We took a day trip on the train from Amsterdam to Brussels. If you don't leave with a tummy ache from the chocolate samples & Belgian waffles, you didn't do it right. :) Plus the Grand Place will make you sick - with envy over the architecture!
by Carmen on April 28, 2009
Of all of the chocolate shops in Brussels, this was the one where we elected to spend the most money. Neuhaus chocolate is one of the finest in Brussels, and located on the Grand Place just a few doors down from the more-famous Godiva, and a few doors up from the "I see it everywhere in Belgium" Leonidis, where the chocolate costs less because it’s machine- and not hand-made. Neuhaus made it easy to select our chocolate goodies. Well, as easy as it can be to pick around 20 pieces out of the tantalizing hundreds. There’s a small pamphlet on the counter, which serves as kind of a menu, with a picture of the chocolate and a description of what’s inside in several different languages. We purchased 250 grams in a nice box so it wouldn’t get smooshed by the evil airport for between 15 and 20 Euro (depending on final weight.) A small price to pay for chocolate at the shop that invented the praline (filled chocolate.)Thanks to our Rick Steves guide, we started with a piece called "Caprice" which is toffee with vanilla cream - my favorite, so I got two of those. There was one shaped like a dollar, which suited my day-trading handsome significant other, which was hazelnut. The prestige is a yummy caramel filling, and the Manon Choco Cafe is a coffee butter cream. The classic truffle is just that, with chocolate butter cream and cocoa powder. Hungry yet? Let me tell you that when we arrived home, we ate the chocolates over two nights with gusto, and enjoyed every one. Is it crazy to want to spend $20 on shipping alone to order more on the Internet?There was a slight communication barrier, as both of the workers in the shop spoke predominantly French, but with my 4 years of the language in college (which I nearly failed) and their broken English, we managed. Why didn’t we eat them there? Well, there were many samples to be had everywhere, and we just wanted to save the best for last, when we could really savor them without being rushed and enjoy them to the fullest.If you don’t get some chocolate here, then your just not the chocoholic you claim to be.
A far cry from the handmade chocolates found on the Grand Place, L’Art Du Chocolat is a good, less expensive substitute. It’s not "Oh-my-goodness-this-is-better-than-sex!" quality, but it’s right up there with "I-found-$20-in-my-pocket!" good.The best thing about entering into L’Art Du Chocolate, and any of the chocolatiers, really, is the display cases. And the chocolate fountains. And the FREE samples. As my handsome significant other said, "If you come to Brussels and don’t leave with a tummy ache, you didn’t do it right."Here, at L’Art Du Chocolate, we had the same challenge as in the other shops - choosing between all the yummy treats. We ended up with a box (this time, only 7 Euro) of the traditional vanilla cream truffle, and we were not disappointed. We came to this conclusion after trying every sample they offered us - some twice. We wanted to be very sure we wouldn’t leave unsatisfied with our choice.If you want the more "specialty" chocolates, never fear, you can chose from a selection of those as well. The selection isn’t as grand as what you’ll find in the big name shops, but I’m sure you could find something to tickle your tongue. How hard could it be? It’s chocolate.So for chocolate taste, without all the muss of too-much-Euro guilt, consider this, or any of the other shops, for some less expensive options. (But still tasty!)
Walk through the Grand Place, or almost any of the surrounding streets. Inhale. Smell that? That sweet, warm aroma in the air is sure to be coming from one of the many shops selling Belgian waffles.I managed to walk around Brussels for three hours before succumbing to that aroma - how’s that for self control? When I finally did break down, I decided to chose the waffe maker that had the longest line - they were sure to be good, right?Right.Elisabeth is a waffle maker located right off of the Grand Place, across the street from the "Is it Raining?" statue (a statue of three men looking up to the sky with their hands out. Another endearing example of the Brussels sense of humor.) Did you ever see those cartoons where the smell of food is represented as a waft of smoke, and it physically carries the character to the source? I’m pretty sure that life emulated cartoons that day. The closer I got to Elisabeth, the more my mouth watered.There are so many choices for how you can top your waffle. There are strawberries, whipped cream, bananas, chocolate sauce, sprinkles, cherries, powdered sugar and any combination of these and more. I figured, why smother a good thing? So, I went with chocolate sauce and powdered sugar.Oh. My. Gosh. I’m not sure how to describe the taste to you, but I’m going to try. It was like eating a warm, waflle-shaped, gooey sugar cookie center, with a little chewiness on the outside, wrapped in a warm hug and baked with a sprinkle of pixie dust. I’m drooling now as I write about it.Chose your own toppings. Sit. Eat. Enjoy your little taste bud orgasm, and thank me later for telling you about this place.
