On Saturday we took the train to Brussels, just for the day. We were on the intercity train, rather than the high-speed train, so it takes about 2 1/2 hours each way. The intercity train made several stops between Amsterdam & Brussels, and it was interesting to see how the language of the train gradually shifted as more passengers got on board - less Dutch, more French.
Planning our day had been up to me, and truth be told, I didn't plan much. Sometimes I enjoy just 'being' in a city - wandering around and soaking it all in, rather than rushing from monument to museum, etc. Although I didn't plan much, I did have a few goals in mind: waffels, seafood & beer. I think most people would include frites (fries) in that list too, but we only had one day! Also, we've had some pretty great frites here in the Netherlands, so I didn't feel like I would be missing out.
Our train got in fairly early, so we had the chance to wander the area around the Grand Place before the masses of tourists descended. (I love getting places early) As we were trying to find the tourist info center to pick up a map we stumbled upon one of the cafes I had seen recommended for waffels.
Mokafé is in the Galerie du Roi, a beautiful covered shopping arcade that was Europe's first. We sat at a table on their terrace and perused the menu. Trev was sold at the sight of waffel with banana and warm chocolate sauce but I had a harder time deciding. I ended up picking a waffel with cherry sauce, and I was very satisfied with my choice. Our waffels were 'Brussels-style' which means that they are crisp on the outside with fluffy, airy insides - they're delicate and light. I probably could have easily eaten a second waffel... Oh, I also need to say that my cappuccino was good, but Trev's chocolat chaud was amazing. It was sooo chocolatey and rich and exactly what you think hot chocolate should be. Note to self: when in Belgium drink chocolate, not coffee.
During our wanderings we stumbled on Manneken Pis (yes, that does mean a boy peeing) - a famous, and very strange fountain. It seems Brussels has adopted the image to represent their city, and you could see it everywhere...chocolates, corkscrews, t-shirts, etc. I have to say, I don't really get it, but hey - to each their own.
For lunch we walked towards Sainte Catherine to find De Noordzee or La Mer du Nord, a poissonnerie and fishbar that is popular with locals and tourists alike. They serve up freshly prepared seafood snacks and wine from the shop overlooking the square. The food is prepared behind a counter on the sidewalk and the standing-height tables spread out to the sides and in the square.
The atmosphere buzzed with happy chatting as people enjoyed their fresh, delicious seafood. The menu was small, but seasonal, and gave enough choices. They only serve the freshest fish - for example, Trev wanted to try mussels, but they're not in season yet so Noordzee doesn't have them (I'm sure we could have found some at a restaurant aimed at tourists, but why eat food out of season, just for the sake of eating it?) We asked our waitress to recommend some plates for us, so we ended up with fried fish (a house classic), calamari and razor clams.
Everything was sooo good. I even tried the clams and thought they were tasty (and how could I resist all that herb-garlic-butter goodness?) They only had one variety of wine - a nice crisp riesling that paired so well with all the seafood. We both left feeling full and perfectly satisfied - all for only 20 euro...pretty amazing.
Stay tuned for more from Brussels...