Three Days in Brussels


Three days in Brussels is simply not enough. I feel like we barely scratched the surface. We saw enough to enamor, enchant, and enliven, but it was a wrench to leave. The food, the architecture, the pace of the city...we loved it all. It was particularly fascinating arriving from Italy, rather than arriving from the United States; we had to struggle against some serious language training. This got better by the end, but saying "oui" instead of "sí," and "merci" instead of "grazie" was so difficult that all 5 of us would routinely say the Italian word, even when we were trying our hardest to speak French—it's like we had one channel for "alternative language," and were physically unable to change that channel. We got a lot of odd looks. And when we were on the RyanAir bus back to the airport, an Italian woman behind us got a phone call and we all looked at each other with huge grins, so happy to hear Italian again.

Also, there were aspects of Belgian life that surprised us, but we wouldn't have noticed if we hadn't been living in Italy. One, the hours; we would leave the apartment at 9 or so, and be consistently confused...where were all the people? We finally realized that Belgian hours must be vastly different than Italian hours. Italians are up at the crack of dawn or before, perhaps to get work done before the heat of the day sets in. Then, in Italy, the streets clear around 1:30 for pausa. In Brussels, there is no discernible pausa. It seems like people began their day a little later, perhaps to delay going out in the wet (to me, it always comes back to sunshine), and then there was a bustle straight through the day. And dinnertime! Restaurants were full at 6:00! In Italy, if we go to dinner at 7:30, we are the first ones in the room. When Nicolas stops chatting with his friends on Facebook to come to dinner at 7:00, he avoids telling them why since they all eat around 8:30 or 9:00. I confess: I like the Belgian way better. I like sleeping in, and I have yet to get used to the late supper-time.

The other aspect of being in Belgium that continually astonished us was the drivers. They stopped for us as we crossed a street. I mean, we'd be in the middle of the block, waiting to dash across the street at a break in the traffic, and cars would stop to let us cross. The first few times we had to wonder aloud what they were doing. What the heck? Now that we're back in Italy, we're having to renew our traffic awareness. Remember kids, we're not in Brussels, we're on a medieval Italian street—cars can come zipping right in front of us at any moment.

In general, we found Belgians to be more precise than Italians. The shop windows with their handcrafted mushrooms and marzipan hedgehogs and glorious chocolate chestnuts artfully crafted were a clue to this devotion to details. The decor of buildings appeared thoughtful and tasteful, maximizing a feeling of coziness and luxury. This sort of precision was great for bathrooms—it was a relief to walk into any kind of bathroom and know that the flush mechanism might vary, but there would always be an actual toilet (rather than a hole in the floor, like in the kids' school), a clean seat, and copious amounts of toilet paper. We appreciated this devotion to detail less when it came to coffee. More on that later.

Other points of interest (you'll notice that there is much remarking about food here. Nicolas said he loved this vacation, because the sights were only the filler between getting great food):

Waffles: Sunday breakfast foods are among the most missed in our family. So though Belgian waffles aren't exactly maple-drenched buttermilk pancakes with a side of bacon, we knew they'd fill a similar spot for warm, sweet, fluffy deliciousness. We were not disappointed. Belgian waffles come in two forms: Brussels and Liège. Brussels waffles are what I think of when I think of a Belgian waffle—perfectly rectangular, crispy outside that gives way to a yielding center, dusted with powdered sugar for a dash of sweetness. Liège waffles, I've never had outside of Belgium (except in New York, at the Wafels and Dinges carts that I seek out whenever we visit). They are a little bit like hot, sticky donuts with waffle indentations but irregular edging and bits of caramelization on the outside. They are both delicious, and we had plenty of them. The Brussels waffle requires a little something to sweeten it, like powdered sugar, so it is best sitting down at a cafe with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. And the Liége waffle seems made for eating on the road, as it is plenty sweet on its own. We stuck to natural style, without added toppings, as we enjoyed the simple, but rich, taste of the waffle. We did allow the children to get a chocolatey waffle at Leonidas, but this was before we figured out the Brussels/Liége distinction (and before we knew what kind Leonidas made), so it was a chocolate-drenched Liége waffle and therefore far too sweet. It was delicious, of course, but the children had a hard time finishing them. For the record, our best Brussels waffle was at Moka in the Galeries Saint-Hubert (though Dandoy Tea Room was not far behind, and cozy when it was raining—the speculoos molds added character and warmth to the space) but it should be said that while Moka's hot chocolate was fabulous with its pieces of unmelted chocolate at the bottom of the glass, the coffee was terrible. Our best Liége waffle was at the Leonidas stand.

