|An Orange Excursion||
Snow...lots of it...now in a previous post, many a people thought I was "gek" for running perilously through a snowy laden forest that I had A) Never been to that was B) well below freezing and C) doing it all in shoes that have seen probably one to many kilometers. However, the next day, after my rendezvous with the Foret de Soignes, it decided to snow...a lot...and seeing that my legs were shot, I decided to walk it, that slow, idyllic pace that I abhor. But, to take pictures it was a pristine day with wonderful, blankets of snow and slow and fishtailing Belgian drivers (ever see a SmartCar do probably 45mph on icy bricks? Well I did...and it somehow works actually). The city was a mess. Buses couldn't make it up hills, trams got stuck, many a people couldn't even travel by train due to flying ice, and the city showed the people's inability to use modern transportation. People....were....everywhere! I actually had to wait in line to get my Wittamer warme chocolade. But, as always, it was completely worth it, and was actually stopped by a couple that interrogated as to where I bought the small cup of liquid heaven. it comes in one of those little paper coffee cups, but they stick a bright pink straw through the hole in the cover, I suppose so I can use even less energy to drink the molten chocolate, and therefore can feel even more guilty about it.
With people coming out of the woodwork, slipping, falling, sledding, coffee hugging, and asking me to take their picture in Grote Markt, I felt that in order to feel my feet again and see at least some of the cool Brussels museums, I felt it was wise to see two. The first one was completely on the history of Brussels. Pretty much a soap opera: Brussels gets rich and sleeps with other Belgian cities, upsets the French neighbors who then knock everything down, then Brussels then goes in and out of a mid-life crisis where it erects beautiful gothic spires and Art Nouveau buildings and gold decorated guild house, and then stick dumpy, concrete slabbed buildings in between just to let some of the depression go that it can't find its inner love (some where between Flanders and Wallonia). But, the best part was the Manneken Pis collection, the beloved little public-urinating fountain that is the heart of this city. And yes, he does have an entire floor dedicated to his wardrobe. The people take their statuary extremely seriously...
So, a little trip up the road, and then there is one of those Art Nouveau pretties that sprout up here and there (remember it's a mid-life crisis). In the Old Building its probably one of the coolest museums I've ever visited. It is called MIM, the "Musical Instruments Museum," where one can see pianos older than most European countries and can get a glimpse of what I thought were completely superfluous horn attachments to a perfectly okay trumpet, or maybe baritone, er maybe it was actually some type of flute sometime....Luckily they give you a little black box so that your ears can practically sample everything. Harpsichords, weird Indian guitar things, African string instruments that look like you could easily bake something in them, an Italian thing that looks like someone looked at a bottom opener and said, "I could do something with that...", bag pipes that look like what bag pipes should look like, German oboes in snake form, and my favorite, the glass piano, invented by our own, Ben Franklin. And are you aware that they had record players in the 1880s? No? Well apparently they did, and looked like they could easily cut through 2 X 4 s and help you make a shelf.
When you think of Belgium, what do you think of? Diamonds? Riling linguistic hatred? the BE in BENELUX? The home of Stella Artois? (yea all you hipsters that want to drink some "fancy-spanish beer" it's brewed in Leuven, a wonderful little town in east of Brussels, not your sultry seaside resort in Spain). It's really all about the only thing that I've subsisted off of for two weeks now. Yes, in their most renowned park, sandwiched right in between the Belgian Parliament and the Koninglijke Paleis is Brusselsepark/Parc du Bruxelles (why is that X there, I really don't get it). And in that park there is art. And of that art there are depictions. And these depictions, in the middle of the park in between the two most important political buildings in the rijkdom are exactly what they say they are. These are the things that make up Belgium, that without them, Belgium may just be Luxembourg, or be Belgium just without good taste.
Yes, indeed, CHOCOLATE + BEER + FRIETEN + BRUSSELS SPROUTS = BELGIUM (and I wouldn't want it any other way, because what other country can you go to that the national "things" they are known for can all be utilized at one meal?) So Belgium, I say to you Proost/Sante!
