Monthly Archives: July 2014

Pinka’s World Cup World Tour: Day 5

Wed. July 9, 2014:
Bruges, Belgium

I had a nightmare that I had gone back home to visit my family, all I could think during the nightmare was all the things in Bruges that I would be missing. It felt good to wake up and find myself very much so still in Europe. Our hotel featured a breakfast buffet that was super fancy and amazing. There was an array of meats, cheeses and breads as well as fresh fruits. The coffee was actually really good. Needless to say I took my time and ate a hearty breakfast. We were even given little chocolates on the side. I felt so fancy sitting there eating (surprisingly tasty) soft cheese and sipping my coffee from a porcelain cup. Alas we had a busy day ahead of us and as soon as I was done we were out the door.

We could not for the life of us fine the Memmling museum. I remembered seeing a banner for it on our way in, but Brent maintained that it was supposed to be in a hospital. At the hospital there was just an entrance to the Sint Jan Hospital museum. We wandered around the hospital grounds but to no avail. We asked at the church, and got a blank look. It was across the street. Turns out the Sint Jan Hospital museum and the Memmling museum were one and the same! While there we also found out from the nice lady that the church was closed until 1pm due to a funeral, thus shifting our plans for the day as we would have to come back later.

The hospital half of the museum lived up to its name, there were plenty of old medical instruments that gave me the heebeejeebees. Items such as tear duct needles and crude metal eye forceps. Included in the collection was a painting of a doctor using an eye needle on a young girl without paying attention. Part of the museum was religious relics and altar pieces. We got to see old pieces of saints (jaw bones and teeth to name a few) in fancy little holders. The Memmling half of the museum did not deliver. In total there were two, maybe three, pieces by Memmling- hardly worthy of being called a museum. We also had admission to a mini-museum next door. It was basically an old apothecary with jars and lots of dust. Conclusion: thank god for modern medicine.

Up next we went to the Picasso exhibit, still within the hospital grounds, as a bonus they also had a Warhol exhibit. The exhibit had more than Picasso; we saw works by Matisse, Miro, Magritte and Dali. The exhibit was well curated, you could see how the artists interacted and influenced each other. They also had on display sketches and studies for paintings that helped put the finished pieces into perspective, you could really see how much work and planning went into it. My favourite part was the letters the artists had written were shown in fancy display cases. Language barrier aside, they were impossible to read! Pure chicken scratch. (Brent later pointed out when reading that in my notebook, calling my writing comparable in terms of messiness). It was amusing to see that some of them had included little doodles in their letters, it reminded me of the little reference drawings in my travel books.


At first the Andy Warhol exhibit did not seem entirely worth it. Basically it was one big room of his work. Only after walking through and actually getting to see some of his earlier works in water colours and seeing archival photos did I truly appreciate the exhibit. It never occurred to me how much work it is to actually produce a screen print that big, until I saw the photo of a whole team working on it.

The museum tour continued, the day was nowhere near over. The Groening Museum featured mostly Flemish painters. It was nice to see work by painters I had never heard of. We got to see some more Memmling paintings- almost as many as at the Memmling museum. The museum started off with mostly religious paintings but at the end we got a nice surprise with some work by Magritte. It was interesting to see Flemish surrealist paintings, they were just as awesome and it is a shame they are not as well known. Included with our admission was the Arentshuis Museum as well. It was a small exhibit, featuring only two artists. Thank goodness I had packed the chocolate from Mary’s; it was helping us get through all the museums.

We took a break from looking at art and stood in line to climb the belfry tower. It was agony standing there, thinking about the 366 steps we would have to climb (after half a day of walking through galleries and museums with more to come). Luckily there were little pit-stops along the way. We got to look at the bells, and have views out the window at different heights. At the very top it was really windy and the rain was being whipped in through the tiny windows. The view was totally worth it all, we could literally see all of Bruges- and then some. There were markings on the windowsill telling you how far away and in which direction certain cities were. On our way back down we sat by the bells, hoping they would play, alas they took too long and we got bored. It was a long, slow, dizzying descent downstairs. I actually found it a lot worse going down than up. I got a lot dizzier and besides: it is a lot worse to trip going down stairs than up. The stairs were also really narrow, it was confusing as to who had right of way. I did the polite Canadian thing and stopped to let people pass (actually, I was dizzy and had to stop).

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The Salvador Dali museum was actually more of a private gallery with some items actually for sale. That beign said, they did still provide a lot of information about the bodies of work. It was rather tempting to buy “The Elephants”.

