First of all, sorry for the lack on posts in the past week. I usually update my blog every few days, but with 5 weeks to go to my wedding day, I fear Mondomulia is going to have to lose priority for a short while! :(
Today I have a travel post for you! I have shared my tips on Brussels, a city that doesn't get much praise and yet I love it. I travel to Belgium a lot as one of my best friends lives there and, thanks to the Eurostar train from London St Pancras, it is a quick and cheap trip (only two hours and £69 for return tickets).
I love getting out of London for a weekend and travelling "to the continent"! The train zooms under the Channel, through the French countryside, then reaches the centre of Brussels, and it does feel like a different world!
Having a friend in Brussels means that I get to discover parts of the city outside the centre, the real city filled with locals and unknown to tourists. Too often I hear people complaining about how ugly Brussels is and it makes me sad. Sure, it doesn't have the charm of other Belgian cities like Antwerp, Gent, Leuven or Bruges, but on the other hand Brussels has a lot to offer! Outstanding architecture, beautiful parks, ethnic melting pot, diverse food choice and incredible beers. Of course, Brussels is also home to some of the most delicious chocolate in the world.
My days in Brussels always revolve around food, carefully planning what to eat and when, in order to try as many things as possible! Yet I always find space for a Belgian Chocolate Waffle! My favourite is from Belgaufra, they are everywhere in the city centre.
The important thing to do when visiting Brussels is ditching the touristic trail and discover the real city! Explore the elegant neighbourhood of Le Sablon, eat at Chatelain, thrift for vintage accessories in Les Marolles, have an apéro in the multi-cultural district of Saint Boniface Matongé or brunch in the bohemian Saint Gilles.
If you arrive in Brussels on a Friday evening, head straight for dinner at Brasserie Les Brassins, a typical Belgian resto. My favourite dish is the Stoemp of the day (sausage and bacon with mashed potatoes), but the Carbonnade Flamandes is also great. Don't skip dessert, here's great! Try the Warm Chocolate Cake with liquid center, served with vanilla ice-cream and custard sauce. Drink a Belgian specialty beer, such as Leffe, Hoegaarden or La Chouffe.
For a more original dinner destination, explore the neighbourhood of St Boniface - Matongé.
I am in the part of the neighbourhood known as St Boniface, named after a rather grand neo-gothic church. It is a genteel art nouveau quarter with colourful vintage boutiques and designer cafes lining either side. Just past the square, though, and I immediately find myself immersed in a very different world, the exotic Matonge, named after a lively part of the Congolese capital, Kinshasa. [...] And what is exciting is that these two diverse worlds coexist side by side. [John Brunton for The Guardian]
During my last visit, I had dinner at Soleil d'Afrique, a small and cheap canteen open until late and serving popular West African dishes, such as Mafé (a stew with meat simmered in a sauce thickened with ground peanuts).
We then walked two minutes to L'Ultime Atome to have coffee and dessert. This is the ultimate Belgian café: formal and old-fashioned, with Seventies furniture (wood and mirrors everywhere) bad service (a common flaw in Brussels), even worse coffee, . It is worth going there for the Speculoos Cheesecake though!
After dinner, go for a stroll to La Grand-Place, a stunning square surrounded by buildings of different architectural and artistic styles, listed in the World Heritage List.
One of the streets leading to the Grand-Place, Petite Rue des Bouchers, is small alley lined with touristic restaurants serving the popular dish of Moules Frites, mussels with fries. At night the waiters are out in full force, the fresh fish is displayed outside and the lights are on. It's very folkloristic, but personally I would just go there for a walk, staying away from the food!
On Saturday morning, explore the Bohemian district of Saint-Gilles, home to majestic Art Nouveau houses and a Portuguese community. Have breakfast at the pâtisserie Au Pays des Merveilles and buy groceries at the daily farmers' market in the square in front of Saint-Gilles church.
On a sunny day, have a picnic at Parc du Cinquantenaire, a large public park dominated by a a triumphal arch built for the 1880 National Exhibition and to celebrated fifty years of Belgian independence. I love walking in the park in autumn, when the grass is covered in brown and yellow leaves.
On a rainy day, visit one of the Modern Art museums in the city centre, go for shopping in Rue Neuf and take a lunch break at La Maison des Crepes.
Another one of my favourite restaurants in Brussels is Houtsiplou. The decor is quirky, with colourful wall murals and wooden furniture. My lunch of choice: Classico Burger with Frites and Tiramisu au Speculoos.
On Sunday morning, wake up early and go to the flea market in Les Marolles. Located between the prestigious Place du Sablon and the much less glamorous area around Midi station, Marolles mantains traits of both. It falls somewhere in between chic and working-class, with the antiques shops of Rue Haute leading the way to the flea market in Place du Jeu de Balle.
During my last visit to Les Marolles, I discovered a specialty coffee shop, Aksum, a rare sight in Brussels where there isn't a big coffee culture. Aksum is an Ethiopian coffee-house, using fresh and organically grown coffee, made from single origin beans, roasted on the premises and brewed on La Marzocco espresso machine.
If you love good espresso and are looking for trained and knowledgeable baristas, you must go there.
Finally, I cannot finish write a foodie guide of Brussels without mentioning my favourite Belgian obsession: the Speculoos (or Biscoff, as they are called in US)! Speculoos are caramelized biscuits spiced with pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg. They are often served with coffee and they make a great addition to most sweet recipes. I have already written about my Tiramisù with Speculoos in this post.
Every time I am in Belgium, I always look out for Speculoos and their numerous uses: Speculoos cheesecake, tiramisù, mousse, chocolate, ice-cream and so on. My favourite thing is the Speculoos spread, of which I always buy several jars for me and friends (as it is not available for sale in the UK...yet!).
Woah, that is a long post! I hope it will be useful to people travelling to Brussels (for pleasure or work) and make them enjoy the city as much as I do!