Shameless self-promoting, ego-stroking link here: “How Readers Cooked Our Shoyu Ramen”. This is exciting. PSL season exciting. Electric blanket ready when you come home exciting. Huge mugs of tea exciting. Fluffy socks exciting. Have I made my point yet?
Clearly, I’m digging this autumn thing happening.
But back to the point of this post. Bonjour from Bruxelles! Hallo from Amsterdam!
I seem to be trending towards traveling to cold, rainy destinations lately. Japan – rain. Russia – rain. Belgium – rain. Amsterdam – rain. I even moved to a cold, rainy city. What’s happening here? Back from Northern Europe with another hacking cough. But also stroopwafels, Belgian chocolates, and a newly developed spare tire from eating frites on the daily. Nyquil and salads are my best friends this week.
Next year, I’m going to Hawaii or the Mediterranean.
But focusing on the present – Brussels + Bruges + Amsterdam!
Brussels had an easy to use underground Metro/Tram system. There are really only a few routes to get around to the Grand Place/Grote Markt so if you stay centrally located, you’re probably just a few subway stops away from where you want to be going.
Bruges is highly walkable. We took an Intercity train from Bruxelles-Midi station straight into Bruges and back – getting to the city center is easy by bus or even walking.
Amsterdam – most people say biking but seeing as how I missed that part of my childhood – I say walking! We walked EVERYWHERE. Literally everywhere and it was great (although my travel partner might say otherwise). Comfortable shoes and sturdy legs are all you need.
Be prepared for climate change:
Umbrella! Raincoat! Rainboots! Regular boots! Thick socks! Scarf! Gloves! Wool sweaters! Layers! Unless you’re from Canada or Ireland or the like. In which case, ignore the above. But definitely come prepared as the weather forecast seemed to change on us everyday. Bruges is notoriously crap weather and always raining and October can be quite chilly in Northern Europe with temps dropping into the 40s (in California, that might as well be freezing.)
Debbie vs. the elements
Food & Beverage:
Yes, some of the cliches are true – waffles and fries and meat and potatoes and beer…. Okay, maybe all of the cliches are true. I don’t remember eating much else during my entire trip. Explains my new sexy potbelly.
Belgium is 80% French, 20% Flemish but I think most people speak French. It wasn’t very difficult finding someone who spoke some English to ask for help with navigating, etc. But don’t take directions from that one dude at McDonald’s. That’s how you end up lost after a liter of Delirium and straight up delirious.
It seemed English was widely spoken in Amsterdam along with Dutch. All buildings, street signs, and restaurant menus were in English. Lucky me and lucky you.
I feel now that I’ve seen Belgium, I don’t feel a strong inclination to go back but Amsterdam. AMSTERDAM. I could see myself living there. The people are friendly, the food is delicious, they have a great outdoor market with a ton of fresh vegetables, seafood, cheese vendors, and fruit juices. I’m in love. The cityscape is beautiful everywhere you look (except the Red Light District – no thanks). The atmosphere reminded me quite a bit of St. Petersburg – probably the canals and the scenic views… Who knows. Maybe I’ll uproot myself again.
Onto an obscene amount of photos.
Part one – Brussels, Belgium
The physical act of traveling was quite an ordeal on this trip. When it came to flying in and flying out – nothing went smoothly. We ran into a three hour delay at SFO but arrived early in Copenhagen with 30 minutes to make our connecting flight to Brussels. Ran to the gate five minutes before take-off only to be told by the wonderful Scandinavian Airlines rep that she knew we were coming but she wasn’t going to let us on the flight. Rerouted to Frankfurt. Arrived in Brussels five hours past schedule. And then on our way home, we had another 3 hour delay which lead to a 24 hour trek through Chicago. So… Don’t take Scandinavian Airlines just because it’s cheap.
Luckily, our Airbnb host recommended a little Belgian cafe around the corner from our flat (if you’ve never used Airbnb, I highly recommend it). We dumped all of our luggage and practically ran there for sustenance. Our waiter recommended several great Belgian golden ales I’d never tried before like Moinette Blond! So creamy and delicious.
To Grote Markt/Grand Place.
mitraillette + belgian fries with andalouse sauce.
A serving of frites a day keeps the doctor… nice and close.
liege gaufre at maison dandoy.
If you’ve never had a Liege Waffle, it’s a thicker Brioche style waffle with pearl sugar in the batter so that when it’s fried up, the sugar crystallizes and caramelizes on the the crust.
Basically, it’s freaking delicious.
Another mitraillette from Fritland – this time with the frites inside the sandwich along with fried sausages and veggies. Intensely filling and only 5 euros. If you were planning on eating healthy on this trip, dream on. Belgium is all about carbs and beer.
Another Liege waffle. This time covered in Speculoos or cookie butter for any Trader Joe’s fans. The real stuff is better. So. Much. Better. I stood in line inside of a packed grocery store and risked exhaustion to buy a huge jar to cram into my luggage.
Gratuitous waffle close-up. Seriously, how many waffles did I eat on this trip? I lost count after the first five or so.
Belgian chocolates at Neuhaus.
The Brussels Stock Exchange – with a Da Vinci exhibition! Oh me, oh my.
Part 2 – Bruges, Belgium
Dear friend, have you seen In Bruges? Because you should. It is hilarious. Utter hilarosity. Do you like black comedies about Irish hitmen in a medieval tourist town with plot twists involving an American midget, drugs, and an extremely profane Ralph Fiennes? Yes? Good. Me, too.