For a change we went to Quick Burger for lunch (that, and because McDonalds was too far away). I had the bacon max burger because it was the only in the picture that did not have lettuce or tomatoes (there was no way I was going to attempt to order a burger and then add on “no lettuce or tomatoes”). I also got ketchup with my fries, lest the mayonnaise be gross. I made the right call; Brent was soon stealing my ketchup. The burger had a weird spicy mayo sauce that I did not care for. I have no idea what is up with all the mayo-love. It was not good. After all that I was too full for Haagen Daz but I made a note of it for later.

We topped off our day with a trip to Our Lady of Bruges, which was now open. We passed around a group of people balking at the idea of paying 2 euros admission. It was a small price to pay to be able to see Michaelangelo’s sculpture Madonna & Child- one of his only works outside of Italy. The rest of the church was absolutely gorgeous, except for the parts under renovation- that I could do without seeing. It was weird to see gravestones in the ground, I felt bad for walking over them despite how worn down they were, i.e.: everyone had walked on them.

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The rain had gotten worse and the wind picked up, threatening to break my umbrella. We retreated to the hotel for afternoon beers. The Hoegaarden Rose (i.e.: with raspberries) was one of the best beers I’d had thus far. It tasted more like beer and less like rotten fruit juice. The rain was refusing to let up, we had to live with it as we headed to the grocery store and The Chocolate Line. I had read about the chocolate store online, apparently they had some wacky chocolates such as cola flavoured and they were all made in-house. There was a Canadian family in the shop, so we basically outnumbered the Belgians, 7 to 3. In total we got four chocolates: white chocolate raspberry yuzu (lemon), cola, cinnamon and marzipan. Brent had noticed that a lot of chocolate shops sold chocolate covered marshmallow balls, so we added one on as well.

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At the grocery store we stocked up on essentials: beer, a Snax chocolate bar and souvenir food for my family (Speculoos and a Belgian chocolate bar- both of which survived the trip, I somehow managed not to eat or crush them). On the way back we stopped at a convenience store and added to our beer collection. I found another fruit beer I had yet to try, Belgian Kriek. The only way I knew I had not tried it was by the % of fruit juice which was 15 (I had tried 20 and 30 so far). It was funny because it had Mannekin Pis on it. We had a very crummy walk back to the hotel. Even the horses that pull carriages full of tourists were not having it, one was neighing grumpily. There was also a scruffy, rain-soaked dog that looked absolutely miserable.

It felt so good to be back in the hotel with the chocolates and beers. They would have to hold us over until dinner that evening. The cola chocolate had popping candy in it mimicking the fizz of soda. The marshmallow puff was a super fancy gourmet Viva Puff cookie complete with graham cracker base. We settled in with our chocolates and beers and watched True Detective until it was time to head back out again.

In the Markt Square at 9pm the bells in the belfry played a song. I had thought ahead and insisted on getting there early so that I could get my ice cream fix at Haagen Daz. It was only raining lightly so I was able to enjoy my vanilla caramel brownie ice cream while the bells played on. We tried to get a table at Brasserie Cambriunus but it was full. They also did not have a TV, how were we supposed to watch the World Cup game Netherlands vs. Argentina? We went back to the hotel (again, I cannot tell you how many times that day we were asked if we had our key) to look up an alternate “hip and happenin” pub, maybe the second or third best pub for drinking beer in Bruges. As we walked by Brasserie Cambriunus Brent noticed that there were a few tables. He chose beer over soccer.

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It is no surprise that this was recommended as best place to drink beer in Bruges. The beer menu was literally the size of an encyclopedia (mostly due to each page being in a plastic envelope). It was colour-coded by style, I skipped right ahead to the pink pages: fruit beer. Even still I was overwhelmed and at a loss. So many to choose from!! Brent suggested the Cantillon Rose, partly because he wanted to try, mostly because it was voted the best fruit beer. I shrugged and figured, what’s the worst that could happen? I was presented with a beer that had a drawing of a naked lady on a bench on it. The beer was a little bit sour, but for a beer-tasting beer it was actually quite palatable. I did still nurse it all night.

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For dinner I ordered the “Flemish” onion soup which basically amounted to french onion soup with less cheese. I could not taste the beer it was supposedly made with. I stole two pieces of garlic bacon tomato bread from Brent, much better than the soup. The whole evening we were stuck sitting beside the most insufferable Yankee-girls, they were still so young and so dumb. It was driving me nuts.

The service at the pub was horrible. After asking for the bill, 30 minutes passed and nothing. Brent asked and the server claimed he “hadn’t heard” the first time. Lies. It was especially odd given the pub was closing. You would think they would be trying to usher us out there, bringing us the bill and closing the tab. Especially given that the game was on. All evening we watched people poke their heads in, scan for a TV, and leave. We walked down the street to the hostel bar Charlie Rockets, but it was packed and there was no room. At the next bar down the street however, there was no one watching the game. We could not find the right amount of people-to-bar-space ratio to watch the game in. We gave up and started heading for “home”, but not without one last stop on Brent’s Beer Tour of Belgium.

