Hans Zimmer‘s musical score playing in the background with Kate Winslet telling me things so freaking clearly “It was Shakespeare who also said “Love is blind”. Now that is something I know to be true. For some quite inexplicably, love fades; for others love is simply lost. But then of course love can also be found, even if just for the night. And then, there’s another kind of love: the cruelest kind…it’s called unrequited love. Of that I am an expert. Most love stories are about people who fall in love with each other. But what about the rest of us? What about our stories, those of us who fall in love alone?” (from The Holiday).
Brussels-Midi 06:57 now flashing in the LED screen signalling that I have to wake my half-sleep self to board on the train. I’m travelling from St. Pancras – one of the things I like most about living in London is the ease with which you can travel throughout Europe.
Most of my time I don’t engage in this kind of existential pondering about love, about being single but it’s Valentine’s day and I haven’t had my coffee fix yet. But travelling itself is romantic and it has been my love affair for 4 years now. I’ve got to taste Brussels’ classic-contemporary chocolate dichotomy.
Day 1. Brussels
It was really early when I checked-in at Hotel Carrefour de l’Europe which is just a stone’s throw from the prestigious Grand Place. Some free chocolates at the reception desk which is from the nearby Chocopolis shop. I also tucked a free €5 voucher in my pocket which reduced my purchase of a box of truffles and pralines into €17 only.
I had my first taste of pralines at Chocopolis. Belgians classify Pralines as any chocolate shell filled with a soft fondant center. The lady shop assistant handed me a passion-fruit-infused praline which is exquisitely tasty.
I spent the afternoon circling the Grand Place (Grote Markt), sampling no fewer than five chocolatiers: Leonidas, Elizabeth, La Belgique Gourmand including the first Godiva’s shop established in 1926. Grand Place is surely one of the world’s most beautiful squares with its splendidly Gothic and architecturally stunning Hotel de Ville.
A few steps away from the square is the rickety 300-plus-years-old Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate, in which I was just in time for the next demonstration. The big chocolate shops are great but seeing then tasting real handmade chocolate is something special.
After that I strolled down narrow streets lined with friteries and waffle stands. So the procession of chocolatiers continued in Les Galeries St-Hubert which was Europe’s first shopping arcade. The more I sampled nougats, truffles, bonbons and different exotic flavours of ganaches like wasabi, pepper, rum – the clearer the level of sophistication is evolving. I ended up around €100 lighter after more chocolate sampling in Neuhaus, Pierre Marcolini and Mary’s.
At nighttime, I initially did plan to have dinner in Rue des Bouchers as I accidentally came upon this pedestrian while chocoblazing during the day. This pedestrianised thoroughfare is tag as “the belly of Brussels” because of the plethora of cafes and restaurants. This make it seem an interesting place for the tourists to go for a dinner but my advice is to stay away from this crowded street as you might feel harassed by people calling you in their establishment.
Instead, I picked Falstaff restaurant opposite the Brussels Stock Exchange – you basically end up with the same price for your mussels bucket + fries + beer. On top of that, it seems to have bottled the atmosphere of 1903 with its authentic Art Noveau decor.
Day 2. Ghent
Talk to strangers when travelling as they usually have great firsthand experience travel tips. My original plan is to go to Bruges but I spontaneously ditched it and explored Ghent instead after hearing amazing stories from an Australian couple on the city centre’s maintained medieval look.
You see, travellers more that lovers generally get along so well because they understand each other. We are all away from home and they’re also looking for new friends and new adventures.
Ghent is only 1-hour train ride from Brussels Central station and only €10 roundtrip.
Second day is all about Belgium’s second national passion: beer. Khaled, a photographer based in Gent recommended to visit De Trollenkelder and Dulle Griet. I first checked Trollenkelder near the Grasmarkt and Sint Jakobs church but it was closed. My bad, I only checked Dulle Griet which is open during Sunday from 12 PM to 7:30 PM. Most shops are closed on a Sunday in Belgium.
Dulle Griet advertised that it has largest range of Belgian beers in Ghent. The bartender asked me what beer do I fancy whether Blond (a light and tangy pale ale) or Bruin (a classic brown ale with full body), see The Top Twenty Best Belgian Beers. I started with Delirium Tremens but my favourite so far is Kriek which has base beer with added cherries. The atmosphere is great. If you asked some kinds of beer that come in special glasses, you should give one of your shoes as a warranty that you will return the glass.
Day 3. Bruges
Bruges is pretty with all the nineteenth century gabled buildings, the famous Belfry, and the old bridges perfect as romantic backdraft. But it was just too touristy in the Gross Markt square, so I decided to take the chill pill and walked in the quiet, cobbled streets while trying to channel my inner Collin Farrell in the movie In Bruges.
While walking in the narrow quiet street of Driekroezenstraat, an old man named Wiem invited me to his private house museum which is a bit creepy but turned out to be the best surprise of the day. He showed me his World War II collection and his Nat Geo magazines 1935 edition and even asked him to rock his punk 1970’s leather jacket while holding his Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK album.
This is one of the reasons why I love travelling to meet people like Wiem with interesting life stories to tell. It would have made for a much better anecdote if I also learn his love story.
Yes, I really am single on this travel in the unexpectedly beautiful country of Belgium. Yes, I know the wonderful feeling of being loved and in loved. But boringly happy single me who is brave to eat dinner in a restaurant by myself on Valentines day . There are such traveller and you never know I might surprise myself and fall in love with someone on the road in one of the travelling days.