What do tasty beers, steaks served with fries, and a giant iron atom have in common? Well they can all be found in the heart of Europe, Brussels, Belgium, which is where Hattivatti and friends headed in the beginning of June for a long weekend. A 2.5 h flight and about 35 minutes in a taxi took the travellers to a friend’s house in Uccle on the south side of the city. The first evening was spent enjoying a home-cooked meal along with some sparkling wine, catching up on life at both ends until 2 am in the morning.
Friday morning started slow with breakfast ending around noon, and then it was time to head for some sightseeing. Although this was not the first visit to Brussels, the landmark from the 1958 world exhibition had not yet been seen by Hattivatti’s companions, so off to the Atomium! The intriguing metal construction built to look like a giant iron atom was quite a sight, especially with 10 Dinner in the Sky tables hanging in the air right in front of it to celebrate 10 years of this experience in Belgium.
The inside tour of the Atomium started with a 22 second elevator ride to the top sphere, where one could enjoy a scenic view of the city sprawling all around. The weather was depressingly gray, but the view was still quite nice. Then back down to the bottom before heading into the other spheres to learn about the construction of the monument and see some interesting light art displays.
To be honest, the best parts were the two long escalators in the tubes connecting the spheres, where a combination of lights and sounds made for an interesting experience.
Getting back downtown from the Atomium turned out to be quite difficult: the metro ticket machines (all 4 of them!) refused to accept any of the credit cards offered and of course bills weren’t accepted either. After 30 minutes of trying to figure out how to get out of there, enough coins were finally collected and tickets obtained and the trip continued on to Moeder Lambic at Fontainas Place for a late lunch and some craft beers. The afterwork crowd was not yet on the move, making it a nice peaceful place to relax for a couple hours.
In the evening, a table had been booked at Le Louis XV on the edge of Wolvendael park in Uccle for a birthday dinner. Quite nice food (except for the disappointing dessert offered to some) and good wines were enjoyed in the quiet atmosphere of the oddly near empty restaurant. Then back home for some coffees and beers before calling it a night.
Alarms were set for 9 am the following morning, as the plan was to head to Ghent, situated about 60 km west of Brussels. A 30-minute train ride transported the travellers to this university town with a quaint old center full of canals and historic buildings, with the oldest dating back to the 12th century.
After wandering around for a bit, the only remaining local gruut beer brewery was found. This Gentse Gruut Stadsbrouwerij (Gruut City Brewery in Ghent) is the only one left in a city that used to have over 500 breweries. This quite new brewery, established in 2009, makes and serves the traditional-style gruut beers of the area, many of which are made without the addition of hops. These “ancient herbed beers”, offered as a tasting set of five different types, turned out to be quite flavorful.
A late lunch was then devoured out on the heated terrace of De Graslei, where a two course meal of cheese croquettes with salad and steak with fries or a seafood casserole cost only 17€, despite being in the heart of the tourist area. Really nice food and quick service.
Then back on the train to Brussels and a short stop at Brewdog before heading back to Uccle for a homemade BBQ feast of cola-marinated ribs, beef and vegetable skewers, and local spiced sausages. After a long day and way too much food, sleep came easily despite the odd rainless thunderstorm that was going on outside.
The weather finally turned sunny and warm on Sunday. After breakfast, a leisurely walk was made in the area and around the nearby Wolvendael park before heading to lunch at Le Guignol, a local bistro serving delicious salads and good looking steak tartar.
Then it was time to head for the airport, where the added security measures were still in force after the attack in March. All throughout the weekend, the heightened security was actually quite visible, as heavily armed soldiers were present all over the place. In the end, everything went extremely smoothly at the airport. An odd phenomenon was noted while the plane rolled along the tarmac before taking off: the grassy areas between the runways were full of rabbits! Must remember to see if this is the norm the next time when coming to Brussels…