Somehow it was still raining on our way back. It had been raining for four days straight now. It is no surprise to say that my legs were exhausted by the time we got back. I didn’t even see the end of the game as I had fallen asleep.


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Pinka’s World Cup World Tour: Day 4

Tues. July 8, 2014:
Brussels to Bruges, Belgium

Ten and a half hours of sleep left me feeling nice and refreshed, I was confident I had beaten the jet lag and time switch. The Starbucks iced coffee that had sat around overnight unrefrigerated was not that good, but at least it did not kill me. The weather report said rain, rain and more rain. Walking in the rain in sandals on smooth cobblestones and carrying a giant heavy backpack= a dangerous disaster. Needless to say I did not enjoy the walk at all.

Despite walking really slowly and getting lost we still got to Comme Chez Soi too early for our reservation. We had walked right past it and not noticed it. We hid under a hotel awning across the street watching the rain come down. As we started heading over we watched a guy get out of his car and then be escorted under an umbrella to the restaurant: damn this place was fancy, no wonder they had Michelin stars. It felt really odd to show up at this fancy place with all of our bags in tow. I felt bad for passing my backpack to the guy and watching him strain with it, he later joked that I was carrying gold bricks, you know, as opposed to regular bricks.

Things only got weirder from there. We were the only people in the restaurant. We were seated at a fancy table set with an array of cutlery. Thankfully I had retained the key piece of information when faced with a billion forks and knives of varying sizes: start from the outside and work your way in. I could not tell you for the life of me what each utensil was for though. After staring at the menu and debating what to get (it was difficult because if we each wanted to try a different thing and trade halfway the menu dwindled in size, at least half the plates being for 2) we finally settled on the lunch course menu. It was the best choice given we were at a fancy Michelin-starred place and this way we would get to try what they deem is the best, and as well get to try three different dishes (appetizer, main and dessert).

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Even the bread for snacking on was super-fancy. One was made with Duvel beer and the other with Heffe beer. I was wary of the appetizer, as it involved none other than my culinary nemesis: salad. It balanced out however because it was served with ham-wrapped chicken which was otherworldly delicious. I wish it had been the main; I could eat it all day. Even the scary salad was tasty, possibly because of the proximity to the chicken-ham and the grease involved therein. The main course was “meager” which was a fish apparently. It was good; however I did not care for the second piece that was promptly placed on my plate as soon as I had finished the first piece. The tomato salad on the side was atrocious due to the fact that there were tomatoes in it, not because it was not well prepared. There is very little to be done with tomatoes in order to render them edible. I was also not looking forward to the dessert (I know, right? How can that be?!). It was going to fruit soup, and that just conjured up images from my childhood of a popular Polish dish that was literally a soup of boiled fruits, it was awful. Turns out one of us was wrong, either me for being biased or them for calling it soup. It was an artfully presented bowl of chopped up fruits in syrup with a scoop of sorbet. Not exactly soup.

The whole two hours at Comme Chez Sois was interspersed with awkward moments. The moments lessened once more people were seated in the room. For one thing Brent was trapped in his seat. The table had been moved for him to get into the booth and then put back. If he wanted to get up, the table would have to be moved. Our waiter brought us the wine list on an iPad in a customized app. After almost 20 minutes of looking at it, I decided I pretty much had to have a glass of wine. It took us a while to even find the list of individual glasses. In such a fancy place it is hard to tell if $60 is the price of a bottle or a glass. I settled on a 2003 French red wine, mostly because it seemed reasonable and I know nothing about wine. French? Good. Red? Good. Why not.

After lunch it was raining even harder. Despite the rain, there was still a giant crowd around Mannekin Pis, I never did end up understanding it. I caved and bought an umbrella with the hopes that in true Murphy’s Law style it would stop raining and there’d be nothing but sunshine the rest to the trip- I was ok with that, so long as I got to the train station in a relatively dry state. It was 50 cents to use the bathroom at the train station, but thankfully e only had an hour train ride to the next town on our trip: Bruges. The train ride made me slightly sleepily, turns out I did not miss much, just some kids bugging Brent.

