Stepping off our EasyJet flight in Brussels from Switzerland we quickly made our way off the tarmac and grabbed our bags. We were super relieved when our friend Erwin was waiting for us at the gate. It was cool to see him again and he was being super gracious and acting as our host and tour guide for the weekend.
Brussels was about an hour or so from Genk where we were staying and right away we made a stop in Leuven to check out the town. We explored around a bit and got a taste for the architecture before jumping back into his luxury diesel and heading for the next town. That night we ended up meeting up with some of Erwin’s friends for beers at an Irish pub and ate some authentic Belgian Frites. Completely exhausted we retired back to Erwin’s place where we were greeted by a private room with a double sized blow up mattress complete with bottles of water. We both fell asleep instantly. The next day Erwin treated us to a local traditional breakfast with a large assortment of food and drinks including scrambled eggs with chicken broth and tomatoes, asparagus pate, and a variety of cheese and breads. After breakfast we departed on the Belgian tour Erwin planned out for us.
Erwin’s friend Sophie came to join the tour explaining that she’d never seen our first stop, Gent, in the sober light of day. So this was a new experience for most of us. It was clear when we’d met Erwin in Palermo that he was a proud Belgian, but this side of him came beaming out as he guided us around one of his favorite Flemish cities. We wandered first through St. Baasfs Cathedral. After that, we wandered through the city admiring the old Flemish architecture with complimentary newer storefronts. He took us to Alden Biesen Castle where we passed through dank old guard rooms, chilly stone cellars and a room full of medieval torture devices. We drank some beers canal side then headed in search of lunch. Unfortunately, all the restaurants were full so we decided to move on to the city of Brugge.
When we got to Brugge I pretty much decided that this is where they modeled Super Mario Bros after. Everything is brick, there are castles all over the place, and even the storefront facades are stair stacked like the Mario stairs. We wandered around some more, Erwin would randomly see something that enticed him and would come out with chocolates, waffles, or other goodies in hand to share. It was fun, Erwin and Sophie seemed like they were just as much if not more interested in site seeing, even going into the souvenir shops (which was nice because Naomi and I didn’t feel like total tourists).
We finally gave into our hunger and settled on this nice little place ‘t Fonteintie where 3 out of 4 of us ordered the traditional Flemish Stew. The stew came with Belgian Frites (of course) and was similar to Irish beef stews I have had, it was very good. Naomi ordered rabbit with beer sauce (classic Naomi) which was good but I preferred the Stew.
Full and a little sleepy we headed to Brussels to round off our tour. Wandering around the capital we saw Manneken Pis, the little boy statue peeing and the hordes of tourist replicas in the surrounding shops.
Erwin pulled a quick stop for some white chocolate dipped strawberries which were delicious then we headed to drink more beer. We went to a bar with a phone book sized beer menu, over 2000 to choose from and each had a couple.
After driving us under the colossal “Atomium” built for the world’s fair we were an exhausted group, fighting nodding off in the backseat. I had another night of heavy sleep sinking into air mattress bliss.
For Sunday, Erika, Erwin’s sister joined us for the day and the plan was to head out to see some horses and an ass (there was a lot of joking about the latter).
Not at all sure what to expect we went with a bag of carrots and some apples and found first a donkey and Shetland pony hiding from the rain in their shack. Once they saw Erwin, they came trotting out ready for a snack. They lived on a large farm which also hosted rabbits, bees, several different horses and educational gardens. After feeding the rabbits some carrots too we sought out the big horses, the Brabamders.
They were huge and galloped around like dogs when presented with carrots. After we’d fed them everything we had we moved on to Tongeren, Belgium’s oldest city with a standing Roman wall. There we saw the statue of Ambiorix, the handlebar mustache sporting hero who once chased off Roman forces in Julius Caesar’s day.
Then we headed off to find an abby and drink beer. We found the Abby, meaning we could see it from the road, but the entrance road was closed. Erwin, not easily deterred, decided to take a farm road regardless of some signs that said no cars. Cruising along, next to a field, making good time on a road built for tractors, we hit an unexpected mud patch.
Wheels spinning, flinging dirt clods all over his clean white car it was quickly clear we weren’t getting out of this without a little struggle. So Sean, Erika and I hopped out and pushed first on one end then the other trying really hard not to slip and land face first in the gooey mud. We made it happen and after some further exploration of the paths Erwin brought us to the Abby…as it was closing. So we went to their local Polish pub where Erika’s Polish Dance group meets and tried out their homemade vodka, then a few other types of vodka…
We finished off the day with drinks at the Irish pub for our last night in Belgium.
Sophie came along again the next day to Dusseldorf where we had booked our next flight out of so Erwin would have company for his return trip.
While every time I say Dusseldorf I laugh a little at the name, Erwin and his friends would say “ah Dusseldorf” and get a knowing look in their eyes. Apparently this is where they come to party and to eat chili cheese nuggets from Burger King. After we’d checked at the train station about our departure time we went to drink some beers and tour the city.
It was a beautiful place with some distinctly German-looking people walking the streets. Between beers we walked around a city park that had some black swans and baby ducks that Erwin chased playfully among the busts of famous German composers that lined the paths.
After a last meal together, Erwin and Sophie bid us “adieu” and we prepared ourselves for a long night in the Dusseldorf airport and then Norway.