What better way to celebrate below average temperatures than to going running through a frozen forest and then forget your map and wander aimlessly trying to find Art Nouveau sites. And throughout all of this just leave your gloves at the apartment to build character. If that is true, then I built a lot of character today...in fact so much character that I am contemplating sleeping at 830.
Regardless of my stupidity, I feel that the best way to get a feel for the city is to run it. So today I ran down Chausee de Waver/Waversteenweg and went into the trail runners paradise, the Foret du Soignes. Now, as previously explained, Brussels likes to put things in multiple names. Another thing they like to do is to name a street, go to something else, then go back to that name some time later. NOT HELPFUL. It was a straight shot to the Foret but hey, when that blood is pumping, you're dodging grocery lugging pedestrians, there is not much a runner can do! But from running around the city I've come to the conclusion that there is really no basic overview of what comprises this city. You'll have a beautiful 17th century house, only to have a concrete slab of a place next door. As I surmised today, on a divey, backwater street, a rare, Horta (a big time architect around these parts) inspired masterpiece is just standing there. Then, you'll realize that the streets sometimes end. Yea, that makes sense.....
But I did get a nice view today. The Foret de Soignes, is just a giant wooded area south of the city. And, luckily, they have each trail color-coded with a many, many signs saying where to go. Normally I run and like to guess where I am at (as a few runs in DC went), but in Arctic temperatures and a crap load of snow, it was much appreciated. Nothing beat running on the firmly packed, slightly icy snow, and it was, and when temps jump, will be a trail runners paradise. Hills, valleys, fields, trees, trees, streams, you name it, and it is there. At first, with my ratty, holey, way-to-worn Pumas, probably should never of let me run safely on the terrain, or the other day when there was just packed ice everywhere around town. No way would be doctor of cleared that one. But I found that if I just keep a slight forward lean, stay consistent, and not make any sudden turns, I'm okay. Of course when in the city, and having to dodge people (better sized than those in DC, so they take up far less sidewalk room) it gets dicey, but after running in big cities for three years now, I'm a pro. Alas two hours came and went, got out of the city, passed a few delectable looking bakeries, and will do it again tomorrow (only minus the trees, and an Abbey and whatever a chambre is).
Of course what could be any better than after a body devastating run than to go to a museum, then go around for another freezing walk trying to find very funky looking houses in Brussels. I officially started the museum tour. I went to the Horta Museum, the innovator of Art Nouveau. So here is the style in a nutshell (they said I couldn't take pictures inside his house-museum, but like icy running, no mount of tour guide presence will deny me): symmetrically bent and twisted brass and bronze things with steampunk furniture and lot and lots of wrought iron. Its a wonderful style, very functional, very modern, and to a guy who is sometimes pretty skeptical at these types of things, I was definitely fascinated to a T. It's just so...funk-i-ly symmetrical and crazy but yet so in place...
So after that, it was the aimless wandering capturing Horta's places. Took me far to long on tired legs, but I did rewards myself by sampling every piece of chocolate, chocolate covered coffee bean, nougatine, and chocolate covered dried fruit that the chocolatier Zaabar decided to put out. I bet they never expected that one person would actually try every single thing. Well guess what Belgian girls at the chocolatier and factory, I did so, and when I get diabetes in tomorrow, it is all your fault.
Cayenne, salt-pepper, cardamom, lavender (which was actually my favorite), pistachio, cinnamon, coriander, curry (which was the most interesting and something that I will not find anywhere else), speculoos, lemongrass, some funky red Japanese berry, it was a smorgasbord aided by a warm cup of "Kakau Indian," which was their homeade hot chocolate (which in Belgium in melted chocolate) with spices I would put in my falafel. Awesome. Heavy, smooth, indulgent, and hey I ran two hours today, so I can do that. It was a great way to end a sampling of about one pound of a variety of samples of other types of chocolate. My gorging made the fat German kid from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory look like he was at a salad bar. But hey, I ran right? The key problem is that there are 2000 chocolate shops throughout the country (about 1 shop per 5500 Belgians....) and the fact that there is also over 150 breweries and sooo much cheese to try....