As the train pulled into Bruges we were not 100% sure if that was our stop. A British guy on the train asked us if it was Bruges, Brent answered that if not then we are all lost. Walking to the hotel from the train station was nice at first, not very crowded. As we got closer to the historical centre of Bruges it became really congested, a lot of people milling about. Bruges was gorgeous; the canals were lined with rows of connected houses. We were staying at really nice hotel, so nice they touted the stars in the name: Die Swaenne****. The lady at the front desk told us all about the town and everything to see. It did not take all that long, seeing as Bruges is really a town for day-trippers; it is so small you can walk from end to the other in under an hour. She became a routine character in our day-to-day in Bruges; whenever we left she would ask if we had our key, when we returned she always wanted to know how our outing was. I was afraid I would have to go down and ask her to flush the toilet, because some idiot had designed it. The toilet flushes via a panel in the wall that looks more like a Kleenex box set than a button. I will admit it was hilarious watching Brent try to figure it out while I remained mum on how to. The hotel had a super fancy lounge alas we had no time to stay and check it out; we had a town to explore. We still had time before the last canal cruise and all the shops closing.

First we went on the canal cruise, that way we would start off with a guided tour and know where everything was. The captain narrated the cruise in German, French and English. Although hard to understand at times, it was well worth it. We had great views that you could not get from the street. We also saw some baby ducks, always a plus. The cruise was only 30 minutes, leaving us with 45 minutes before the shops closed- i.e.: more than enough time. Before going to Mary’s Chocolates we stopped at a beer store so that Brent could restock his beer supply. There weren’t any new fruit beers for me too try it seemed- until I found one by the register. While getting the Hoeegaarden Rose out of the fridge I somehow managed to knock down another beer, the shop keeper did not seem to care at all. I suspect he just enjoyed a cold beer after we left. Beer and chocolate acquired, we headed off to Love Lake. It was more of a canal than a lake and the only reason there were so many swans (and ducks and pigeons) there was because there was a giant bird feeder. We laughed as a mother duck passed with her eight ducklings. One straggler was falling behind and she kept quacking at him as he struggled to keep up.

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We walked back through a park we had seen on our way from the train station. What had once seemed so far away was much closer, given I was no longer weighed down with my heavy backpack. We walked down one of the two main shopping streets and ended up in the Markt Square (not a typo). I demanded a waffle break. At Chez Albert they stuck a little Belgian flag in my waffle with warm cherries on top. It was the most cautious walk back to the hotel ever. Alas, the waffle was not as good as the previous one. It was much less buttery and not as light. The warm cherries at least paired nicely with my Chapeau Kriek cherry beer. My disappointment quickly faded as we tore into the chocolates. They were little pieces of heaven. The caramel tasted like actual real caramel, made with real sugar. The marzipan was not ungodly sweet and actually tasted like almonds. It was so good Brent ended up now being a fan of marzipan. It was worth the trek to go to Mary’s rather than settling for Leonidas or Godiva because that we can get back home and it is not nearly as good. We had an Arriba 40% milk chocolate bar for later as well.

In the evening around 7pm we went back out again. This time we walked down the other main shopping street (the two run parallel). It was a lot less crowded now that the day-trippers were gone. We wondered aloud where all the people who live in Bruges were, we walked by so many houses and they were all empty. There was no one in the streets either. We walked along the canal to the other side of town to gawk at some windmills marked on our town map. On the way we saw a guy swimming in the canal- he scared a duck.

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The windmills each sat atop a hill facing town i.e.: facing away from anyone who has come to look at them. What I could see, past the windmills, was the gathering storm clouds. The canal was also less scenic there, as it widened and became more of a popular throughway for giant boats, with drawbridges everywhere. We passed by the main city gates to Bruges, apparently Bruges sits on its own little island, surrounded by canals with city gates at all the entrances. This was the fanciest city gate, having been granted Unesco World Heritage Site status. Brent was less impressed, saying the status is passed out to anything, a dime a dozen he said.

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We had settled on McDonald’s for dinner, the idea of a sit-down dinner being way too much after our lunch at Comme Chez Soi. Walking there we got to see the regular non-tourist infested Bruges. Yet still there were no people anywhere. At McDonalds I finally had a “royale with cheese” but it is not the same as a quarter pounder. A few bites into it I made a face, I tasted onion. Lo and behold there was a giant piece of onion. The onion in a “royale with cheese” is sliced as opposed to in a quarter pounder when it is diced into oblivion, hence not being able to taste it. I had to pick out the rest. I stole bites of Brent’s belgo-chicken (meh, nothing spectacular) and crispy jr. bacon (a bacon cheeseburger with a weird goopy, mildly spicy, “cheese” sauce).

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For dessert I opted for the speculoos McFlurry. The poor girl had no idea what I said when I tried to pronounce it “speckoolooz”. She stared blankly. I said, the cookie McFlurry. She said, Oreo? I laughed and said, no, the other one and pointed. Ah, speculoos she said. Except she said it so smoothly “speghuls” is about the closest I can get to transcribing it. There was some awkward apologizing from both of us after. I’m sorry, no I’m sorry. Hahaha. We both laughed. It was weird in the McDonalds for two reasons. One: they would bring your food to your table after ordering. Two: MTV was playing and periodically they had a commercial for a contest called porn or football.

