Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mussels in Brussels

Upon returning to our hotel we're informed that there is a problem and there are no doubles available. We will have to take a quad at the same price. We retrieve our luggage and take the elevator up to our floor. My partner as he unlocks the door and peers into the room says "Well, it's the smallest room we've ever had". He swings open the door to reveal an expansive u shaped space with a low to the floor double bed in each side of the u. Out the window, in the distance a grand building with multiple green domes stands amid a jumble of smaller structures. Far off are what appear to be a collection of highrises.

The hotel runs a shuttle at night to the Grand Platz. Ready for dinner, my partner has his mind set on mussels due to a number of recommendations prior to our departure for the trip, we head downstairs. The desk clerk asks what time we would like the shuttle to pick us up from the Platz for our return to the hotel. We climb into the shuttle with another couple also heading to dinner and ride the short distance to the historic center.

We are let off across the street from the somewhat ruined facade of the Stock Exchange. Several limbs are missing from the figures in the frieze above the portico. The building has a feeling of fallen grandeur, like an old gentleman or dowager that has known better times.

By contrast, the Grand Platz is one of the most beautifully illuminated spaces I have ever seen. Spotlights are trained to pick out and highlight much of the rich architectural detail of the Guild halls and civic buildings.

We find a seafood restaurant, with outdoor tables, on a pleasant plaza, with trees and a fountain in it's center just outside the Grand Platz. Businessman stride by in suits and ties, Muslim women in long skirts and jahibs wander past, a woman going through the tables begging is quickly shooed away by an irate waiter. He seems to be familiar with her, as if this is a regular haunt of hers.

The mussels we order are excellent, dripping with butter, a slight salty tinge making them taste as if they are fresh from the sea. Quite probably they are. They are served with fries. It seems everything in Belgium except the waffles, truffles and breakfast is served with fries.

Finishing dinner, with some time left before we have arranged to be picked up by the shuttle, we walk back through the Platz. We take a small passage passing by the Church of St Nicholas, the oldest church in Brussels and find ourselves on a tiny narrow street with three rainbow flags flying at close intervals signaling the presence of a trio of gay bars. We choose one at random and enter the dimly lit space. The walls, with booths along them, are covered with photos and newspaper clippings, many revolving around the World's Fair held here in the 1950's. In many places an atmosphere like this would have been created by a designer. Here it feels as if it has been developed slowly. Put together gradually over an extended span of time. After ordering drinks and retiring to one of the booths an employee comes over to us welcoming us and asking us where we are from, where we are going and generally chatting us up about our trip. The people of Belgium have a well earned reputation for being gracious and friendly. During all of our encounters so far we are witness to these charms.

We return to the corner where we are to be picked up by the shuttle. While waiting my partner pulls a cuticle pusher out of his bag, grabs my hand and begins to go to work on my nails, much to the amusement of passersby. Following a wait of several minutes after the appointed time the van was to pick us up, it does not arrive. By a serendipitous stroke of luck it finally does appear, not to pick us up but to drop other guests off. We flag him down and after convincing him we are truly guests of the hotel, he takes us back claiming he was never informed of the pick up. All ends well however as we get into bed with dreams of the next days trip to Bruges in our heads.

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