Before stepping on the train for Brussels we were already prepared with a long list of places to eat and see thanks to a “locals map” we snatched up while in Bruges. On arrival at the Bruxelles-Central station we stashed our bags to grab lunch and figure out the local metro system now that we were unburdened from our packs. The metro passes looked just like the ones we had just used in Antwerp, so we were familiar with their system, or so we thought. Stepping on the metro car we looked for the “check in” pad while the train took off but could not see one anywhere nor anybody else looking for one. Okay we obviously made an innocent mistake and got our first ride on the metro for free, but we figured it out on our next ride!
Sad Boy House Airbnb
Our time in Belgium was at the peak of the vicious heat wave in Europe so we were eager to get to our Airbnb to drop our packs and cool off. When the front door swung open we quickly realized why there were only a couple pictures of the room on Airbnb and none of the rest of the house. We instantly realized we were staying in the sad boy house of some young 20 somethings. I’ll be honest and admit I lived in several a sad boy house in my college days and even into my mid twenty’s and this house brought back a lot of great memories! Like all the times we would throw a party and then wait a few days to see which roommate would crack first and clean it up. Or how we for years used a shop vac as our household vacuum.
To paint you the picture of this sad boy house, the kitchen counters were covered with debris such as a bowl with cracked egg shells and wilting vegetables from last week’s omelet. I’m sure it was delicious. Now clean it the hell up scrub. In their defense, clearly there was nothing that could be done for the counters because the trash can was overflowing and it’s somebody else’s responsibility in the house to empty it, of course! In the bathroom the shower head had fallen off so there was just a hose because they couldn’t possible bear the cost or trauma of going to the store to replace it. Don’t even get started on the toilet. The living room looked like a dumping ground for Craigslist unclaimed street furniture. The only area of the house that looked remotely cared for was the shelving holding the beer glasses. The one meal we ate (take out) on the table led to the unsettling moment we discovered just how sticky the table was. The guys living here seemed nice, but we couldn’t talk to them because we feared we might explode on them about the disgusting state of the house and they were not even the host, he was on vacation!
Our sanctuary from the filth was the attic room where all the heat in the house collected during the worst of the heat wave. Air conditioning is non-existent in Europe, so we were praying that there would at least be a fan, but no such luck. We dropped our bags off in the room and turned around to go back out into the city because we didn’t want to be there.
In desperate need of a beer to cool down from sad boy house and the heatwave we sought out a bar with wifi and ended up wandering into Moeder Lambic bar. While snacking on some roasted barley left over from the brew process and sipping our sour beers, the bartender educated on the different types of Lambic beers and told us about the Cantillon Lambic brewery in the city. Continuing our self-indulgent splurge in an escape from our sad boy house we made dinner reservations at an Ethiopian restaurant called Kokob. It has been a long time since we had Ethiopian, and this place definitely did not disappoint! We had a great vegetarian meal which we tried our hardest to finish and fell short of the goal by only a couple of bites. After our dessert of Ethiopian coffee and popcorn we reluctantly returned to our Airbnb for the night.
Atomium was built back in the 1950’s for the ‘58 World’s Fair held in Brussels and is famed today as the Eiffel tower of Brussels. The structure is that of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. It is an impressive structure because of how a couple of the large spheres, representing atoms, are freely suspended. Also, six of the nine spheres are accessible to the public, with a restaurant in the highest sphere boasting panoramic views of Brussels. Like the Eiffel tower, built for the 1889 World’s Fair, Atomium was not meant to last more than 6 months. There is not much to do around Atomium and it is oddly set at the outskirts of town near an industrial area and an amusement park. The structure was cool to check out up close but given the journey it takes to get there it could be just a cool to see at a distance from a good vantage point in the city.
After Atomium we ventured back into the center of the city for lunch before visiting the Cantillon Lambic Brewery. Lambic beers use the oldest form of brewing beer known as spontaneous fermentation. Instead of adding yeast in a controlled and calculated manner as most breweries do today, this brewery lets Mother Nature take control by allowing the natural airborne yeasts to take hold in the wort prior to the fermentation. Another key difference between our typical beers of today and a Lambic is the aging process. When you crack open a budlight odds are it’s less than a few months old as the fermentation was accelerated with groomed yeast to get that beer in the bottle and in your hand as fast and cheaply as possible. If you set out to brew yourself a Lambic beer be prepared for a waiting game as the aging process can take between one and three years. With Lambic beers you also don’t know what your beer is going to taste like until the aging process is complete because you never know what the predominant yeast is in the beer. They do have specific brewing seasons based on the ambient air temperature as the wort in the cooling pan needs to reach a specific temperature.