It had mostly rained itself while we ate. While walking back to town we periodically stopped at bars to see updates on the World Cup game (Germany vs. Brazil). People kept yelling and screaming, but I was not sure if thus was because they were cheering for a team or just because they liked soccer. It turned out they were cheering because Germany was dominating Brazil with 5 goals in less than half an hour.

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We went back to Markt Square to see everything lit up, it was all very pretty. There were swans swimming in a row in the canal. The birds all seemed to have spread out through the canal now that tour boats were not whizzing by. We even saw a bat swooping about. My legs hurt so badly by the time we got back. Somehow our fancy Belgian hotel did not include little chocolates on our pillows with turn-down service?!



Pinka’s World Cup World Tour: Day 3

Mon. July 7, 2014:
Brussels, Belgium

After 14 hours of sleep I was done, I could not sleep any more, my back was sore. A quick Google search turned up no nearby coffee shops, just bars and cafes that would open at noon. I resorted to paying 8 Euros for the breakfast buffet at the hostel; I had not eaten in about 20 hours and was voraciously hungry. The buffet did not have any waffles, bagels or donuts! I ended up having granola with milk and strawberry yogurt on the side. The granola was bland so I tossed the yogurt in, making a granola paste that did not taste that bad, it was just off-putting. The only other breakfast options were bread, cheese and round deli meat, “that’s baloney!” I thought. I was still very tired, I almost cried when I saw that the coffee had run out and I had to drink iced tea instead. Thankfully I was eating so slowly that by the time I was done the coffee had been refilled. I was so slow, drinking my coffee in a state much like a zombie. All I could think of while sipping my coffee was of going back to bed and crawling back under the covers.

Before I left Brent had asked me to find out about getting an iron (we had fancy lunch plans). As it turned out our hostel had a total of one iron and it had been lent out. When I asked when it would be returned she just told me it would be back at some point in the day. Back in the room I set to work searching for the best waffle in Brussels, all the websites kept pointing to the same place: Maison Dandoy, which thankfully was just up the street from the Grand Market Square (which at this point in my book I started referring to as the Grand Place). We still had time before lunch, but I fought the urge to go back to sleep.

We looked up the menu for La Maison du Cygne so as to avoid the awkward “I have no idea what this says” moments. What we found was that they would be serving “salmon at law temperature with chlorophyll flavour”- so much for avoiding the confusion. We got to the Square and circled it looking for the restaurant, nothing was very clearly marked. Brent mentioned that “cygnet” meant goose, so we were looking for a restaurant with a goose on/near it. Lo and behold, we found it! There was a goose above the doorway. We were seated by the open window with a great view onto the Square. Except, the beer menu said Brasserie Ommegang…. Wait what?? We realized we were in the wrong place! It was too late now, we were already seated. Ah well, we had a good view of the Square and it was fun to watch tourists in the Square posing for photos.

I had the chicken “vol au vent”. It arrived looking super fancy, the chicken sitting atop a pastry, sauced drizzled around… and then I destroyed it all with my fork. I felt bad about it, but quickly got distracted by the deliciousness of it all. The side was fluffy light frites, which again towards the end were in need of some dipping sauce, preferably ketchup. After hours of not eating it was really hard to eat a lot and I could not finish my fancy lunch. We decided to scope out the waffle place for later, dress clothes and waffles do not mix. As we turned the corner there was the entrance to La Maison du Cygne! Oops, there was no way of knowing. When we sat down at the Brasserie Ommegang everything but the name was correct: view of the Grand Market, good food, original Lichtenstein artworks, and a goose over the door. Turns out La Maison du Cygne was their sister restaurant upstairs.

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We stopped at a little tourist shop I had noticed earlier that had windows lined with beer. Brent had hit the beer jackpot, and so did with fruit beer. Sitting in the hotel in the early afternoon sipping fruit beer that is 30% strawberry juice is an ideal way to spend the time. Once we had rested we headed right back out to the Grand Market to Maison Dandoy so I could have my first taste of Belgian waffles. We were originally going to eat the waffle in the restaurant but there were no servers upstairs. We went back down and ordered it to go. I was expecting something along the lines of a much better Eggo waffle. Motherofgod was I ever wrong: the waffle was so light and fluffy and sweet but at the same time so decadently buttery. Most of the brown sugar had fallen off, but really that made it better, eating the waffle on its own. I did not know that waffles could taste this good, it turns out that I had not been eating real waffles all my life, just bland boring imposters that needed the help of ice cream, fruit, powdered sugar and whipped cream.