Frites: Oh, the frites...these were heavenly. There were fewer frites stands than I expected, but we were able to find enough to satisfy us. We tried all sorts of toppings, since we got frites daily. Gabe got "pickles" on his first serving of frite, which ended up being like a curry pickle rather than the dill pickles we were for some reason expecting. Nonetheless, he adored them, and got pickles on his frites whenever possible. We also enjoyed the traditional mayonnaise, samurai (mayonnaise with chili pepper), pili-pili (mayonnaise with a different, and hotter pepper), and provençale (a tomato-based sauce with sweet peppers). We had no idea what any of these toppings would be until we got them; it was fun opting for a roulette-mode of frites sauce shopping. By the end, though, Nicolas and Siena preferred their frites plain. Belgium is the birthplace of the fry (no matter what the French would have you believe), and they have certainly perfected it. Double-fried for super-crisp outsides and lusciously soft insides, these are fries worth flying to Belgium for.

Chocolate: This was so much fun. Our first day, we visited four chocolate shops, purchased about 100 grams of chocolate at each, and that night back at the hotel, we compared them. In the running: Neuhaus, Godiva, Galler, and Mary (which the New York Times reports is where the Belgian Royal Family gets their chocolates—but according to the lovely gentleman who we met on the airplane and offered us a ride to our hotel from the airport, the royal family is a bit odd, and the son who will inherit the crown is a bit of a national embarrassment). Our assessment? Neuhaus, hands down. The selection was wonderful, the chocolates were clearly labeled (strangely, they weren't labeled in the Godiva shops, and it's a real pain to have to ask what every single chocolate is until you hit upon one you want), the chocolate itself was nuanced and rich, their traditional praline was a cavalcade of harmonious flavors and textures (an almost crisp bottom supported a rich ganache, and the whole thing was "enrobed," as they like to say, in a perfect layer of chocolate). Mary's chocolate had an almost plastic-y feel and taste, though we did appreciate their handing the children bars of chocolate right as we entered the shop. All of Godiva's chocolates tasted the same, and they were all verging on too sweet. Galler's raspberry tasted fishy, and the rest we thought were too sweet. Also, the flavors weren't very clearly delineated; we bought a pain d'epices chocolate, but I couldn't figure out which chocolate it was. Whereas with Neuhaus, when there was a bit of a chocolate left on the plate, I popped it in my mouth and could immediately know which one it was.

On our final day, we compared Wittamer and Neuhaus. This was a virtual tie: Siena and Nicolas both preferred Neuhaus because Neuhaus made their favorite flavor (violet for Siena, the traditional praline with a coffee-flavored chocolate inside for Nicolas), Keith and I vacillated. Wittamer certainly had some delicious varieties, including pistachio marzipan, cognac cream, and pepper. In any case, we vastly enjoyed entering these beautiful chocolate shops, breathlessly running our eyes over the variety of textures and and shapes, carefully making selections, and then comparing them later.

Chocolate has its own culture in Brussels. It's literally an art form. At one chocolate shop, they had huge hippos sculpted out of chocolate. Beautiful marbles made from chocolate. There's a hushed and reverent quality to chocolate shops, and the language around chocolate seems to rival that around wine.

