Friday, November 2, 2012

Chocolate, Waffles, Mussels and Fries...Our First Day in Brussels

I think with my stomach all the time.  Especially on vacation.  As soon as one meal is done I'm immediately thinking, ok, where are we going for our next meal.  The idea of going to Belgium was appealing to me as it had food that I like, and I'm a picky eater.  We don't usually take the kids on a lot of city vacations but I had a feeling that they would be cool with a city full of chocolate, waffles, mussels and of course, french fries (with mayo, just as we like it).

There is more to be said of Brussels, of course, beyond its food.  I just felt I have to put it out there as that's my focus most of the time ;)  As you've probably read my post from yesterday, you'll know that it was a bit of a rough start to our trip.  But it wasn't all bad and it wasn't all tantrums.  Considering how it started, we actually had a pretty good first day in Belgium.

Sound asleep on the plane... didn't help to tame the monster within though...

Totally content with his itouch... thank god for technology!

First off, we are staying at a Marriott - a rare American treat in Europe.  We normally either rent a house or end up in a small boutique hotel somewhere.  And pretty much all hotels in Europe only do twin beds... oh you're married?  Then you get two twins that are just pushed together and most likely still on wheels so should you roll towards the other person during the night, chances are you will end up pushing the beds apart.  So to be in a Marriott with it's King sized bed (I don't even think Josh and I were in the same zip code last night!) and plush comforter was pure luxury.... oh and let's not forget that we used points so that we could get the kids room for free - so bonus, not sharing a room with them (though they are joined to ours).

Thrilled to have this huge bed all to himself, Liam made himself comfortable (before even taking off his jacket)!!

Typical Aidan, happy at a desk with a notebook to draw in... 

Funny enough, the luxury Marriott is above a McDonalds.  Ahhh America... we will resist temptation with two small kids though and not bow to your American-ness.  And amazingly, the kids actually didn't even ask if they could go there.  However, my coffee addict, Aidan, did ask if we could go to the Starbucks on the corner... again, resisted temptation (though gave in today as we had a 40 min wait at the train station).

Leaving the hotel to head to Atomium...

So anyways, you saw the disaster that was yesterday so I won't go into the nitty gritty details of every moment.  You saw it.  The gist of the day was going to the Atomium which is just on the edge of the city and then to the Planetarium.  We then did dinner in the city near the Grand Place (which is by where we are staying).

The Atomium was expectedly a little dull.  Josh probably won't be thrilled to read this and know that I was aware that it might not be all that ahead of time, but I did.  One of Aidan's classmates went last year and her mom had told me that it was just ok.  But I still wanted to check it out regardless.  And really, we were using Brussels as our home base and I really wanted to use this trip to go to Brugge and Ghent with Brussels being the minor part (just the first since it was already a travel day and I really didn't want to fly with the kids and then take a really long train ride after we landed).

On to the Atomium.  Built for the 1958 Universal Exposition, this is kind of a museum.  Two of the floors are permanent exhibits that are for the Expo of 1958 and the other 3 floors (there are 8 floors total, 5 of which are for exhibits) are temporary exhibits for design and architecture.  It was ok.  Seriously, nothing exciting.  It was cool going thru each of the spheres and knowing we were pretty high in the air.  I mean come on, it's an iron atom, not your typical building.  There is a restaurant at the top that has panoramic views that we planned to  eat lunch at ... too bad it was an hour plus line to get up to the top.  And so we opted for a gaufre (waffle) to go and some strawberries before heading to the planetarium.

The Atomium from a distance... pretty cool looking I have to admit

Liam posing in front of the Atomium

He was proud to say L is for Liam!

No letters from Aidan's first name, but there was an M for Marcus

And a C for... um... 

Inside the Atomium

View of one of the spheres as we go up the escalator

Aidan is sitting on a cardboard couch and it was actually pretty solid.  He wants one for his room so he can write all over it... I don't think so...

Another view of outside

When we got the tickets for the Atomium we could just do that one item or do a combo ticket with mini Europe or the Planetarium.  Having just gone to Legoland a few weeks ago where they had a mini world made from legos we just didn't see the need to see a varied version of a mini Europe.  So we decided let's go to the planetarium, after all, neither of the kids have ever been.

