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Brussels, Belgium

Bachan in Brussels

Our first day in Brussels was grey and bright. It was a day for exploring some of the beautiful sights of the city, walking block to block peeking down the small alleys, and catching the art that wraps along the city walls.

The Grand Place was the first place that I wanted to highlight for my mom. It was easy to walk to from the station, and around the corner from our accommodation: the Gallerie of Nail Salons (not the official name, but 99.9% of the shops in this small mall were nail shops, and our flat was right above them).

We walked to Saint Catherine Square, an area that used to have a canal, and that is known for its seafood. There were enticing were fish shops selling fresh smorreboard toasts and soups in outdoor tents, but it was too chilly to have Saya sit in her pram while we munched. We were drawn into Monk. The front section is just for pints and wine, but the small back ‘buffet’ room does one dish for lunch: spaghetti. You select your meal in three parts: 1) sauce, 2) size of bowl, 3) cheese. I got the basic bolognese, regular-sized bowl, with parmigiano. Bachan went for the special bolognese. We wouldn’t have known the difference in the sauce except that the server highlighted/warned us about the special sauce since she knew Americans don’t traditionally eat horse. My mom’s conclusion was that eating horse sounded more intense than the flavor itself. Ultimately, we were happy to be in a place that did one dish, and one dish very well.

Saya was still asleep in her pram after lunch. I wanted to walk around for another ten minutes to round her nap to a full hour before heading into the Bozar Art Centre. Our additional ten minute walk took us to Mont des Arts- an unexpected gem! We found the garden, the look out, the graffiti art, and a gentleman playing an acoustic guitar such a surprise. We felt smitten that we’d come upon the space by accident.

The Bozar Art Centre was buzzing. Students were milling about and studying Keith Haring, while the staff were briskly setting up a variety of evening events. It felt similar to the Barbican centre in London with a lot going on at the same time. Saya slept the entire time so we wandered through the exhibit as well as the gift shop.

We ate at Taverne du Passage for dinner, a recommendation from my friend Marta. It’s a cosy brasserie inside a luxury gallerie hall. The stick-to-your-ribs chicken stew was a great order, and Saya enjoyed the buttered bread, and salmon from Bachan’s plate. We capped off the evening with a Belgian waffle covered in Nutella and dark chocolate. It was a wonderful start to our 48 hour trip.

On Wednesday, we had a usual morning with Saya: early wake up, breakfast, playing, and nap. We planned our daily itinerary during her nap so we knew the first stop of the day would be the Belgian Comic Strip Centre. It resides in a Victor Horta building that was originally a clothing manufacturing warehouse for its first seventy years. From 1980-1989, it was reinvented into the comic strip centre, giving life to the art nouveau staircases, sprials, and stained glass. While the comics were artistically impressive and unique, it was a bit too complex for Saya, so we made our own fun out of the extra large puzzles on the second floor. (The only element to avoid is the horrible lunch in the museum cafe. Looks are unfortunately deceiving with this one.)

With Saya sleeping in the pram, we took the opportunity to shop at Melting Pot Kilo, a vintage-type store where you pay 15 euro for every kilo of clothing you purchase. My mom’s wool fisherman sweater and my scarves “weighed” about 9 euro. My mom also caught a local art show where creatives molded and shaped various natural objects like bone, stone, and fish scales.

We found seats that Delirium cafe for a taste of Floris Wit, the Campus Lager, a Guillotine brew, and the original Delirium Tremens. I wanted my mom to experience a variety of flavors since the Delirium campus holds the Guinness World Record of over 2000 beers in one pub. Saya enjoyed the atmosphere of beer banners and coasters, and my mom sipped until her cheeks turned rosy.

We returned to St Catherine’s Square with the expectation of a fish dinner, but the first restaurant was too noisy, the second was closed, and the third….well, we found Les Filles, and that made us forget about a fish dinner. Finding the restaurant is like searching for a speakeasy, and once buzzed upstairs, you are welcomed into a toasty dining room that feels like your family friend has cooked you a holiday meal. There are three dutch ovens steaming with treasures within. I selected a vegetarian option, while my mom went for the roasted chicken tagine. The middle pot has a side dish that complements both menus. You serve yourself what you want, when you want. Saya ate some pumpkin and mashed potatoes before she started throwing food on the ground. I embarrassingly brought out a pre-made food pouch to quell her enthusiasm. The dessert area was equal to the mains, and my favorite was the homemade vanilla yogurt that accompanied the fruit tarts.