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We wandered down some side streets from the Square, passing through the Gallerie St. Hubert. There was a cat lounging on a patio table, basking in the sun. The people sitting at the table did not seem to care at all; there was still enough room on the table top for their coffee. We walked by a gorgeous old cathedral. The park across the street from it had permanently installed lounge chairs along with the usual park benches. We were on our way to Mary’s Chocolates when we passed a giant park that was full of people in Belgian attire and with flags. We did not have time to stop but noted it for later. We got to Mary’s and it was closed, despite the website listing the hours- it should have been open. So much for me getting my chocolate fix.

On our way back we cut through the park to see what all the hubbub was about. We saw two guys playing the weirdest game, we actually had to stop and watch to try and figure it out. They each stood at opposite ends of a small “field” that had a stick stuck in the ground in the middle, they would then take turns throwing sticks towards the opponents side. Belgian sports are so weird. Further along we saw the Belgians all crowded around a stage outside the Royal Palace with cops everywhere. Brent figured out that they were greeting the homecoming Belgian soccer team after their loss in the World Cup. There were only about a 1000 people there, meaning it would be a few more hours before the festivities got under way, i.e.: not worth the wait.

I resisted the temptation to get Haagen Daz ice cream and instead opted for a Milka oreo chocolate bar. It was so delicious; it combined the Hershey cookies & cream bar with a regular chocolate bar, best of both worlds. When we passed by a pharmacy I glanced in through the window and all I saw was sunscreen and medications… where were the candy and soda?! Back in the hotel I set to finding out what those two weird “sports” games were. After about 30 minutes of translating web pages I found out what the handball game was called: kaatsen also known as frisian. It took way too much effort but oddly felt really good. While I was looking up translated web pages I also looked up McDonald’s menu. There was no way I was going in there for dinner not knowing what I wanted.

The Le Vegas burger was pretty much a quarter pounder but with a weird extra sauce added to it. I only got it because it was the only burger with no lettuce or tomatoes. The sauce was not that good. Also not good, as in really not good, were the cheese bites. It was more like stale cheez whiz than stringy melted cheese. I had a bite of Brent’s Grand Big Mac; it was just a Big Mac with a wider circumference. The fries were exactly the same as back home. And just like back home we witnessed a homeless guy getting tossed out for yelling at McPatrons. The Snickers McFlurry seemed like a great idea however the execution was flawed. I was expecting chopped up Snickers bars, instead I got a McFlurry with peanuts and chocolate bits… no caramel! We had not seen the “royale with cheese” (Pulp Fiction) on the menu; we would have to get it next time. I also made a note of the other McFlurry flavours; the Belgian cookie one caught my eye: Speculoos.

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We got to the Grand Market around 8:30, too early for the light & music show that was to start at 9pm. We wandered up and down the side streets for half an hour, but at 9pm there was nothing at the Square. In our wanderings we came across a Mary’s Chocolates- damn, we realized we had walked right by it earlier in the day and did not even realize it; I was too busy looking at the cat on the patio table. We came back again at 9:30, still nothing. Had the website lied to us?! We asked at a neaby hotel and the concierge told us that the show starts after dark, around 10:30-11pm. Why does it get dark so late?! In our wanderings we ended up finding the Mannekin-Pis statue of a little boy peeing. Suddenly it all clicked, I had seen so many iterations of it throughout the day! Including a frites shop called Mannekin-Frites and instead of pee it was mayonnaise. We stopped at a grocery store where I found birthday cake M&Ms and diet Cherry Dr Pepper (which for some reason had high-fructose corn syrup in it). In the store we saw a guy get escorted out by the cops for yelling at an employee for throwing out the day old baked goods. We saw him a couple of times later in the evening.

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We sat down on the curb in the Square, eating (delicious and addictive!) birthday cake M&Ms and waiting for the show to begin. We saw some lights off in the distance and went to check it out; alas it was a false alarm. When we came back we saw that the street lights had come on and all the buildings were illuminated. It was hard to enjoy it though as a couple had chosen to stand next to us and make-out and we had to move to another spot. We waited until just past 10:30 and still there was nothing. It was dark enough now, but it was also starting to rain. As we left I saw the world’s happiest dog, his tail was wagging like crazy.

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After two days in Belgium I could probably confirm that it is perfectly fine to drink beer in public places and that Belgians are the worst drivers I have ever encountered.


