“Be wise today, so you don’t cry tomorrow.”
― E.A. Bucchianeri
Back to Centre
After a long day of sightseeing, I ended up waking up late. Still, I was going to make the last few hours in Brussels count. I needed at least one more serving of frites, some chocolate, and a real Belgian waffle. I couldn’t stop thinking about seafood, and I still needed to send out postcards. This time, however, I didn’t take the scenic walk to Zuidstation. Instead, I walked towards Fritterie Fontainas and took the metro at Porte de Hal (Hallespoort) to Centre. This time I get off at De Brouckère. As I’m wondering around desperately searching for the BPost, I come across a boulevard full of life with hints of a city throughout. I’m amazed at the difference between a three city block radius.
With the postcards I had purchased the day before, I walk into the BPost expecting the same kind of fuckery I endured at La Poste Française; however, the Belgians got it right. The machines were easy to understand, and I was able to purchase multiple stamps in one transaction. Simple enough, right? A nearby park bench worked as a makeshift desk where I ended up covered smoke from two human chimneys. Snapping pictures along the way, I went searching for Noordzee.
“Are you KIDDING ME?!”, I said while staring at the shutters covering the windows locking all of that seafood goodness behind them. Unlike the day before, this place sticks out like a sore thumb because it’s the only place that is closed in the busy plaza. If I only had one regret up to this point during the trip, it was this one. I never turn down seafood for any reason, and so why did I start now? I left walking up towards Bourse in search of food, but I should have kept walking in the other direction, and I could have seen the Zinneke Pis. Frustrated with myself, I walked into a Carrefour Express to buy a broodje, some juice, quinoa salad, and water. I take one look good around and decide it’s time to head out to Ixelles.
From the Bethleem tram stop in Saint-Gilles, the 81 (Montgomery) is a straight shot to Flagey. I could have taken the tram at Zuidstation, but I wanted to drop by the apartment before continuing my trip. Google Maps is your friend so use it! I was able to track my journey and knew which stop I was at each time the tram came to a halt. When the tram is full, and you can’t tell which direction is which, this comes in handy.
My stop drops me off right in front of the Flagey, a cultural center, and venue, but I’m more concerned with trying to get a seat along the banks of the pond so I can eat. Along the shoreline I see people jogging, others walking their pets, and the rest are plopped right on the banks taking in the sun, playing music, or having a picknick/pique-nique. My dogs are barking, and I soon join them. I’m feeling grateful for the opportunity to have the moment here and begin to meditate and exist.
After about 15 minutes, I take my sandwich out and eat it slowly as if I were trying to extend my time in Bruxelles. If only. I make a quick Facebook video to upload later because I want to live in the moment. Between bites, sighs, and snapping pictures, another regret crept up on me. I hadn’t given myself enough time to enjoy Brussels to the fullest. Three days was shortchanging myself and disrespecting Belgium. I tried to slow down time again, by shutting off that nagging voice and allowed myself to take in the last few hours.
“For next time.”
With daylight burning and the evening approaching, I need to make my last hurrah count. I’m off to Saint-Gilles to freshen up before I head out back to Centre for a nightcap.
In Search of Gaufres, Chocolat Belge, Moules Frites
I love waffles. Back home they are a staple of Sunday brunch. Without them, is it really brunch? Back on the metro, I get off a few stops early at Anneessens. I want to walk as much as possible and get one last look at this place. Each restaurant I walked by was filled with high spirited folks enjoying their evening brew. Somebody cranked it up to 11! I’m just looking for some moules frites that aren’t going to cost me more than my Airbnb rental. I walk around aimlessly and find the Grote Markt (Grand Place) by mistake. Imagine walking down an alley and suddenly being engulfed by lights and architecture. At that moment, I regretted leaving my camera back at the apartment, so I make do with my phone. The Grote Markt is littered with tourists, bien sûr, but it doesn’t deter from its beauty. I take my photos and move on.
Following the scent of chocolate like a bloodhound, I land on Rue au Beurre, which should be called Rue au Chocolat since you’ll find many chocolatiers on it. I couldn’t decide because I was surrounded by chocolate in every direction, so I went by the prettiest window display. Galler Chocolatier located at Rue au Beurre/Boterstraat 44 Boterstraat Grand-Place, Centre-Ville, Bruxelles, has a wide variety of truffles, macarons, and other types of chocolates. Aside from being elegantly crafted, they are by far the best chocolates I have ever tasted.
“I’d like to order some macarons, but I don’t know which ones I should get. Surprise me!”
I end up with macarons hand-selected by one of the young ladies working the counter and a box of truffles. The counter person is sweet (no pun intended!) and offers me a sample. That’s all I need and have started devising a plan to bring these goodies back home to the States.
Skipping out of the store with my little brown and orange bag, my search for moules frites continues. It’s getting late and my time is running out. I have lost my sense of direction and decide that the first place with moules frites on the menu is going to get whatever euros I have left. I’m starting to blend with buildings and the locals, trying my hardest not to bring any attention to myself; although, I believe me squinting trying to read chalkboard menus is a dead giveaway. I come across one, and the price is right. As I’m finishing reading the list a surly man with a cigarette and no sense of personal space comes out and takes the sign indoors and locks the door behind him.
“For next time.”
I’m feeling dejected, and the probability of getting waffles as Bruxelles starts to wind down dwindles with it. Life is funny, though. Suddenly, I see people walking around with cones filled with waffles, whipped cream, and strawberries. Naturally, I start to trace their steps. A giant waffle sign is sticking out of a little hole in the wall named Le Funambule (Rue de l’Etuve 42, 1000 Bruxelles). People are gathered around it, and I’m just hoping I am not too late.
There are at least six people crammed into a small shop and the woman behind the counter making the waffles is showing off her ninja moves. I stand there watching for a few minutes before I decide to order. In the queue, she’s suggesting to people to get a real Belgian waffle rather than the cone filled with toppings.
“It’s quite offensive to a Belgian, you know?’
One by one, each person orders the most Instagrammable waffle cone, and I could tell she was dreading making another one.
“I want the authentic one, with the sugar on top. Make it two.”
She lit up, and I went to have a seat. Waves of people would come and go. She was the only one there, and I waited patiently. After all, if this was going to be the last thing I ate in Brussels, it was worth the wait.
“I’m so sorry for the wait.”
“It’s okay,” I responded. “I’m just happy to be having a real Belgian waffle.” I went to pay for my order, added a cold-pressed juice to it, and then went back to my little corner. A few minutes later she brings two hot waffles dusted with powdered sugar and a large berry blend juice. I don’t even know where to start. The sugar is already caramelizing, so I risk a burnt tongue all in the name of waffles. Crunchy on the outside, soft and gooey on the inside, and nothing like I had ever tasted before.
“THIS IS FUCKING AMAZING!”, I belted out. She laughs and says, “I’m glad you didn’t order one with strawberries and whipped cream. I swear if I had to make one more of those…” We enjoyed a lovely conversation. I found out that was a Brazilian expat and practiced some of my Brazilian Portuguese.
I left with the biggest smile on my face. I had macarons, chocolate, and a waffle for later. I walked over to the Beurs metro station and headed back to the apartment to start packing. The train ride back to Saint-Gilles was filled with conflicting emotions. I wanted to stay but was also ready to sleep in my bed. I was mad that I didn’t get to eat seafood, but was happy I ate street food around the neighborhoods I visited. Missed opportunities opened new experiences. Perhaps it was supposed to be this way because I sense I will be back again.