Our final day was a rainy one. We created an itinerary that included sites as well as a tick list of Belgian foods: frites, chocolate, beer, waffles and mussels (which we had to avoid in case my mom was allergic). The chocolate was the only thing left on our list! I had a plan.

The Musée des Instruments de Musique featured so many instruments, all shapes and sizes, and various materials. It was the first time I noted how horns have so many metal loops and swirls, and how recorders are an instrument of the ages. We bought Saya a musical shaker that she rattled throughout the first floor, drawing smiles from the other guests.

Le Perroquet is an institution for pitas. The biblical menu is accompanied by a separate card with English, Spanish and Dutch translations. Being overwhelmed with options, I opted for the restaurant’s namesake pita and was not disappointed.

Saya’s afternoon nap for Saya meant it was time for chocolate wandering/tasting. We hit up Wittamer, Corne Port-Royal, Pierre Marcolini, and Neuhaus. Pierre Marcolini was the tastiest, and Wittamer was a close second. But as a new mom, I’d say all chocolate tastes more delicious when your baby is sleeping through your chocolate treasure hunt!

Our Eurostar was on time, and Saya tuckered herself out climbing up and down on the tray table for half of the trip. Corey gave us a warm welcome with a Zaffrani dinner when we arrived home from our delightful trip to Brussels.

Quick links:

Restaurants:

Les Filles – best dinner we had, and we hear there host a great brunch as well

Monk– if you like spaghetti, head here for lunch

Le Perroquet– an institution…and the pitas are great, too

Taverne du Passage– Belgian food brasserie

Sites:

Bozar Centre

Mont Des Arts

Belgium Comic Strip Centre

Musée des Instruments de Musique

Grand Place

Categories
London, England

Playgrounds and Pints: The Swaines in London

There is a reserved space in my heart for big family gatherings, but getting one-on-one time with cousins is like reuniting with unique siblings. We are linked with familiar roots so trading stories is a must, yet at the same time, we there are fun unknowns to discover which makes spending time together a joy. Plus, Kelly and Brian are growing great kids so that adds more gratitude for my sprawling family tree.

The Swaines’ visit featured the traditional London attractions so I felt prepared to tour them around pretty efficiently. However, my regular London rounds have been upgraded! Here’s the important lesson I learnt from the Swaines: you can find a playground and a pint next to any landmark in London. Googlemaps was the secret to our success!

We lucked out riding the top level, front seat of a double decker bus to make the circuit from Parliament to Trafalgar Square. Big Ben was still covered in scaffolding. A horse peed at the exact time Finley posed in front of the Horses Guard! St. James Park is the spot for the bathroom pitstop and is likely home the most visited playground in all of London. Buckingham Palace is where I learnt that Polly does not like to take part in family pictures.

The next day we walked St Paul’s cathedral, Millennium bridge, and the Tate modern. While I changed Saya, Finley and Polly created graphic art that projected onto a wall of screens. Finley drew a Swedish flag and Polly’s image was fittingly…modern? Kelly’s plan for Borough market was Bread Ahead donuts and we were wowed with Brian’s fried cheese arepa! After snapping an iconic Tower Bridge family picture we rested with a pint at the Monument. This is where I learnt that Polly is not a fan of people dressed up in life-sized costumes like Mickey Mouse and Pikachu.

From Lancaster Gate’s entrance into Hyde Park, there is a playground about ten minutes walk inside. There is also a cafe with lagers at four quid apiece. This was a likely stop before heading for afternoon tea on the other side of the park. To say the tea was in the late afternoon is an understatement, but it was Halloween themed, and it included non-egg sweets and treats so Polly could partake.

As is customary, we stuffed ourselves at Lahore, and then pretended we had walked far enough on Brick Lane to fill ourselves with Dark Sugars’ hot cocoa. I fully support this tradition.

Finley and Polly were excited to visit London but it was sweet that they couldn’t get enough of Baby Saya. The next generation already carrying on cousin hangouts is the absolute best.

Categories
London, England Manchester, England Paris, France United Kingdom

LonSum 1: Lovely Jubbly June

 

Summer 2017 was full of incredible events! Though it’s the busiest time of year for my role, I was lucky to share meals, celebrate friends, and reunite with family to keep me energized right up to the end of teacher training.  The next three posts will string together the highlights for each month.  As the days get shorter heading into September, I’m having a great time revisiting our warm memories. Missing you all!