Journeys without George: When in Belgium, do as the tourists do…

I forgot to mention what last night’s dinner actually was. I went to a nearby place called L’entrée Des Artistes. When you walk inside you’re greeted by framed photos of Hollywood stars including my boy Bobby D. (Robert DeNiro). I counted at least two Tom Cruise pics. Really? I ordered the salmon and it was spectacular. Also a side of frites since I hadn’t eaten all day (frites are freedom fries for the less cultured among us).

Then I went back to the hotel, watched some Monk and called it a night…but not until after about 1 a.m. Although I was tired I just stayed up. I wish I had gone to sleep earlier since the glorious sounds of construction woke me up at 6:30 a.m. It stopped by 8:30 and I was able to fall asleep for a little bit again.

In the afternoon, I left the hotel just as the school next door was getting out for the day. A rush of kids jammed the streets. Much like in Japan, all the kids just walk home or take public transportation. It’s amazing that in Brussels and Tokyo that’s normal. If you, as a parent, allowed your kid to get home by themselves after school in a major city in the U.S. you’d be deemed negligent.

Using my amazing foreign map reading techniques (I should get paid to do that) I made my way to Grand Place. Burned down by Louis XIV in the late 1500s, only the Town Hall remained. In just five years the entire complex was re-built and remains today. Many consider this square to be the most beautiful in all of Europe – and they may be on to something. The architecture, very gothic, is spectacular. To top it all off, what is known to be the original Godiva chocolate shop is on the corner. Can you go wrong?

Or check it out here.

From the Grand Place square you can get to a few of the other well known attractions such as Manneken Pis and Rue de Bouchers. Both were must sees for me. After taking a bunch of pictures I wandered over Godiva and got a few boxes before heading towards Manneken Pis.

The way to the statue is down a narrow road filled with souvenir shops selling Manneken Pis replicas and other Brussels goodies. The statue kind of takes you by surprise after a few blocks you see a bunch of people standing on a street corner outside yet another Godiva shop taking pictures. And there it is…the statue can’t be more than two feet tall. It’s a little boy looking like he’s going to the bathroom, complete with a fountain of water. For whatever reason, it’s become a national symbol and a must see on every tourist list.

Or here.

Just two doors down from Manneken Pis I noticed a waffle shop. Two girls were mixing it up in the back, adding strawberries, bananas, whipped cream, chocolate – whatever you wanted. So, as they say, when in Belgium, do as the tourists do…I got a Belgium waffle. Being a conscientious eater I opted for the strawberries and chocolate – yes, probably not on the Weight Watchers plan but strawberries add some nutritional value, right?

Or, you guessed it, here.

It was pretty spectacular. And I also proved there is no need for this place to advertise with signs or people accosting you on the street corner to eat a waffle. Just put a couple of tourists on the corner eating them – like me – and sooner or later you will hear passerby’s say “Wow, that looks amazing.” They look to their right and bam! There it is. A match made in heaven. Tourists are their best advertising agency.

After enjoying my waffle and selling a few through my savvy technique, I headed back to Grand Place and up to Rue de Bouchers.

Talk about a narrow street. No room for cars, just pedestrians. Both sides are lined with restaurant after restaurant serving everything from seafood to beef to chicken to you name it.

It almost reminded me of the silk market in China when dudes outside the restaurants kept coming up to me trying to entice me to go inside. One even stopped me and started an investigation into why I was wearing a World Series jacket. He was convinced I had played in it. If only.

The whole point of walking down Rue de Bouchers was not just for the atmosphere, but also to find the restaurant I was having dinner at that night. Right at the end of the street was Aux Armes de Bruxelles. After locating it, I headed back towards the hotel to hang out for a few minutes before making my way back.

At about 6:30 p.m. I left the hotel for my 7 p.m. reservation thanks to Aux Armes’ online reservation system. I heard about the place from a local by way of Jim Kolbe.

There were still hoards of people out on the streets taking in the evening. It was nice outside so I don’t blame them. It drizzled a little bit in the afternoon, but was all gone and nice by evening.

The restaurant reinforced an important fact about Brussels life – you better know about three languages to work at any restaurant. They have menus in English, French, German and sometimes in Japanese and Russian. They obviously are catering to the right clientele. I don’t know if Belgium has an official language, because everywhere you go it’s all different. I didn’t see many American tourists here as I did in Tokyo and Beijing, but plenty of everything else.

Tonight, I opted for a steak and smashed potatoes – although, he brought me frites. I didn’t feel like pointing it out. I guess he sees American and thinks “He wants French fries.” I did notice that my bottle of Coca-cola Lite said it has 0.4 calories and bottle of Diet Coke I bought yesterday boasts only 1 calorie. What’s up with that? In the U.S. they claim there are NO calories! So either someone is lying to us, or it’s made differently here. Oh well.

The steak was really good, although I’m convinced it was still moo-ing. I said, “Sorry buddy, today’s not your day.”

On the way out, I said hello to a gentleman that was sitting next to me – an American chap. He said he was from Pittsburgh and came to town often.

On my way back down Rue de Bouchers they started again – trying to convince me to come into their restaurant. I heard it all – “This is the best restaurant in the WHOLE world” one said and I replied “Sorry pal, I’ve been to Ponderosa Steakhouse” another didn’t want to use the broad generalities of “Hey, American” but instead wanted to prove that he is a connoisseur of primetime pop culture with this gem, “Hey, Jim Belushi!”

Do I look like him?

Obviously, I look very approachable because a nice couple came up to me in the Grand Place square to ask, “where is the famous little boy?” I pointed them down the street towards the Manneken Pis…a perfect way to end my second night in Brussels.

Tomorrow, it’s off to London for the beginning of that adventure.

Until next time, America…