Categories
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
Paris, France

48 Hour French Holiday

I couldn’t help it. I tried to get in as much traveling as I could before Saya’s arrival.  I was trying to do as much of me as possible before being me plus one.  After returning from Spain, I had booked a trip the France the following weekend.  On Friday, the only thing I had scheduled in Paris was lunch with Sam’s best friend, Magou.  Corey would arrive on Saturday and we’d celebrate Anson’s birthday before making our way out to visit the Madamas.  Until then, I had the rest of the day as a mini-vacation for me, myself, and I.

The line for Boullion Pigalle was down the block so I knew that Magou had picked a good spot.  She let me know that Balla and his partner, Aurelie, would join as well.  It felt good to be meeting with Sam’s best childhood friends, even without her there.  We have an automatic bond together because she connects us.  Little did I know that Sam booked to stay an extra day in Paris to surprise me at lunch!  We had the best time laughing over my reaction, and we celebrated Aurelie and me since we were both expecting babies in the coming months.UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_34c8

I said goodbye as Sam had to go back to London that afternoon, and Aurelie and Magou were also surprising Sam by showing up in London on a later train that same day!  I spent my time in one of Tracy and Andrae’s favourite museums: Musee du Quai Branly.  It features indigenous art from around the world, and the feature exhibition was on Japanese bamboo.

I had dinner at Poussin, a buzzing wine bar with charcuterie that I couldn’t eat. I enjoyed the root vegetable small plate with burnt beets, and vegetable juice.  The staff took care of me seeing I was pregnant and toasted to me with their wine and my juice.  Very sweet.  I relaxed that evening with a face mask from Sam.

Saturday:  Bread in France is just better than anywhere else that I’ve travelled. A simple baguette with butter was bliss for breakfast.  I picked up Corey at the Gard du Nord station with an additional pan chocolate, and we hit up Rue Cler Market to celebrate Anson.  It was pretty serendipitous that he had about eight people all in Paris at the same time even though we were scattered throughout the States, London, and even Japan!

After lunch, Corey and I caught an hour train to meet the Madamas.  It was family time for the rest of the weekend.  We toured their neighborhood and a nearby castle in St Germaine.

The one small glitch was that the Eurostar workers were going on strike the next day so we scrambled to get train seats on the earliest morning train to London on Sunday.  This would cut out a significant portion of this trip.  This also meant that Jean-Medard and Sophie would drive us all the way back to Paris (on Saturday still) to get our pram at Chantelle’s house (Sam’s mom)?! I guess it was meant to be that Sam’s mom was meant to meet the Madamas.  More family meeting with family is good for us!

After a huge NY-themed pizza dinner, with jokes and the best pear sorbet I’ve every had, Doreen-Pascal, Corey, and Jean-Medard figured out how to assemble Baby Spells’ new gear.  Two of the three were sampling home-made rum as well so it was a night of laughter for sure.

It was a very early departure Sunday morning so that we could get back to London.  Doreen-Pascal was so sweet and woke up to say goodbyes at 4 am.  We hugged promising we’d have Eurostar tickets in our pockets very soon once Baby Spells arrived.

Categories
Amsterdam, Netherlands

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

ADVENTURES IN AMSTERDAM Part 2:

This is the second chapter of our Adventures in Amsterdam. It feels necessary to point out that Corey might not call this part of our trip an ‘adventure’ as he actually has a job that he had to return to, but I, on the other hand, was quite content with spending a couple of extra days with him in The Netherlands (insert big cheesy grin).