Thursday, September 9, 2010

European Vacation Day 3

We get up on Wednesday and head to the train station. On a side note, we left our big luggage with the NH Dusseldorf City Center. We told them we were going to return in two days, and they very graciously allowed us to store our luggage in their room, no charge. They didn't have to do this, they just did. Great hotel!
Anyway we get to the train station to board a high speed train to Brussels, Belgium. I was expecting something like the Japanese bullet trains... While the trains were fast, they were no where near as fast as the bullet trains. The guy who checked our tickets said that the trains get up to about 100 miles an hour. On the bullet train it was not uncommon to get to speeds of 125mph or 150 mph. Not complaining, but not as high speed as I expected.
The train ride was a bit disappointing. There are a lot of sound shields and trees and such around the tracks, so you don't really get to see much of the country side. I was looking forward to that. So, I slept.

We got in to Brussels about 2 pm, and we checked in to the NH Stephanie. It was a virtual carbon copy of the NH Dusseldorf City Center, except the bed was a proper double bed with a top sheet and comforter.
We stowed our luggage and went out in to the city. The one thing that struck us as we began our wandering, was how clean the place was. It was like Disneyland clean. Not that Dusseldorf was dirty, but the streets were immaculate. We wandered up to a point with a WWI monument that had a view of the city. The place was just stunning. Multiple churches and other tall spires dot the horizon. Each spire is topped with some sort of gilded statue. Very striking in the later afternoon sun.
We knew we wanted to check out the Grand Palace area, so we kind of wandered in that direction, not really knowing where we were going, but not really worried about it. Brussels is just what I expected an Old World city to look like. Narrow streets, paved with cobble stone. Thin thee story buildings touching one another on either side, with cafes and shops on the bottom floors.

Not really expecting it, we turned a corner and walked in to the Grand Palace of Brussels. It took our breath away. I had not really done a lot of research on Brussels. What I did do, said that the Grand Palace was a place that was not to be missed. I really had no idea as to what it would be like. I was stunned.

The Grand Palace is really a town square, with the town hall on one side, faced by an administration building called the King's House, and guild headquarters buildings on the other sides.
The town hall was built first, followed by a bread hall directly facing it. The Duke ruling the place at the time needed money, and started selling off his mills and such to the various merchants. The merchants then stared to become very powerful in their own right, because of the money they had made. The merchants started to take over the bread hall as an administration building, then were kicked out and a new building was constructed in 1539 by the ruling Duke. It was called The King's House... Except by the Dutch, who sill call it the Breadhouse... Go figure.
Around the rest of the square, the more and more powerful guilds and merchants built houses and headquarters buildings.

In 1695 Marshal Fran├žois de Neufville, duc de Villeroi and 70,000 of his closest and dearest friends decided it would be a good idea to use the town hall as target practice for his artillery. Virtually every building in the square was destroyed... Except what they were aiming at, the Town Hall. They only mostly smashed that. In 1698 Brussels decided to rebuild their town hall. The guilds thought that would be a great idea, and built their headquarters buildings in the same place as they had before. At the time Brussels had a lot of money, so the merchants attempted to out do the town with their buildings. Essentially the Grand Place's, or more appropriately, the Grand Marketplace's, buildings are a mishmash of architecture styles of the late 17th century. The town hall is Gothic, reminiscent of the churches of that time, the guild halls are in the Baroque and Louis XIV styles. So you get the Grand Palace as we have today.

The Town Hall

The Kings House... or Breadhall. What ever tickles your pickle.

Some Guild Buildings

We sat down in this very historical and beautiful place, and sampled some very fine Belgian Beers. The Belgians, being overrun and controlled by many of its neighbors, it wasn't independent until 1839, the French, Dutch, and Germans all have left their mark on the culture, food, and beer. The Belgians treat their beer like wine. They brew varying styles, using different adjuncts, berries, and yeasts. On this day we tried a White (Wit), Amber, Blond, Pilsner, and a Berrywies. They were all awesome. A blending of styles that would make anybody happy. Like most European beers, hops were hard to find, but the wheat malts, and spices were definitely there to add to the flavor.

We wandered around a bit more after our beer break, then went looking for dinner. We found a restaurant near our hotel, and I asked them for the most traditional dish they had. What did they bring me? Pork knuckle! The very same meat that the wife had the night before in Dusseldorf. BUT this had one very important twist. The pork knuckle had a dijon mustard sauce. Thus blending the French sauce with the very German meat. It was, of course, awesome, and I finished it all with an awesome Belgian amber.

We returned to our hotel for some hard core sleep. Big day tomorrow seeing the other sights of Brussels.

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