Peach cobbler in Atlanta? Crab cakes in Baltimore? How about pizza in Naples, or sushi in Tokyo?
High-minded folks may tell you that travel is not about the food. I love to travel. And I agree. There is so much more to travel than the different kinds of foods you can find around the world.
But travel’s not not about the food, either.
If you’re not slathering French Camembert on a fragrant baguette in Lyon, or slurping fresh-cut Hawaiian pineapple at a beach resort on Maui, you’re missing a delightful piece of the travel pie: Food. And it occurred to me that remembering our experiences relative to the food we ate might be a fun way to tell you about our trip to Belgium and The Netherlands with my buddy, Ginny.
It started in Brussels . . . .
I can’t sleep on an overnight flight. I just can’t. Turns out Ginny couldn’t, either. So by the time we landed in Brussels on Saturday morning (and after standing in line for forty minutes to go through immigration at the airport), we were beyond tired. Fortunately, our room at the Park Inn by Radisson near the Brussels airport was ready when we arrived (nice room, reasonable cost, great staff – definitely recommend). After collapsing for nearly a four-hour nap, we roused ourselves to walk to the local train station and, after deciphering how to actually buy tickets, rode to the center of Brussels to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening.
Late afternoon in the center of Brussels is – magical. There were people everywhere, and honestly, they mostly looked like locals. Families strolled along eating ice cream cones, and friends enjoyed a beer and conversation sitting shoulder-to-shoulder at the many tables perched outside cafes in the city Centrum. Street musicians played upbeat tunes and shoppers clustered around little tented booths checking out handcrafted jewelry, jars of honey and jam, candles, etc.
We were starving and walked into the closest restaurant, the Brussels Grill. I later learned on line that this is kind of a small chain of steak houses in the area, but I’m pretty sure that the restaurant where we ate was on the rue marché aux Herbes near the city’s magnificent Grand Place.
Chain or not, that first dinner turned out to be the very best meal of our entire trip. Belgium is famous for its mussels (moules) and French fries (frites), and that’s what Ginny chose. Her order was perfectly cooked in white wine and Ginny said they were the best mussels she’d ever eaten.
I ordered the steak-frites (a ribeye with French fries) and it, too, was fabulous. The steak was juicy and tender, and the fries were an unlikely combination of being fluffy, but very crisp. I know we were really, really hungry, but seriously? If you find yourself looking for a place to eat in Brussels, the Brussels Grill won’t disappoint. Ginny also ordered a beer that she loved, but sadly, we were too jet-lagged to remember to take a picture of the bottle so she could find it again.
The second fabulous food moment in Belgium took place on the last day of our trip in the tiny village of Sint-Katelijne-Waver.
Our European adventure was nearly over and I’d yet to try a genuine Belgian waffle. I’d promised myself that I couldn’t leave without fulfilling that particular foodie dream.
You may be wondering how we ended up in Sint-Katelijne-Waver. I’m pretty sure the residents wondered the same thing, especially after Ginny entered a roundabout going the wrong direction and had to back out of the town square while traffic patiently waited for us to correct our path.
Allow me back up the story just a bit, too . . .
That morning we had packed the car and closed up the Airbnb house we’d rented in Dordrecht, Netherlands. We planned to stop in Antwerp to see the sites before dropping off the rental car and returning to the Park Inn for our last night in Belgium. By then we’d actually gotten pretty good at driving (Ginny – what a pro!) and navigating (me – interpreting the GPS as needed) in The Netherlands. But as we left Holland and approached Antwerp, the traffic became very heavy and progress slowed to a turtle’s pace. Prudence, our GPS, kept suggesting alternate routes and we finally agreed to follow her advice.
We exited the Antwerp ring road to find ourselves immersed in what I’m calling the Bagdad of Antwerp. In addition to pedestrians darting everywhere wearing burkas, head scarves, and assorted caps and turbans, there was construction, buses pulling in and out from the curb, a trolley and tracks running down the middle of the street, and oh, yeah, cars everywhere. There was nothing that felt threatening or uncomfortable about the location; it was just unexpected. At one point we waited for a woman wearing a hijab to park her tiny car in a space roughly the size of the love seat in my living room. I had to lean out the window and give her a thumbs up (I hope that’s understood universally) as we passed around her. I was impressed.
By this time Ginny had been battling this urban free-for-all for about twenty minutes. I turned to her and said, “So, do you still want to search for the center of Antwerp or would you like to explore the countryside?”
With Ginny’s relieved endorsement for Plan B, I quickly gave Prudence a new destination somewhere between Antwerp and the airport and we escaped from the city without incident. When we saw signs for Sint Katelijne, it kind of looked like my full name, Kathleen, so we decided to follow the signs to that sweet little village.
There we walked around the quiet square and randomly chose to stop for lunch at the Ice Cream Parlor De Joppe. The courtly French-speaking gentleman who directed us to our table outside in the sunshine turned out to be the owner of the restaurant. When I explained that I was soon to leave Belgium but had yet to sample a waffle, he convinced his wife to heat up the waffle iron (there was something I didn’t quite understand about the weather being too warm for waffles) and soon was served a gorgeous, crispy, golden waffle topped with fresh strawberries and homemade whipped cream. It tasted even better than it looks in the photo.
Stay tuned for more stories about food and fun in the Netherlands. I’d try to say goodbye in Dutch, but after more than a week there, the language remained pretty much incomprehensible to us. Dutch makes German look easy and sound melodious. Think about that for a sec.
As my friend Sue would say, a tout a l’heure!