The Grand Place is a large square in the heart of Brussels surrounded by architectural masterpieces. When you first walk into the square, it’s all you can do to keep your jaw from dropping to the ground. Actually, I think mine dropped anyway. All you can say is "wow!" until you come around from your dream and realize this is an actual place on earth. Then, you venture into the square, mingling with the other tourists (which is an astoundingly low number, by the way) and snapping away with your camera.The dominating feature of the Grand Place is the magnificent clock tower atop the Town Hall building. Inside, you’ll find a small museum (which we didn’t bother with) and the tourist information desk (where we got ourselves a good, free map and asked to be pointed to the closest bathroom.) But who wants to go inside when you could be outside, staring at the carvings and reliefs on the building. If you can manage to drag your eyes across the square from one amazing building, you’ll find the other. Minus the clock tower, I would say that the grey King’s House tops the Town Hall as the most impressive building on the square. It looks like something out of a fairy tale. Inside is the City Museum, another museum that we skipped in favor of more time walking outside and around the town.The surrounding buildings are now shops and restaurants, but were originally guild buildings, also impressive, but playing a more supportive role to the divas of Town Hall and the King’s House. Thanks to Rick Steves’ guidebook, I remembered to look up at the statues. I’ve mentioned how enamored I am with Brussels and their smart-assey humor, but I love the story that the people came up with in conjunction with the statues. One choir of statues says "Who farted?" A horseman points across the square. The statue he points to says "It wasn’t me!" and points to another corner. There, the statue of Saint Nicholas hangs his head, clearly embarrassed. Classic!Speaking of the guidebook, I can’t say enough about the value of having a good tool to guide you in your walks around the city. You never know what tidbit Mr. Steves is going to hand you, but you can be sure you never would’ve seen/understood it on your own.While on the Grand Place, you’re most definitely going to want to have lunch at one of the cafes, while you soak in the grandeur of the buildings on the square. Then, you’ll want to do your chocolate tour to each of the large shops on the Grand Place. Then, for desert, you’ll want to get your Belgian waffle. Don’t worry, calories don’t count on vacation.
Don’t make the mistake of just seeing one part of Brussels. There are two "towns" separated by elevation. The Lower Town is just that, the part of the city at the bottom of the big hill. There, you’ll find the Grand Place, the Manneken Pis, the chocolate shops, etc. If you want to walk off all the chocolate and waffles, take a 15 minute walk UP the hill to get to the Upper Town (or, spend 1.50 Euro to ride the bus, #95, which you catch on the side of the Bourse, or Stock Exchange, just off the Grand Place.)There are lots of sights that await you - including one heck of a view back down on Lower Town. The bus drops you at the Place Royal (notice, it’s not PALACE, the palace is around the corner.) The statue here stares down at the Town Hall, and you should, too. The view down the street is one heck of a picture.Once you’ve crossed back across the large street dodging trams, buses of tourists and cars like the frog in Frogger, take a peak around the corner. There you’ll find the Palais Royale, or Royal Palace. The gardens in front are really cool, and I’m sure if we’d walked through the paths of well-cut shrubbery, we would’ve found ourselves in the middle of a maze. The palace itself makes for a great photo op, as does the park across the street, Brussels Park.The rest of the walk is detailed in Rick Steves’ book, Amsterdam, Bruges and Brussels so I won’t plagiarize him. However, there is plenty to see in Upper Town, and the point is that you should make the trek.I will say that if you are limited in time, say you have a layover or you’re just stopping over on a train trip somewhere else, I’d concentrate my time on the Lower Town. That said, if you can, Upper Town doesn’t disappoint.
I think that the best thing about Brussels is that you enter the heart of the city in this magnificent Grand Place, with grandiose structures and breathtaking beauty. Then, you and everyone else visiting the city that day, walk a few blocks behind the Grand Place to see a tiny little statue of a little boy irreverently peeing into a fountain. It is cheekiness in it’s true form, and it sums up, I think, the attitude of the people in this French city - you gotta laugh at yourself.And when I say "small statue," that is not a commentary on either the boy’s manhood or his height - the statue is just on a very small scale. Actually, if everyone wasn’t walking, guidebook in hand, with the specific purpose of finding the statue and fountain, I’m pretty sure we’d all keep walking, searching for something a little more, um, proper. As it is, however, if you just exit the Grand Place on the left side of the Town Hall (facing it) and follow the hoards of people, you’ll know you’re there when you see more hoards of people shoving themselves up against a wrought-iron fence to have their pictures taken with the little bugger.Sometimes, the statue is dressed in costumes, which come from around the world, and when not in use, can be seen in one of the museums (there are over 700, I’m told.) Alas, when we visited, he was naked as a jaybird, and happily peeing into the fountain that was constructed to provide drinking water to the city in the 1600s. (Again, gotta love Brussels.)Speaking of guidebooks, as I was earlier, I can again highly recommend Rick Steves’ Amsterdam, Bruges and Brussels as a great resource as you explore the city. It was thanks to this guide that we knew why there was a hoard of people pre-Manneken Pis clamoring to rub a statue. It is of an unlucky former mayor who refused to surrender to invaders and was thus killed. Supposedly, rubbing the statue to a shiny glean gives those who do so good luck. I’m still not sure why rubbing a statue of a man with bad luck gives good, but when in Brussels . . .If you’re in Brussels, and you don’t see the Manneken Pis, well then you’re just not a good tourist.
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