It's been a while since I've been to the planetarium - probably since before Aidan was born.  But I've always remembered being mystified by it.  And I figured in the 10+ years since I last went, it's probably even better now.  Wrong!!  First off the museum was pretty much one small room with pretty outdated exhibits (they still had Pluto as a planet).  There was a little waiting area that reminded me of a doctor's office.  Sad.

After a 1/2 hour wait, we were ushered into the Planetarium.  The guide told everyone to sit on a particular side of the room for the best view but oddly, that wasn't the best view and we had to arch our next to the right to see better.  It was more of an IMAX experience with a little bit about the planets/solar system and more about the importance of ice in the universe and how are we dealing with global warming, etc etc.  The kids were semi in to it.  Liam was a little freaked at first as he was afraid that there were going to be animals attacking and blood, etc - Aidan liked it and tends to be very eco friendly (or tries to be) so it was of interest but he said it could have been better.  Obviously since it's a Planetarium and is mainly a movie, I have no pictures of this part of the day...

Leaving the Atomium and heading to the Planetarium

Looking very fallish

Cool rainbow over the Atomium as we were leaving the Planetarium

Starving, we headed back into the city, stopping at the hotel for a quick breather.  Aidan and I went out for a little bit on a mission for a snack before we sat down for dinner.  We really just wanted to stop and get some fries, famous here like they are in Amsterdam, I was hoping we would just find one of those little corner shacks that sell them.  We looked and looked.  We ended up inside what originally looked like a marketplace but apparently was a bar/restaurant filled with tables with chessboards.  If my guidebook is right then I think it was the Greenwich Tavern though that name doesn't sound familiar so not quite sure.  Regardless, we saddled on up to one and decided to play a game of chess (which Aidan is attempting - slowly as he lacks patience - to learn) while having a snack.  Too bad after 15 mins of waiting we found out that they weren't serving food for another 15 minutes.  We gave up and continued on with our mission.

We wandered the streets, unprepared for the rain that came on suddenly (ok not so suddenly but we weren't planning to be that far from the hotel and it had been raining on and off all day, so perhaps I just didn't leave well prepared).  It was nice getting to see other parts of Brussels since we had spent most of the day on the outer part of the city.  The streets were lined with tons of shops and of course, chocolate and waffle stores on every corner.  Tempting but again, focusing on french fries.

Finally, as I mentioned in my entry last night, Aidan fell as we were crossing a street, freaked out and started crying how he wanted to go back to the hotel.  In front of us was a doner kebab place that had a picture of french fries outside.  Bingo!  Not my ideal place for Belgian fries, but hell, beggars can't be choosers and so we stopped in.  They were good but not as good as others I've had, but at least we were fed for the moment.

As we headed to dinner after having our fries, we saw a crowd of people gathering and it turns out that we were right the Manneken-Pis which is the statue of a small boy peeing.  For some reason, it's become really famous and he has something like 800 outfits which are in a museum nearby.  So, of course, I took a picture or 5.  I've also seen many of the chocolate shops carry chocolate peeing boys... something perverse about eating a peeing boy.  I do, however, want to see if I can find a Christmas ornament of him... yes, I think he should be a decoration on my Christmas tree.  :)

I guess we were "unlucky" to find the Manneken-Pis without his clothes on... I'm curious what these "outfits" look like!

A side view... you can enlarge both of these pictures for a close up view (do you really need to see it close up though????).

Dinner was on the edge of the Grand Place - semi touristy, semi local (can that be possible?), it was casual and pretty decent.  The waiter didn't get the order of mussels right but they were tasty and the kids loved them.  Josh had rabbit (also popular here) and myself, the chicken.  Liam fell asleep as Aidan and I ate dessert and everyone was in a good place, finally, as the day ended.

These are all of the Grand Place, obviously taken at night (I took some this morning and what a difference, if I thought it was pretty at night, it's spectacular during the day!)

After dinner it was back to the hotel and everyone to bed.  Josh went to the bar and I fell asleep with my laptop next to me by 9:15.  I don't remember the last time I fell asleep that early!!  A sign of the day I'm sure.  The good news, today's trip to Ghent went much smoother than yesterday's day in Brussels.  Fingers crossed that Brugge will go well on Saturday too...


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