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Pinka’s World Cup World Tour: Day 2

Sun. July 6, 2014:
Dublin flying to Brussels, Belgium

At some point the sun had risen again before we even landed in Dublin, I was very confused as to what time it was, given I swear I had watched the sun set recently, I had no idea what was going on. The lights came on and we managed to squeeze in half of the third episode of True Detective before landing. I was thoroughly amused with the views of Ireland from the window. There was a church that had an entire island all to itself! I wanted so badly to go explore Ireland; the airport was amidst green fields! The cars were driving on the left side of the highway (not sure why anyone was awake at this ungodly hour, the pilot said it was 5:20am, apparently it seemed that time was broken). I did not care for the Dublin airport; it was unwelcoming and too industrial for my taste. The food court also sucked. Regardless of how tired I was, I knew enough to avoid Burger King, especially for breakfast. I instead opted for a Wispa chocolate bar (like a stale 3 Musketeers bar) and a fruity Fanta. Thankfully they took credit card, I had no idea if Ireland took Euros or not.

July 5-6, 2014 flight T.O- Dublin- Brussels (10)

In my tired state Belgium from above looked like trapezoid-shaped Carcassone pieces. As we prepped for landing, I could see animals down below, there were some scarecrows in a field and next door to the airport landing strip there was a horse farm. Somewhere in between noticing the animals and landing I had fallen asleep. I know this because the “we’ve landed” announcement scared me awake. We got off the airplane, walked down a hallway and the automatic door would not open. We stood there while a technician tried to get it open, no-go. He called someone on his radio and somehow disappeared even though apparently the broken door was the only door. Why did the automatic door not have a manual override?? Why was there no handle?? Being trapped in that little hallway with more and more annoying people piling up behind us, a few pushing to the front to try the door and then trudging back to their place was annoying, even more-so given my already exhausted state of mind.

July 6, 2014 brussels (2)

Once we were freed I tried to buy a cup of coffee to drink on the train, alas the lid was too big and it kept spilling everywhere. This only became evident as we were buying train tickets; there was no way I was going all the way back up three floors to get a new lid. In my delirious state I tossed it in a fit of rage. The one thing I needed and loved most had betrayed me: caffeine. I felt a little bit better after changing into fresh clothes in the airport bathroom but I was still irritable. Not helping my cause was the annoying ding that the train door made whenever it closed or open, it was completely unnecessary. The only thing I remember from the train ride is storm clouds off in the distance and seeing the tip of the Atom Building far off in the distance. It was not a very scenic ride and I could not for the life of me keep my eyes open.

The day brightened up slightly when I found a Starbucks in the train station. This goes without saying for the whole trip: thank god they spoke English. It felt painful to pay the same price but in Euros, I knew in the back of my head that I was paying an ungodly amount for my coffee.

It was a bit overwhelming to be in a busy train station, trying desperately to recognize place names on the signs. Eventually we made our way outside and found a street that was on Brent’s map. Our hotel was too far from everything so we took our bags with us and checked them at the Musee Royaux des Beaux Arts. Even with stopping to look at a park that opened onto a nice view of Brussels we got to the museum for 10:30am. Despite the sheer and utter exhaustion, not to mention the confusion of having no idea what time it was, let alone realizing that hey, we have no eaten in a while… we managed to see all three galleries in the museum, i.e.: everything. We were in the museum until 1pm and it was well worth it. I had no idea what I would be seeing and I was pleasantly surprised when we walked into a room and there was one of my favourite paintings: The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David. The runaway winner of the museum however was the Magritte gallery and the Salvador Dali painting with elephants (my tired self did not note which one in particular).

July 6, 2014- Brussels, Belgium (1)

On our way to the Grand Market Square we passed what appeared to be an ad-hoc dog festival (that or 20 something people all just happened to be walking their dogs in the same place at the same time). There was supposed to be a bird market at the Square however the Square was blocked off, making the usual crowd of tourists that much tighter. I could nto believe how many tourists were crammed into that one space. The buildings in the Square were gorgeous; however I kept tripping on cobblestones as I admired them. Cobblestones were something I had to get used to walking on. The City Hall tour we had planned on going at 2pm was sold-out so we bought tickets for the 4pm tour instead.

July 6, 2014- Brussels, Belgium (18)

We went to Chez Leon for lunch because apparently that is where the Belgian frites originated. The thing to eat in Belgium is frites with mussels or eels, which is about as appealing as it sounds. The fries were pretty good, amazingly light and fluffy and not at all greasy. Thankfully we were not served mayonnaise with them, however they did need some ketchup or something to dip in. after a while it started getting mealy and dry. I resorted to dipping my fries in the green sauce that my eels were served in (it tasted a lot better than it sounds or looks). I was mad that there were bones in my eels, which made it hard to eat and therefore made me grumpy (fine, grumpier).