Beer: I'm not much of a beer drinker, but Belgium threatened to make me one. This was some incredible beer. I loved the peach lambic, and Keith enjoyed it all, particularly Westmalle Tripel (a Trappist beer) and Omer Traditional Blonde. He even liked the gueuze beer, which Use-It (who publishes an irreverent and highly informative online map of Brussels) quips "tastes more like vomiting beer than drinking it." On our first day, he bought a few bottles of various beers to have back at the hotel while unwinding in the evenings (Siena and I used the bathtub for our unwinding—it felt so incredible to have a warm bath again). But one morning he had a beer with breakfast, and to rationalize it, came up with a rhyme that is now our family motto: "Wine before beer, never fear; beer before coffee, never scoff-y." I know, it doesn't make any sense, but we found it hysterical.

Our favorite place for beer was A la Mort Subite, and when I say it was our favorite, I mean it was the only beer hall we went to. We went the first day, and loved it so much we couldn't bring ourselves to go anywhere else. The building is glorious, their selection of beer is incredible, and each is served in its own special glass unique to the type of beer. The children got sirop drinks (mint, grenadine, or cassis syrup in a glass, served alongside a beautiful bottle of either still or sparkling water) or warm milk, served with both chocolate and a cookie. The first day, Gabe didn't finish his milk, and the waiter laughed that it was because he was already finished his chocolate. So then he brought more chocolates for all three children, much to their delight. The last day, we ordered "Belgian ham" with our beer, and that was delicious—A thick slab of shredded ham, molded and covered in aspic, cubed with toothpicks and served with grainy mustard. I would've liked it even better with some cornichon, but it was wonderful anyway.

Cheese: Okay, this was a bit of a disappointment. I'd read that Belgium produces 300 kinds of cheese, the same number as France, which for a country a fraction of the size of France is pretty remarkable. I expected great things from a region that clearly has deeply defined cheeseways. Now, it should be said that I don't think we properly served any of the cheeses we purchased, so it's quite possible that given different circumstances I might have loved the cheeses. But the Fromage de Bruxelles—the washed-rind cheese I'd so looked forward to—was so salty I couldn't eat it. The Herve, a light variant of Limburger, was chalky rather than unctuous, though it may have been better at room temperature and on a good, dark bread. I did enjoy the Passendale—it didn't meet my need for runny, barny cheese, but it was quite excellent. But the best of all? Butter. The butter was astonishing.

I enjoyed shopping for cheese at Cremerie de Linkebeek, the fromagerie where we purchased our cheeses. The woman who assisted us both times had a lovely glowing complexion, like she was raised on milk and cheese and butter, and the light in the shop made it feel warm and inviting. They did have wonderful selection of French cheese there, even a tiny Èpoisses which set Siena's and my hearts a-skipping, but we agreed (well, Siena did not agree) that we should really try Belgian cheeses, since you can only find them in Belgium. It was at this cheese shop where we realized another difference between Belgium and Italy. Italy is all about prevarication—it takes people 10 minutes to argue about what goes in a good pasta sauce, even when they already agree with each other. In Brussels, there was no room for lingering decision making. I asked the woman at the fromagerie to recommend a Belgian cheese, a bit smelly, and she showed me one, and when I nodded that that looked like it could work, she began to cut it. I thought there would be a sample, or another option presented. Same with at the chocolate shops. If we pointed to a chocolate to ask what it was or even pointed a chocolate out to another family member, the employee would start to put it in a bag. But wait! Shouldn't we talk about it? I guess we're not going to talk about it.

