A year in Brussels by Susanne Mirabello
It started with a nap, a very long nap, to overcome the jet lag, the shipment details, the visa and work permit papers and the tricky “first timer” transportation mistakes. Upon opening my eyes, I realized that I was living in Europe, the capital of Belgium and the diverse center of the European Union.
Through my private lessons with Melissa in FrenchinDC, I was able to more confidently stroll down my street for a first glimpse of my neighborhood. For this was a dangerous part of town, one known my many and all for the vendors on each corner and its worldly reputation. This….was the chocolate district. My apartment was only a small walk away from 12 different chocolatiers. Ones that would know me by name by the end of the week and save free samples of pralines, not decorated up to their artistic standards but certainly still holding such a rich flavor.
Chocolates were not the only noticeable tastes of Belgium to reel me in. Waffle trucks at every corner entice the crowds with warm and fresh waffles crystallized with a simple sugar coating or chocolate drizzle (do not be fooled by the fancy decorative ones that are overflowing with strawberries and whipped cream) The ones in the vans are simple, traditionally from Liege, a smaller town 40 minutes outside the capital, and have earned their way to becoming one of, what I like to call, Belgium’s major food groups. The other groups being Pomme Frites and Beer.
This leads me to my challenge to find the best “friterie” in the city. These shacks are set up in strategic places, usually near some nightlife or in a central area, park or plaza. My favorite only has two men working behind a menu of really only one ordered item. Frites…and of course the 40 types of different sauces you can order to go along with it. Mayonnaise, is a traditional topping, piled high, in a mound above a paper cone filled with the double fried treats. “Andalouise” is a popular sauce and my personal recommendation.
It is easy to get lost in the flavors but also the unique setting of Brussels itself. I constantly get lost in the winding steets that mix the classical iron balconies of other European cities with the stylized Art Nouveau architecture that was popular in the early 1920s. Every street has character, whether it be in a stained glass mural above a door way or a mosaic scene with intricate details and gilded outline that gives the façade a golden luster whenever the sun hits just right.
Oh, the sun. When the sun comes out in Belgium, it invigorates the city. People take strolls until it sets, sometimes 10:30 or 11 in the deepest days of summer. Groups park blankets, croquette, and wine in the parks. Sometimes others will have the guitars strumming for the rest of the world to just enjoy. Sadly, this only happens sporadically and Belgium is known more so for it’s puddled cobblestone streets and waves that splash up from the hustle and bustle of trams, taxis, buses and even bikes trying to race through another week-long rain shower.
Brussels seems like a small city, easy to get around, so much to see, plenty of festivals in the summer and variety of tastes to enjoy. I feel like it is often overlooked and even on my first stroll, I knew this would be more than just “one year” city. I have not been in too many other places where so many cultures are represented in one little European pocket and yet a bit of Belgian traditions still shine through to make it unique and impressionable. If anything, I hope this little blurb lends you to consider Belgium as a future destination, not for site seeing, landmarks and a rushed itinerary but for a stroll through the beautiful streets, a beer with some friendly locals and of course a chance to enjoy a bit of the “sweet life.”