Friday, September 10, 2010

European Vacation Day 4

We woke up in the great country of Belgium, and thought on only one thing... WAFFLES!!!! We checked out of the hotel and asked if we could leave our bag at the hotel while we went out on the town. The NH Stephine had no problem with that. Off we went!

We started our tour of Brussels, and our quest for real Belgian waffles, at the Palace of Justice in Brussels. This is a building that was finished about 1880, and is reminiscent of the time... That being very classical in look. Big marble pillars, marble floors, and lots and lots of sculptures.
This is a building that is still in use today, so you really can't tour the building... Unless you did something very bad. Walking all around the building were people in black robes, we supposed that these people were either lawyers or clerks or something, because they looked official.

One of the staircases.

We kept our walk going until we came to the Royal Square. This spot in the middle ages was the center of town, and the Duke had his palace built here, however in 1769, the city decided to rebuild this section of town to a more organised layout. So the palace was raised and the St. James Church was build in its place. The noble families built residences around the new square, however, unlike the Grand Palace, the style was strictly enforced to be in the Neoclassical style. The final piece of the square was placed in 1843, a large statue of the first Ruler (King) of Jerusalem Godfrey of Bouillon (born in present day Belgium) on horseback.

The Royal Square showing St. James Church and Godfrey of Bouillon.

There is a tourist information desk in the square, and we stopped in to use the bathroom and the free wifi. We asked the French speaking desk clerk if he spoke English, he said "Yes. Of course." We asked him the best place for true Belgium Waffles. He said that we could go anywhere, but there was an ice cream truck that served ok waffles outside. Very little help from Frenchy. This would soon become a common theme.

From the Royal Square we went on to the Royal Palace, where the King and Queen of Belgium used to have residence. BUT it wasn't open yet. We decided to move our tour on, and catch the Royal Palace on the way back to the hotel.

We turned down the street in to the area where the nobles built their residences and gardens. This area is now all museums. A large clock was built with many historical characters in this area in 1958 for the World's Fair. The bells chime every 15 minutes and the figures do a little dance on the hour.

The clock.

On to the Grand Palace again. In this area we finally found a place to have breakfast with a true Belgian waffle. The waiter walked up to us and said all of this stuff in French. We responded with "Do you speak English?" He said "Yes" and promptly walked off. Awesome. He did eventually come back and take our order and serve us, but we were obviously not his favorite table. Despite the jerk of the waiter, we got to eat a great waffle. It was everything I was expecting and more.

The Grand Palace was very busy. There was a very large Belgium Beer festival that was going to go on... The day after we left. Dang. It would have been awesome too. With our tummies full we moved on to see more sights. The next on our hit parade was the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula.

Completed in 1490 the cathedral is done in the Gothic style. Two large towers dominate the front of the church and the doors are, of course surrounded by sculptures.

The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula.

Inside the church there are large sculptures of the apostles, one of St. Simon with a gigantic golden saw... Kind of intimidating. What catches the eye is a huge pulpit carved from oak by Hendrik Frans Verbruggen in 1699. The pulpit depicts the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. It is an amazing sculpture.

The pulpit.

This church is very important to the people of Belgium, as it is where their royalty come to get married. Like Westminster Abby in England, this church is the spiritual heart of Belgium.

From the church it was time to get a look at the city's most famous land mark, the Manneken Pis. A statue of a little boy... urinating. Seriously, this is your contribution to the world? Really?
The statue was created by Jerome Duquesnoy in 1619. There is really nothing more to it than that... It is a little boy peeing in to a water basin.


It was time to do the visit I was most excited about. Visiting the Brewer's Guild hall in the Grand Palace and going to the Belgium brewing museum.

The guild hall.

The museum was in the basement, and... we were kind of disappointed. The museum was just a few old barrels, some stirring equipment, and a video. The best part was a very fine dark beer that was served after the video. The other really cool thing was the guy pouring the beer showed us how to serve a Belgian beer. You poor until the head gets to the very top, and slightly over flows, a knife is then used to level off the head, then the entire glass is dipped nearly to the top in water to wash off the excess beer. Very cool, and explained why all of our beer glasses in Belgium were wet.

We finally circled back to the Royal Palace to see what the King used to live. The front of the building was really nothing to write home about... Compared to some of the facades we were witnessing in Brussels so far. But the inside... Stunning. Gold leaf is used throughout the palace. Large ball rooms, receiving halls, the whole ball of wax. It made my speculations and dreams of what a palace inside would look like seem shabby and not up to standard.

The Palace

With that we were on our way back to the hotel and on to Amsterdam.
Again, the train ride was disappointing. The sound barriers and trees did not really give us a chance to see anything, except at the very end... We got to see some WINDMILLS!! I freaked out, and the people in the train looked at me like a moron.

We got to Amsterdam and checked in to the hotel. It was late and we wanted to get something to eat. The hotel desk clerk gave us directions to the restaurant area and we were on our way.
After being in beautiful, immaculate Brussels, Amsterdam was quite a shock. It was dirty, and a tourist trap nightmare. We walked along the main shopping area in the city and we were sorely disappointed in the shabby appearance of the area, and the shops. The people looked good though...

We finally made it to the restaurant area, and had a very tough time finding a restaurant that served traditional Dutch food. Mostly there was anything BUT Dutch food. Lots of Italian, Chinese, and Tapas places.
We found our Dutch restaurant and sat down. I ordered a combination plate of what the waiter said was the most traditional food. It was three mashed potato scoops each with a different filling. Ground pork, kale, and sauerkraut. It was very good. The restaurant had a nice selection of Dutch beers as well, not just Amstel and Heineken. I had a very nice doppelbock brewed by a company not far from Amsterdam.

We finished dinner and made it back to the hotel. Tomorrow we see the sights, and hopefully find a better Amsterdam than the one we just witnessed.

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