Two things (out of many I’m sure) that set me apart as an American: I eat fries with my fingers and with ketchup. And let me tell you- Belgian frites are worth every single calorie. Fries are served with just about everything, and there are fry shops everywhere.
Last night when I put on my jeans to go out to dinner, I realized that they were fitting more snugly than they were a week go. I vowed to eat a light dinner. My plans were quickly dashed by a traditional Flemish beef stew from a bistro in the center of Brussels. It’s an incredibly rich and delicious dish, simmered slowly with lots of aromatics and dark Belgian beer. Here’s a recipe I found online, I definitely will be making this when I land somewhere for a longer time:
It was served with a green salad, delicious crusty dark grain bread, and Belgian frites. I should have taken a photo, but the delight of seeing this beautiful food placed in front of me made me completely forget about it! I might go back for the same meal again, if I do I’ll photograph it.
So, this morning my jeans fit even tighter. I vowed that at breakfast id only have yogurt with fruit. The hotel I’m in has a beautiful breakfast spread. I had my fruit and yogurt, and I took a croissant too, which unfortunately turned out to be the fluffiest, flakiest most buttery croissant I’ve had on this entire trip. I was forced back to the buffet table for another one, this time with a couple of beautiful hunks of delicious cheese.
So, today I will be shopping for new jeans.
I’m in a hotel because I wasn’t ready to leave Brussels after my house sitting week ended.
A couple of words about cigarettes. I’m coming clean here, just in case I post a picture of my view from a sidewalk cafe with a bottle of beer or a glass of wine and I haven’t remembered to move the ashtray. I haven’t been a full-time smoker since I was in my 20s. However, I’ve always enjoyed bumming a smoke when I’m having more than one or two drinks. After Michael died, while I was caring for my mom during her cancer surgeries and treatments, I turned to anything and everything I could get my hands on. Cigarettes were part of the mix. I’ve been able to keep it to 2 or 3 a day, except when times got very stressful. Since I’ve been here in Europe I’ve been going on and off with tobacco depending on the situation I’m in. There are a lot more people still smoking regularly here, especially in France and Italy.
They carry my brand of cigarettes, American Spirit, in most tobacco stores, and there are ashtrays on every outside table. It acually makes for a very pleasant afternoon – sitting at a sidewalk café having a beer and a smoke. I’ll stop again soon, maybe when the weather turns cold and it’s no fun anymore to go outside for a smoke.
I’ve had a couple of nice, easy days in Brussels. Yesterday, I had intended to tour the EU Parliament buildings, but I got there too late, not knowing that on Fridays they close at noon. But they have a great museum which was open and very well designed and interesting. I learned a lot about how and why the EU was formed, from its beginnings post World War ll.
The first step in the process of foundation of the European Community was given by the French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman. In a speech inspired by Jean Monnet, Schuman proposed that France and Germany and any other European country wishing to join them pool their coal and steel resources. This plan of economic integration looked for developing the approach between France and Germany, moving definitively away from the haunt of war in Europe.
“Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity. The coming together of the nations of Europe requires the elimination of the age-old opposition of France and Germany. Any action taken must in the first place concern these two countries.
With this aim in view, the French Government proposes that action be taken immediately on one limited but decisive point.
It proposes that Franco-German production of coal and steel as a whole be placed under a common High Authority, within the framework of an organisation open to the participation of the other countries of Europe.
The pooling of coal and steel production should immediately provide for the setting up of common foundations for economic development as a first step in the federation of Europe”.
Schuman Declaration 9th May 1950
The official website of the EU is also very informative:
Today I poked around in the shops, and made my way back to the Grand Place to soak up a bit more of the ambiance of this magnificent spot. I made a return visit to a chocolate shop I’d been to last week. The city is full of chocolate shops, I don’t think there’s a bad one among them. It’s Saturday, and the crowds are thick with both tourists and locals out shopping and enjoying the city. Something fun catches my eye. In a small square there are couple of little metal tables and old movie theater chairs, and a bicycle cart set up as a portable champagne bar! I stop for a while to listen to some street musicians, playing a guitar and a trumpet. They have a great sound which reminds me of Michael Franti.
I finally got to Bruges, on a sunny day. The city gave me a feeling similar to what I experienced in Venice… It’s like being in a fairytale. There are so many picturesque spots, pictures to be taken and impressions to be felt. Like Venice, it’s hard to describe, words just can’t do it justice. Shannon uses the word delightful a lot, and I’ve adopted it as one of my favorites. And delightful is what the city is. I wander away from the main square and the hoards of other tourists and I find tucked away into every corner is a charming view, a pretty square, a row of ornately decorated houses, a beautiful church. Everything is in full bloom in the height of summer.
In the middle of a quiet block of really pretty houses, I found something amazing! An open door, painted with words I’ll need to have translated. A sign in English states “enter at your own risk”. I enter into a room without a roof, vines and flowers grow in and out of crumbling bricks and broken windows, hanging flower pots and potted plants are everywhere. Somebody has created a secret garden out of the dilapidated ruins of what was formally a small home! Another amazing and unique find that reminds me that life is full of hidden treasures, and that sometimes it’s worth taking the risk to enter.