Coffee: We'd been worried about the coffee. I should probably watch out for retribution from French nationals the next time I leave my house for saying this, but I think French coffee is horrid, and I expected Belgian to be much the same. Acrid, with an almost grease-trap flavor undertone, not to put too fine a point on it. So we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of most of the coffee we had. It was delicious! Almost as good as Italian coffee, though at three times the price, and without the casual approach. Coffee is a bit of a ritual in Brussels. It's served on a silver tray, with a piece of chocolate or a small cookie. Which is lovely in its way, particularly if it had been just Keith and I, and our coffee addiction permitted just one cup of caffeinated elixir a day, and we'd been able to linger over our brew. As it is, I need two coffees a day, Keith needs three to four. And we couldn't really take the coffee to go. Some places didn't have take-away cups, and even when restaurants did (no bars, like in Italy, where they are set up for all manner of coffee needs), it would often be a big cup, even for an espresso. I enjoyed my lait russe, the delicious Belgian equivalent of a café au lait, but I think given our circumstances, I would've preferred my coffee more casual, and less of an event. Or at least have the second cup be casual. It was nice to feel treated to this one special cup, as long as the kids were playing happily in the square.

Restaurants: We knew we wouldn't eat at many restaurants (waffles make an excellent breakfast, frites make an excellent lunch), so we chose carefully. We had one lunch at the restaurant at the top of the Museum of Musical Instruments, and that was fabulous. The view, even in the rain, was extraordinary, and it is one of those buildings where looking out of it reminds one constantly of what a remarkable building it is. The edges of the windows were flocked with a wrought iron design that was compelling. The meal was equally compelling—the children each got a plate of chicken breast (which tasted as if it had been delicately poached in broth and herbs) with delicious gravy, frites, and an applesauce that was reminiscent of homemade apple pie filling. And a bargain at €10,00 a plate. Keith and I each ordered a steak. After we ordered it, we realized we should've ordered a salad or something with it, but we'd forgotten that since we were in Brussels, not Italy, sides come with your meal! So alongside our delicious steak was a sauce that was at once velvety and savory, frites, and a lovely salad! Hooray!

We had the same experience at Fin de Seicle, we were delighted when our dinner came with more than we expected. And that dinner was the best meal we ate in Brussels. Totally fabulous. I had the carbonnade (a beef stew made with beer, rich and soul satisfying), Keith had rabbit cooked in cherry beer (sublime in how it was hearty and light at the same time), and the kids shared a plate of sausage and stoemp (mashed potatoes with onions and herbs)and ham (which was a still on the bone, and covered with a delightful mustard sauce—Gabe and Siena's favorite dish). The whole experience there was amazing. The restaurant was packed, the menu was on the chalkboard, the beer selection was marvelous, and our waitress was smiling and accommodating. I ordered for myself and the children, but had wanted one more visit to the board to make sure I had the spelling, and thus the rough pronunciation down. But she nodded along to my shakey French with a warm smile. We elected Nicolas, who was delighting in his role as interpreter, to ask for boxes to take home our leftovers. I enjoyed watching the words dawn on him, as he played with how to ask while he finished his meal. He was thrilled when he hit upon exactly how to do it, and then he seamlessly said his run of French (my mother would be so proud) to the waitress, who smiled with an immediate, "Bien sûr!"

Our last dinner was at Le Zinneke, a restaurant noted for its slow food approach to mussels. The restaurant was cozy, particularly after our sunset time at the nearby park beforehand (a lovely park with ponds, bridges, donkeys, a playground, and even rabbits hopping around). The service was very slow, and we narrowly avoided missing our tram back to the hotel, but the mussels were delicious. I don't think they were necessarily more delicious than when I make them, but it did feel wonderful to each have a heavy black pot of steaming mussels. Perhaps our experience would have been heightened if we'd chosen wackier sauces. They offer 69 options, but we all felt compelled to keep it simple. Only Keith branched out from a variant of what I would've made at home (garlic, white wine, cream) with his lardongueuze, and mushrooms. With our bill, they brought Keith and I a chilled glass of apple liquor, and the children a mini-tall glass of apple juice (that Nicolas thought tasted fresh-pressed, it had a nice sour bite to it). Unfortunately, knowing that our tram was coming, we hardly enjoyed it. As it was, we had to leap over the gate to get to the tram.