Colin Farrell’s character in In Bruges hates Bruges. Watch it. And then, visit Bruges.
The Belfry – this thing has been around since 1240 and is 366 steps to the top and by the time we made it, my pathetic lungs were dying. I must be an elephant.
But what a view, ey? The tower of the Belfry used to be used as a lookout post for fires and oncoming danger.
I’m obsessed with these. Obsessed.
Real hot chocolate. None of that powder crap.
A rare find – African food in Belgium at Baobab. Maybe due to the Belgian colonization of the Congo?
Basilica of Holy Blood
Moules frites. One of four food options you get in Bruges.
house ales at Cambrinus Cafe
La Corne and Belgian fries. I love how Belgians take their beer as seriously as wine with the proper glassware for each specific beer.
Kriek cherry beer for the lady. Delirium Tremens for me.
‘t brugs beertjes
Seriously. More beer.
Yeah, another beer. If you’re asking yourself, Jean, did you do anything besides drink beer and eat waffles, the answer is… no.
Prearis quadrupel – hazy caramely ale – not a dubble, not a tripel, but a quadrupel. This did me in and lead to me waving at strangers and running through the cobbled streets of Bruges like a crazy person.
Bruges was fun for a day and a half. To drink beer, wander along the canals, and visit the medieval churches. Any longer, and I think you’d go crazy from lack of things to do.
It’s funny. I thought Colin Farrell was exaggerating when he said, ”Maybe that’s what hell is. The entire rest of eternity spent in effing Bruges.”
He may be onto something. Thank God Amsterdam came next.
Part 3 – Amsterdam, Netherlands
Traditional Dutch stewed beef with steamed vegetables and boiled potatoes at Hap Hmm Cafe. It tastes better than it sounds and looks.
Venice of the North! Did you know Amsterdam gets its name because Hollanders dammed the Amstel river so the entire city wouldn’t flood? Also, it’s the Netherlands because most of the country is at or below sea level due to artificial land reclamation.
So, if there were ever a chance of a hurricane in Northern Europe… Goodbye, Amsterdam.
Albert Cuyp Market - a street market in De Pijp reminiscent of MongKok in Hong Kong or Namdaemun in Seoul. THE place to find and devour Dutch street food.
Fresh poffertjes – mini Dutch pancakes.
Smothered in powdered sugar and sitting on top of a fat wad of butter. I love butter.
GOUDA. JONG. KAAS. CHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESE.
You can find fresh stroopwafels at Albert Cuyp market. I’d only had the packaged mini ones my friend brought back with her from Europe but the fresh ones are something else.
They’re freshly griddled stiff waffles that are then cut in half and filled with stroop or a cinnamon caramely syrup which melts inside the hot waffle.
Fresh berries in freezing October? Insanity.
Raw herring is a Dutch delicacy and apparently the national dish of the Netherlands. Broodje haring is raw herring on a soft roll with raw onions and a vinegary pickle. It can be a bit soft, squishy, and strange but the fresh bite of the onions and the pickle actually make it very refreshing.
This shop has been selling herring since 1916 at Albert Cuyp and is the first one on the left if you’re entering the market from Ferdinand Bolstraat.
Montelbaansoren – the time on this tower is always wrong so his nickname is Silly Jack.
We really liked walking around the “9 streets” or Negen Straatjes in the artsy neighborhood of Jordaan. They consist of nine streets filled with boutiques, specialty shops, and some adorable cafes with outdoor seating perfect for people watching.
On our way to the Anne Frank house (which some girl in our hostel had the gall to deem “overrated”! Not so. Definitely a must visit. Also, how one refers to anything regarding the Holocaust as “overrated” is beyond me…), we stopped by the Pancake Bakery a few blocks away.
Dutch pea soup – also tastes better than it looks. Hearty winter soup of peas, potatoes, carrots, Dutch smoked sausage served with rye bread. I’ve been frantically searching for recipes on how to make this. I may need to take a trip down to Solvang and harass some Dutch cooks down there.
Pannenkoek or pancake – a large thin Dutch pancake similar to a crepe. Definitely more like a French crepe than an American pancake – you can get it filled with savory or sweet fillings but I got a traditional apple one with powdered sugar.
One of my favorite things in Amsterdam was the Van Gogh Museum. There’s a great audio tour for 5 euros that walks you through his main works in stages – the first floor showing his development as an artist in academies and up to the third floor to his later darker artwork before he committed suicide.
Incroyable! It was probably the best part of my trip. Other than stuffing myself with breakfast pastries.
Skull of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette, 1885
Van Gogh added the cig as a joke on his teacher at the Royal Academy.
The Yellow House mural
Wheatfield with Crows, 1890 – last painting.
Chausson aux pommes!
Cheese tasting time! Pesto gouda = money.
Sick of canal pictures yet?
How about now?
Dutch apple pie.
One last canal picture. Just beautiful. I was so sad to leave Amsterdam – something about the atmosphere of the city really draws you in. It’s easy to get swept up in the romanticism of sweater weather, the beautiful canals, and the charming architecture.
I’m considering moving there in a few years.
No, but seriously.
Oh, also, minor news that I found out in the wee hours of the morning while I was in Belgium….
My friend, Eunice, got engaged last week! You STUPID HO(rmone)! Even though she’s still a baby, it’s very exciting news. I’m also mildly terrified of bridesmaid responsibilities but we can just go with the flow, right? It’s not like planning a wedding is hard or anything. >:)