managed to make it our own by walking through the less visited streets that wind through the old city, stumbling across picturesque canals, dazzling Gothic towers, huge squares and smaller ones too. We avoided the packed restaurants and had our own version of Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, with both of us clothed, munching on a supermarket feast of Belgian cheese, salmon salad, peppers, multi-coloured cherry tomatoes, avoiding the ever present waffles due to our new low-carb/sugar-free regime. We sat on the grass behind two musicians, one on viola, the other on violin, playing Vivaldi. Perfection! Romantic! We opted for the bus all the way back to the train station and arrived in Brussels in the late afternoon.

We were staying at Hotel Sabina, a humble 2-star, run by a friendly and helpful gentleman, who did his best to make us comfortable. He recommended the nearby Titanic restaurant for the best mussels in the area and was he ever right! I had the rum-laced version while Irwin went for a classic provençal. With over a kilo of mussels each, we were elated. No bread. No frites, but nice little salads.

Since all of the major sights are within walking distance we decided against the hop-on-bus and made our way on foot exploring the centre of the city, starting with the Grote Markt, or Grand Place, the neo-classical Palais de Justice, the majestic cathedral and too many churches to count. We stumbled on a free concert in one of them: a flute and piano sonata by César Franck, which was a challenging and complex work, beautifully executed.

We headed for the Jewish Museum only to find it locked and guarded by two cops, one with a sub-machine gun. He told us no one could enter, the result of a continuing investigation into the fatal shooting of two Israeli tourists there this summer.

Avoiding the expensive tourist-trap restaurants — there may be over a thousand in Brussels, we opted for a fast food joint serving remarkably tasty meat and fish brochettes and cheese croquettes.

For our last supper in Brussels – since most of Europe goes on vacation in August, our favourite Titanic was closed – we tried another one in the small square near our hotel and found the mussels somewhat underwhelming.

We left our hotel at 6:15 am and walked to the train station. The neighbourhood, all-night bar/bordello was going strong. The airport bus did not offer us a senior’s discount but we appreciated the comfortable and efficient ride. The last days of our amazing summer vacation of 2014, which began in the Greek Islands, ended with cool days of walking, touring, and enjoying what Northern Europe has to offer.

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