The other dining-out experience wasn't quite a restaurant. Noordzee (or Mar du Nord, everything in Brussels has two names to accommodate both the French and Flemish speakers of this language divided country) is a fish market in St. Catherine's square, around the corner from our apartment. They have a few table with umbrellas in front of their stand, but they are tall tables, with no chairs. Gabe had to walk around savoring his fried shrimp, but he didn't seem to mind. That might have been the best shrimp I've ever had. Impossibly fresh, with a crunchy fried coating that extended the savory flavor of the shrimp, rather than cloaking it. We also ordered two shrimp croquettes. A common dish on the coast, these were breaded and fried ovals of shrimpy goodness. The shrimp were whole, and in a creamy, almost tomato-y preparation. I don't know what it was, but it was roughly the consistency of thin mashed potatoes. My favorite, though, was the fish soup...It was perfect for that rainy, Belgian afternoon. Slightly spicy, with enough diced vegetables to give it texture, and enough fish to give it a deep flavor. It was so good that when we smelled them making it the next morning at 9 AM, we wanted a bowl for breakfast.

We missed the other fabulous seafood in St. Catherine's square. There is a seafood stall which sells oysters on weekends that are supposed to be absolutely amazing. We saw the stand, but it was in the morning, too early even for me to stomach the idea of a chilled oyster. And, besides, there was confusion about if they would shuck them, even if we came back later. But I'm sorry we missed them.

We also missed out on Asian food. There were a wide variety of Asian restaurants between St. Catherine's square and the Grand Place, so many that even Keith was tempted. But we were never in that area around lunchtime, which is when we didn't have pre-determined meal plans. It's too bad, we saw a woman making noodles by hand in the window of one restaurant—it was fascinating, and would've been a great time to get pho.

Museums: I bet you thought I'd never move on from food! We spent the rainy Saturday in museums, which was perfect. First, we went to the Magritte Museum, as Magritte is Nicolas's favorite artist. This is no surprise—Magritte's absurdist art, executed with precision, is right up Nicolas's alley. He loved it. Gabe loved the Dyson Airblade hand dryer in the bathroom. It was a great museum, and it definitely gave me a better idea of Magritte (enough to raise my level of fascination with the man and his life, though I wish I spoke Flemish or French so I could've understood the captions on his memorabilia). It was wonderful to see so many of his pieces in one place, however some of the pieces that Nicolas particularly was hoping to see are at larger museums, which was a bit disappointing. I promised Nicolas that when we get back to the U.S., we'll go to the MoMA so he can get up close and personal with his favorites. This isn't as altruistic as it seems. After all, I'll get some waffles.

The other museum we went to was the Musical Instruments Museum. Words cannot express how much I loved this museum. In fact, I'm finding it hard to write, all I want to do is sit back dreamily and remember how happy I was in the MIM. It's not a museum I would've necessarily gone out of my way for, except that it was praised so highly on and on Rick Steves' travel site. And I figured, it's Nicolas' birthday trip, I bet he'd like to see some instruments. Maybe. I had no idea how fabulous it would be.

The museum displays about 1,000 of it's 9,000 instrument collection. The instruments are amazing works of art in themselves—the beautifully-crafted pianos had paintings or intricate inlaid wood designs that made our jaws drop, the cellos had designs on the backs like a secret, the harps were topped with carvings of astonishing detail. But the gift of the museum is the headsets. With the museum admission, each person got a headset. On the floor of the museum, periodically there'd be an icon of a headset in front of a musical instrument. When the wearer of the headset approached the the icon, the music of that instrument began. The music was absolutely gorgeous. I like music a lot, but I wouldn't class myself as a music lover, yet I sat in front of that harp exhibit for what must've been at least 15 minutes. I didn't even know I liked harp music. But I stood there, my eyes welling with tears, gazing with fondness at these glorious instruments, as if I played them myself. And then, in perhaps the greatest accident, I discovered that the music continues until the song ends or I moved to another icon. So I moved across a ballroom to the other side of the exhibit, with harp music filling my ears. When I got to the other side, I was at the pianos, so once lilting piano music suffused my soul, I went back to the ballroom. I felt like I was at the Netherfield ball, in my silk faille gown, moving down a line of dancers. I showed Nicolas and Siena how to "pick up" the music and take it into the ballroom. They immediately started dancing. It was impossible not to.

