Mon. July 7, 2014:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.