July 6, 2014 brussels (3)

With our heavy luggage in tow, stomachs full of frites we headed off with Brent’s Google maps printout, in search of our hotel. The poorly marked streets combined with the curvy, non-grid layout of the streets was a recipe for getting lost. We ended up adding on at least half an hour of extra walking because we had (somehow) missed a turn. We finally got to the hotel and there was a huge line-up of people checking in. I gave up and went to sit down… and promptly kept falling asleep while sitting, which of course resulted in my head snapping forward and waking me up… and repeat… for what felt like forever…

The hotel was more of a hostel, but thankfully we had a private room to ourselves. It consisted of three single beds and sparse furniture. No phone, no TV, no toiletries (just a soap dispenser on the wall). With getting lost and then there being a giant line-up to check-in we had just enough time to drop our bags and head back to the Market Square (20 minute walk)- so much for my planned nap.

City Hall was gorgeous on the inside; so many distracting things to look at kept me awake for the most part. There were moments when I wanted to punch the people who had managed to get seats. I was so tired. It turns out Belgium is really confusing, having three official languages that no one can decide on- good to know. After the tour we walked around the Square again. More people had gathered for the hand-ball game. Apparently it was a big deal? We could not for the life of us figure it out. The field narrowed towards one end, one team would throw the ball up in the air like a tennis serve and then smack it with their palm. It was very confusing, at some point the guy hit it to the other end and everyone started cheering: was it the equivalent of a home run?

We did not stick around to watch anymore, it was starting to rain and we had been awake for over 24 hours. I had noticed that the hostel had a well-stocked supply of snacks, including Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (a staple of any vacation). But I was too tired to even think about snacks. It was 7pm and it was time for bed.


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Pinka’s World Cup World Tour: Day 1

Sat. July 5, 2014:
Toronto flying to Dublin

We got the airport with plenty of time to spare, even more so because we had pretty much breezed through security (who would have thought? It was a Saturday afternoon after all!). Even with the first kiosk not letting me sign in, we still ended up with two hours before our flight even started boarding. Oops.

July 5, 2014 (3)

The fact that there was a David’s tea in the airport almost made up for Caplansky’s Deli not being open yet. Belgium got knocked out of the world cup before we even got there, thus ruining the title that I stubbornly stuck with for the trip: Pinka’s World Cup World Tour.

AerLingus was amazing; they had all of season 1 of True Detective, which was great but also horrible… I was supposed to be sleeping! Thankfully we got through 2 episodes before dinner was served. From what I had heard about airplane food I was not looking forward to dinner, but the beef stroganoff was not all that bad. The best part, as with all meals was the dessert: blonde brownie with chocolate chunks. I tried to sleep after, I did, I really did… alas I only got about 1 hour of sleep in total, even with my new travelling neck pillow.

July 5-6, 2014 flight T.O- Dublin (15)


Cookie Heaven

It’s no secret that I love cookies, my go-to cookbook is the Nestle Tollhouse book Best-Loved Cookies after all. You can’t go wrong with the chocolate chip cookie recipe. What I really love about it is that it is easy to tweak for days when I am feeling creative but wary of disaster.


I give you, Chocolate Chip & Honey-Roasted Cookies (with a secret ingredient*):


  • cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup vanilla custard powder (or vanilla pudding)*
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
  • 1 cup chopped honey-roasted peanuts


PREHEAT oven to 375° F.

COMBINE flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

BAKE for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.


The only problem is that the honey-roasted peanuts are giant and not cookie friendly. Chop them up, or if you are too lazy to use your chopper: crush them with something … like a5lb dumbbell perhaps?


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Posted by on July 4, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Rooftop Martini

Best martini had recently been updated, now it was found at the Park Hyatt hotel rooftop lounge. I was wary of it. How good could the view be? How can the martini be that much better? Turns out I would have to wait to see the view, the patio was full. I insisted we try and draw out our dinner as long as possible for a chance at the patio, plus this was a super ritzy-ditzy place that I did not feel like coming back to at all. I even made my dinner order complicated: club sandwich without the tomatoes or lettuce. I was given a sandwich that went like this: bread, ham, cheese, bread, sliced deli turkey breast, mayo, bread. One too many slices of bread in there. The fries were good, although I did not have any ketchup to dip them in, so I resorted to dipping them in the mayo I had been given on the side (good practice for my trip to Belgium I guess, it was not that gross).


We did not have to wait all that long before we had a sweet view from the patio. You could see almost all of Toronto, as there are less skyscrapers in the way (it is near University Ave). We could see the ROM (across the street) all the way to the lake, even Hart House at University of Toronto was visible. The one downside to the patio is all the fresh air means people are allowed to smoke… cigars. Blech. That and the sun was frying us, well mostly Brent. I had gotten the good seat for once, with my back to the sun.


The martini was indeed better. Mine had been diluted with orange juice and therefore I was not drinking a giant glass of straight alcohol, a million bonus points for that.




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