Siena and I curled up on a bench in front of one of the string exhibits and just let the music wash over us, our eyes closed to better drink it in. All five of us danced like idiots in front of the Mexican instrument display on the world music level. We stayed so much longer than we anticipated that the battery of Nicolas' headset ran out (in the Jew harp section, which he loved and called, "boingy music"), and we were shocked when we heard the announcement that the museum was closing. Closing! Impossible! But we still had a floor and a half to go! We'd been there hours and hadn't even noticed the passage of time. It was heartbreaking to leave.

And the gift shop was closed. We'd been hoping to be able to buy some CD's, since that music was extraordinary. No luck. We were so disappointed—we even went back to the gift shop the next day, but it was still closed. As we walked out, a realization occurred to me. I loved that museum with a passion I reserve for museums like the Lower East Side Tenement Museum or museums that display kitchens from yesteryear. I think it's because with the music playing in my ears while I admired the beautiful instruments, it was easy to imagine the people that must have played those instruments. In private homes in the evening with a circle of family, or in ballrooms, or recital halls. These instruments were played, they were part of people's lives. I tell you, that museum was a full body experience.

Language: As I mentioned earlier, making French words leave our lips was difficult. Even when we did say the French word rather than the Italian word, our accents are just absolutely terrible. Frankly, it's embarrassing. But, when we were understood, it felt incredible, even though it would take the listener a beat to understand what we were saying. Nicolas fared much better, and got some surprised looks when he asked, "êtes-vous ouvert demain?" ("are you open tomorrow?") on the heels of our fumbling asking for coffee. My attempts were downright laughable. And by that I mean they made people laugh. On our last morning, Keith was picking up sandwiches at Cremerie de Linkebeek, and Nicolas was supervising the children in the square, so I needed to go into the restaurant and ask for coffee to go on my own. Since our arrival, I had noticed in myself my old trepidation in speaking that I've mostly gotten over in Italy. But the night of our arrival, I had a dream that I was sitting against a wall and a big, strong man swept me up and led me into a dance. I felt carried and supported. I like interpreting dreams as if each person in the dream is an aspect of me, so I took this to me that my strong side wanted a chance to lead. So in the middle of my asking Nicolas for what I should say, and how I should ask, I stopped myself. Nevermind, I'd just try it and see what happened. I walked in and asked for a lait russe and an espresso, "a la maison." I figured this probably meant "to the house" and that would get the question across. The waiters both stopped for a second, and one asked, "take away?" To which I responded "oui," and both of them burst out laughing. One of the waiters would chuckle every time he passed me, one time even stopping to look at me, then saying, "a la maison! ha!" Keith thinks maybe I asked for it on the house. Nicolas doesn't think so, he thinks it was just unusual construction. I don't know. But it wasn't so bad. And I was proud of myself for just trying.

Language in general is fascinating in Brussels. Flemish and French are both spoken everywhere, and we heard multiple conversations in which one person was speaking French and the other Flemish. I actually even heard one conversation at the restaurant where we got coffee in which the cook was speaking accented English to the waiter, who was answering in French. The man who drove us to the hotel from the airport told us that Flemish is spoken by more people in Belgium than French, which creates problems since the government is made up of primarily French speakers. But, he added, the country will never split as they are prophesied to do because both halves of the country would want Brussels. I don't blame them.

Shopping: We didn't do much food shopping since we were street-food obsessed, but we did do some souvenir shopping, and that was more fun than that activity usually is. In the Place du Grand Sablon (where we purchased our second round of chocolates), we stumbled across artisan tents. We bought Siena a stuffed hedgehog, that she named Guaffle, in honor of our joke of not being able to pronounce "gaufre" the French word for "waffle." I had been wanting to get her a stuffed animal, as I thought it might soothe her homesick nights to have a new animal. And she had forgotten to pack any stuffed animals for the trip, to the start of tears that first night until Gabe gave her his stuffed puppy and Nicolas wrapped his orange shirt around an empty water bottle and dubbed it "aranciata" for her. She loves Guaffle. So do the boys. They are all three continuously arguing for who gets to hold him.