After our Lambic education and several samples at the brewery we left tipsy and determined to find a fan for our room to get a better night’s sleep. With no clue where to look for a decent and cheap fan we wandered the city center checking every store that sold home goods, but none had any fans. Desperate, we started looking in the souvenir shops for a small USB fan with no luck. Finally, we got a tip from a souvenir shop owner for a Walmart-esque type store to try. He sent us to Mediamarkt which was like a Macys, Best Buy, and Bed Bath and Beyond all combined into one…. alas every single fan was sold out. We sought out our own fan because we had no confidence in our Airbnb host to respond to our plea for a fan, but luckily, he came through for us and when we got back there was a small fan waiting for us by our door.
When our breakfast plans fell through because the restaurant was closed for the month we got back on the metro headed towards the pool with the intent to find something nearby. The next place we found didn’t open for another hour so to quell our hanger we just went to a grocery store and picked up some croissants. We sat down to eat breakfast in the plaza outside of the building with the pool. On the way from the grocery store to this plaza we noticed many of the building nearby were cookie cutter structures and kind of looked like housing projects. While sitting in the plaza we watched what we soon realized was a poor person’s flea market going on. There were all kinds of used goods for sale on the blankets spread out to cover up the sea of broken glass. We were obviously not in the best part of the city for our picnic breakfast.
The description of the pool on the local’s map gave us the impression that this was a roof top pool to lounge by with a book and a great view of Atomium. It turned out to be an indoor lap pool with only 4 lanes on the 3rd floor of the building and no view. After changing into our suits and laying eyes on the pool we sat down confused and wondering if there was another pool we were missing somehow. Maybe 30 seconds after sitting down we were swarmed by the lifeguard and a pool member to promptly inform me that I was not allowed in the water with the suit I was wearing. They do not allow board shorts and require a banana hammock because they are somehow more hygienic. I tried to convince the lifeguard my underwear was just like the suits they were wearing but she scoffed and told me the only way to get in the water was in a banana hammock. So, I went back to ask the locker room guy with the personality of a piece of granite if there was a suit I could borrow. He gave me one that I could only imagine was for a 6-year-old…I won’t go into detail. Handing the suit back to him, which was from lost and found, he told me to go downstairs to rent or buy one. Fortunately, the rentals were made of more material and after I got it on I showered before getting in the water because God forbid if I didn’t! Squeaky clean I donned my swim cap, jumped into a vat of chlorine, took antibiotics and was finally allowed in the water. We ended up just swimming some laps because, shit we came this far, and I went through enough that we had to make something of it all.
We got up so early for the pool that we didn’t have time for a cup of coffee so after our swim we walked around like zombies smelling out caffeine. Lauren found the coolest coffee shop of all our travels so far! It was much more than just a coffee shop as they also sold the furniture which was on display and used by the patrons. The modular furniture was a hybrid of metal bases and wood tops. There was also a small art gallery, and a clothing store. I pondered how their lease agreement was structured because I really thought this was a cool concept that created a synergistic ambiance for the coffee shop and the other businesses to generate more revenue per sf than they might have separately. After our coffee fix we walked to see the Palais de Bruxelles and explored the park and garden in front of it. This park sits at the top of a hill and offers great views of the city. We sat in the park relaxing and reflecting on our travels thus far.
Brussels is our last stop in Belgium and we had not yet tried the waffles. Knowing we would never be forgiven back home for such and indiscretion we dedicated a morning at a well-known place for their waffles. Our handy dandy map also enlightened us that only tourists order their waffles piled high with fruit and whipped cream, the locals take it with only powdered sugar. Honestly the waffle was not as impressive as our imaginations had built it up to be. We ordered them like the locals, and the waffle was tasty, but aside from the lighter and crunchier texture it was not much different than we make back home. In all honesty I think we tourists are doing them a favor with piling up fruit on our waffles it makes it tastier and a more balanced breakfast, so your welcome for the improvement Belgium!
On our way into Autoworld we noticed some fencing, and something being set up in the plaza outside of Autoworld but didn’t think much of it. Spending time around all the classic cars made me realize the piece of me that I had unknowingly been ignoring. One of the difficulties of long-term travel is denying yourself some of the things that you know in your core that you need or want to make you happy. We spent way more time in Autoworld that we had anticipated, and I loved every minute of it. Lauren was a great sport and enjoyed looking at the huge variety of cars. I never realized that in the earliest days of automobiles, the bodies of the cars were made by horse carriage makers. When you look at a 1920’s or 1930’s automobile it is readily apparent and really looks like they just swapped out the horse for a motor.
After spending almost four hours in Autoworld we were starving for lunch at around 2 pm. How lucky for us they were setting up an Indian food festival just outside while we were in Autoworld! We wandered the festival and sampled our lunch from a few different stands, while enjoying the dancing and singing performances on the stage. After lunch we headed to the Brussels Beer Project and got a flight of beers each. The beer project was started by crowdfunding to experiment with brewing wild and contemporary beers. Many of their beers on tap don’t even have a name because they are constantly trying new things out and just give them a number until they brew one that’s a keeper.