So here is the meal of the week. Well, actually I did end up eating my first European cheesburger (as only they would do it, with gourmet mushrooms, raclette cheese, and organic everything). It was good, but doesn't beat that behemoth I had from the BRGR truck a month back. But I went to L'Horloge du Sud, which specializes in African fair (Belgium quite a few colonies down there). Not knowing African, French, or the Dutch words for African ingredients (Foufou???) I picked one and got a side of gefrituurde plantains. In the end it was grilled lamb in a sort of heavy, rich, pesto-looking sauce that was awesome. And to sound all "cheffy" here, the salad really cut through the heaviness of the lamb and sauce well. Plus I had warme gembersap, or warmed up ginger juice. Wow, do it right now, find it, drink it, NOW.
Well, back on the road. Back to a city known for their waffles, chocolate, patisserie's, couques, carbonnade, language infighting, Art Nouveau, ongelooflijke bieren (bière incroyable) and a wee peeing man and dog (Manneken Pis en Zinneke Pis).
Now, during my previous experiences in Brussels (Bruxelles) I (ik) (je) thought that the whole French/Dutch (Frans/Nederlands) (Francaise/Néerlandais) was not that bad, maybe just reading 2 names for every street (straat/rue) was bad. But try remembering these things! Seeing that Belgium has three official languages, Dutch, French, and German, plus unofficial English in Brussels, their street signs to say the least are insanely over worded. But I will not be like Belgium (België/Belgique) and put everything in three (drie/trois) sayings.
I must say that Belgian cuisine is out of this world. They have waffles in vending machines (see below)!! But I have safely subsisted off of chocolate, le noir (think chocolate peanut butter, only minus the butter and peanut part, and substitute cacao and sugar), various types of stoemp, and pates et foie gras. But the best part is the portions. Flemish sized French cooking. Decadence, luxury, and three hearty courses for under 20Euro. I may need to buy another plane ticket to get home...
Hopefully, soon, I'll find the time to run, the time to prepare for that European marathon. I should be so carb-loaded over the next couple weeks that I should either tank within the first 5 miles, or run a very, very, fast marathon. It's a little hill here, and there are parks galore, big ones, little ones, big straight laans en straats and a huge, medieval forest only 2 miles or so south. Now if I can clear my list of friten stands to fit those miles in....
Okay, so a little "unique" thing about Brussels. It is artsy, it is ancient (it was a Roman outpost and a swamp at one time) and they love puppets and marionette theatre. Yes, in any good, Bruxellois Estaminet you will find puppets hanging from the rafters next to the tin cans, smoke-infused walls, and exotic beers glasses. (I drank a beer out of a stone goblet, which somehow kept the beer really cold and really frothy,**note to self--make or obtain**. Of course there is the Manneken Pis,the little dude in the heart of Brussels that is a fountain that pees. I mean who doesn't have one of those chilling in their backyard. Now a dog statue that you could literally break your ankle on? Now "dat is Brusselse sfeer."
So far, So good. Many more days to go, many more places to see, many more things to eat and people to meet. I did it once, and at this rate, I'm going to do it again (I need to put the "Lux" in BENELUX). So stay tuned, stay interested, and remember, Liege waffles and the dense round ones, and the Brusselse Wafel is the rectangular one...this is IMPORTANT STUFF PEOPLE. (Below is my 3-course echte beglische gerechten from Restobieres, right next to a flea market where you can buy clearly stolen statues and house numbers, cameras smuggled from East Germany, and glassware that is caked in...something...though it is free after 3 if they leave it....hmmmm...anyways the dishes are a Rochefort sauce pastei, Flemish carbonnade stewed in Girardin with mashed potatoes, and a true Brussels waffle with cherry Kriek sauce. And you know what, new part of "de blog," I'm going to do a "meal of the week/maaltijd van de week/un repas de la semaine/Mahlzeit der Woche". Yea, I'm gonna do it, simply because I can, and I don't Instagram or use Pininterest. This is DE BLOG!! Of course below is just my camera work in action.