We went to a fabulous children's bookstore, the Wolf, where we got Gabe his souvenirs. This bookstore is like a fairyland, with trees and a little wooden house (if you go though, be warned, there are cabinet doors within the house that shield a projector to show movies inside the house—quite fun—that children slightly hopped-up on sugary waffles can slam a bit too loudly, bringing the attendant over with a worried frown). The book selection is unlike anything I've ever seen. Some truly wonderful choices, though unfortunately for us, the English language section was sparse. We got Gabe a kit to sew special paper birds, since he's been wanting to sew, and a paper castle and people that he can color and use for his deep imaginative games.

Nicolas claimed not to want anything, but we realized the perfect thing for him—gummy candies and a new Tintin comic book. For those who don't know, Herge, the creator of Tintin, was Belgian; in fact our menus at Le Zinneke were in hardback Tintin comic books. Lucky for us (or rather, this is how we came up with such a perfect souvenir), there is an intense candy store right next to the Tintin store right off the Grand Place. The candy store is called SUCX, and has hundreds of bins of gummy candy, complete with descriptions that include the texture of the candy and the flavor notes. Seriously. He got a huge bag with a little of each, while I was with the little kids in the Tintin store. Nicolas has read all the Tintin comic books, but only owns two, and Siena has never even read one! So we got two, and it was marvelous to go to Mort Subite afterwards, where the kids read their new Tintin comic books and we just relaxed and took in the energy and beauty of the place. And later that night, I heard the rustling of Nicolas's gummy bag, in time to the turning of comic book pages. Happy boy.

As for me, I brought home a beautiful tin of speculoos cookies from Dandoy. I love speculoos cookies, they smell like Christmas, and I am only afraid that I might not model good sharing behavior of my treats. And my tin is so sweet, and will be a consistent reminder of a lovely vacation.

City: It was so much fun being in a city, particularly such a manageable one. Nicolas says that Brussels is his all-time favorite city, which is actually no surprise to me. His favorite foods, a beautiful city, graphic art on the walls, the home of his favorite artist, and best of all—the smells. I know that sounds funny. But the smells were incredible. We couldn't get over it and suspect that perhaps the tourist board is piping them in. Everywhere we went we smelled something amazing. Garlicky mussels, sweet waffles, bubbling frites, and something that smelled like rich gravy. Marvelous. We actually hung out outside the Leffe restaurant, just inhaling the warm smells wafting up from the kitchen. It's true that the smell sense triggers memories and feelings more than any other sense. We would stop and just inhale, and feel moved to giddiness. Keith was beside himself, so in love with Brussels that he glared at it like he glares at a particularly good pork chop. Gesturing around wildly, unable to get hold of how amazing everything looked and smelled. "Look at that menu! You know it must be tasty, because its written in fancy French upright script!" "Look at that building! It's too beautiful!" "Look at this panorama! Have you ever seen anything like it?" "Do you smell that waffle smell? When we get home, I want to turn my work van into a waffle van. Just for me." I'm not sure why it resonated with all of us so much (beyond the obvious allure of our perpetual waffle and chocolate coma). We did note that their were pieces of Brussels that were evocative of other cities we love, but without a feeling of being a mixed-up jumble. Some of the buildings were Parisian in their design, others distinctly Flemish, there were some tall and modern glass buildings that reminded us of New York, but the casual-be-yourself vibe and the food carts reminded me of Portland. It had beautiful parks and grand public squares like the best European cities. All with a cohesive feel. We never lost sight of the fact that we were in Brussels.

And we haven't lost sight of wanting to go back. We planned this trip with the intention that for each person's birthday we'dtake a trip designed for them. Now we're thinking that for each person's birthday we'll go to Brussels.