Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"I'm Leuven' it." --the Belgian gang.

So three weekends ago (my poor, neglected blog) I decided last minute to go to Leuven, Belgium for the weekend to visit a friend from Chicago named Jenny...and then I almost missed my bus. hah. Let's just say it was a late evening at the Eiffel Tower, I turned off my alarm on accident, and by God's grace (literally), the surprisingly sweet taxi driver got to the bus station within 18 minutes. I was 1 euro short on his tab, didn't have time to brush my teeth before I left, and found myself running to check-in on an empty stomach.

But let me just say, the hassle was never more appreciated for its outcome.

I slept on and off throughout the four hour bus ride which was a relief, and after venting to Jen on the phone about my difficult morning/E.T.A. the elderly gentleman next to me turned and said, "J'ai rien compris.." (I didn't understand anything.) So after translating my ventilation into French, he kindly offered me a small, chocolatey muffin to tide me over til dinner. I decided he redeems the rest of the French population for his thoughtfulness.

I didn't get into Brussels until around 5:30 in the evening, but when Jenny came to pick me up we gave each other a looong hug. It's funny how refreshing a familiar face can be after just a couple of months. We waited for two of her girlfriends at a nearby chain restaurant, and in the meantime she caught me up on all the Leuven drama. (We decided her program is a lot more Real World than mine.) Unfortunately I still had to register for my UIC classes when we got back to her apartment (long story, and part of the reason why I ended up getting into Brussels so late; I keep forgetting I live 7 hours ahead of everyone else). But we still had time to have a leisurely dinner at Notre Dame Quasimodo, a quaint bi-level restaurant nearby. Even better, Jen's friend Maggie decided we should go to a hole in the wall Belgian hot chocolate diner for dessert. I couldn't have been more pleased when we walked up to an outdoor seating café with heat lamps and blankets and were brought mugs of steamed milk with actual chunks of chocolate to dump in for melting. Cookies too. It was the perfect ending to a much-needed, relaxing evening.


Happy reunion.

The platter.

The next day we got a leisurely start to a very full day in Brussels. Jenny, her friend Maggie, and myself first headed to one of Belgium's most prominent national monuments, the Atomium. I was just as confused at first, but it's exactly how it sounds: a giant, metal atom with eight spheres. (It was refreshing to enjoy some modern architecture for once instead of filling my day with cathedrals and museums.) We paid to go all the way to the top sphere which offered an amazing view of downtown Brussels and a the biggest atom shaped shadow I've ever seen. Afterwards we wandered around the bottom three spheres that contained two exhibits on the making of the Atomium in the 50s as well as a seasonal exhibit on Africa. Interesting enough, but I think my favorite part was the intimidatingly steep escalator.

So strong.

The shadow.


Cool view out the escalator porthole.

We then took a train into the heart of Brussels where my two sweetheart tour guides played Mother Geese and offered me the staples of Belgian tourism: shopping for Belgian beer, chocolate, and biscuit cookies, the most amazing chocolate strawberry Belgian waffle I've ever eaten, pictures around La Grande Place, a cameo appearance with the Mannekin Pis aka "Petit Julian" aka "le môme qui pisse" (you'll see), and Karel Buls' famed golden statue that stays polished due to millions of visitors who rub her body for good luck. I don't ask questions, I just do.

AND this was all under an hour, props to them.

Just look at all those enticing carbs..

The selection.

The winner.

**Quick anecdote: We stopped mid-binge to appreciate our surroundings: downtown Brussels on a Saturday night with Belgian waffle in hand and chocolate all over our faces...and a Yani-style flutist playing Celine Dion somewhere in the distance...perfect**

La Grande Place.

Jen has my same camera and fortuitously introduced its wide setting.

Petit Julian..and yes, he's peeing. [??]

Making my lucky wish.

We ate mussels in Brussels (another staple) on La Grande Place at a cute, cheap, and surprisingly NONtouristy restaurant called T Kelderke. I'd never had mussels before, but this meal definitely rivaled Café Sara in Oslo for best meal abroad. We would've never found its cozy, wine-cellar ambiance had we not been looking for it (they'd both done intense research on the city's best mussels), and once again I'm reassured that having one's own personal tour guides is the way to go.

T Kelderke and Jen!

Mussels in Brussels.

Already full and satisfied, they hit me with another surprise: Café Delirium Tremens. I'd first tried this tasty pale ale with Alyssa last spring break in Carlsbad where Rach and I instantly fell in love. Never did I think I'd be visiting its authentic brewery in Brussels, Belgium. We were lucky enough to find a seat at the bar where we could watch such delicacies as chocolate beer, cherry beer, and the classic Duvel be poured from early 20th century soda-fountain taps by quirky barmen. All delirium-goers were packed like sardines into this one-level pub where hundreds of vintage mug platters lining the ceiling. Rather original interior decorating by the Belgian-French, I must say.

My favorite.

The ceiling.

The girls.

THE girl in the bathroom...she's everywhere.

After courageously trying some of the menu's more exotic ales we hopped on a train back to Leuven to go out with the rest of the Leuven-crew. My, my those kids know how to have a good time. We danced the night away and woke up late for a lunch at an Irish pub before I had to head back to the train. Such a whirlwind weekend, and literally one of the best I've had yet.

Thanks again girls!!

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