Crossroads' associate editor Judy Koutsky departed for a press
tour of Belgium on June 4. Armed with a laptop and digital camera,
she is chronicling her experiences for close-to-real-time
publication on the Web site. Following is her first
BRUSSELS, Belgium -- If nothing else, visitors to Belgium soon
will realize that Belgians do not take their consumption lightly.
It's only the end of our first day here, and I already feel the
need to steer clear of the bathroom scale.
We started the day walking around the Grand-Place, which is the
town center. Here, the enormous, gothic Hotel de Ville (town hall)
looms over the gilded facades of the adjacent buildings, which are
decorated in an ornate, baroque fashion. Posh shops and outdoor
cafes complete the picture and draw both tourists and Belgians to
its core. This is where we stopped for lunch to take in the
architecture and plan our afternoon. (These cafes are also great
for a coffee or beer break any time of day.)
The first stop after lunch was the Musee d'Art Ancien (Museum of
Ancient Art), where an impressive collection of Bruegels and Rubens
reside. Just down the street sits the Musee d'Art Moderne, which
has eight subterranean levels; clients should not expect to get
through them in a day. Both of these museums are worth a visit.
After the museum,
we walked along the quaint cobblestone streets past charming
storefronts back to the Grand-Place, where we visited the Brewery
Museum. Belgium does not have a climate conducive to winemaking,
but the country makes up for it with its beers. With over 350 to
chose from, it's impossible not to find one that's appealing to
even the most finicky palate.
Walking into the cellar, we were transformed to a 18th century
pub complete with dark wooden booths and a friendly, talkative
bartender. After touring the museum, which contained interactive
computers that explained the beer-making process from antiquity to
present, the bartender gives visitors complimentary tastes of that
day's brew. The Brewery Museum changes the type of beer it serves
every three days so different brews get exposure. Not a bad reason
to keep coming back here.
From there, we
headed to the chocolate shops. Belgium, home of Godiva, is world
renowned for it's chocolate, and it's not hard to taste why. We
went into several shops sampling different qualities and flavors
before heading to Planete Chocolat. This storefront shop, which has
been around for only two years, hand-designs each of its chocolate,
creating what it calls "pieces of art." The owner gave us a
demonstration of the intricate process and tried to explain how
deep-seeded chocolate is in Belgian society. We watched, listened,
sipped our hot chocolate and ate our miniature masterpieces,
understanding his point.
more walking offered a chance to burn off some of those delicious
calories and to take in more of the cities' many sites, including
the famous Manneken-Pis Fountain.
Brussels is often the first stop in Belgium for tourists, and
it's not a bad idea to take it easy the first day. Visiting a few
museums, walking around the Grand-Place, sampling cheese,
chocolates and beer was the perfect way to acclimate ourselves to
this sometimes overlooked European capital city.
Beer and Chocolate: A Great First Day in Belgium
Downpours Don't Dampen Bruges' Appeal
the Waterzooi: Small Pleasures in Ghent
Battle of the (Abdominal) Bulge