Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Hostess with the Mostess

In the past few weeks, I have been very lucky to receive many visitors! I was so excited for everyone to arrive, that I spent a lot of time researching and planning how we would spend our time while they were here. I did my best to select the best sights, activities, restaurants, etc so that everyone would fall in love with Brussels as much as I have! After weeks of planning and one long day of cleaning my little apartment from top to bottom, I was already exhausted... but the fun was only beginning!

My time with my guests lasted about three weeks. The first to arrive were my mom, Julie, her cousin, Judy and Judy's granddaughter, Phie. Next it was my boyfriend's sister, Jennifer and her husband, Sam. Lastly came my dad, Doug.

It was a challenging group to please. I haven't been here very long, yet I had to entertain my mom, her cousin who used to live in Belgium, a twelve year old girl studying French, two young, well traveled, food and beer enthusiasts, and my dad. Another challenge was having two vegetarians who visited! Since I am not a vegetarian myself (yet... if I have another horse meat encounter I probably will be), I had no idea how difficult it can be to find vegetarian friendly dishes that are still yummy! In Belgium, where the cuisine is heavily based on meat, this is an especially hard feat. (If you are a vegetarian visiting Brussels, you should check out Dolma in Ixelles!)

Phie, Judy and Me in front of Dolma
Despite all of the challenges standing in our way, I was surprised and pleased to see how everyone became flexible and willing to compromise! Maya Angelou said, “I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.” I think she is most certainly right, but for us it was more like many rainy days, the time change, and limited wifi access. Traveling isn't easy, but if you can learn to go with the flow it is so so fun! I admire everyone who came to visit me for making the best out of every situation! :)
  There were a few highlights of each visit. With my mom, it was dinner on our first night together! We went to Aux Armes de Bruxelles, right off of the Grand Place. We didn't have a reservation, so we ended up having to wait for a fairly long time before a table was available. While we were waiting, someone came to collect our coats and someone else came along to give us free champagne! Everything we had to eat was delicious! It was such a fun evening of catching up and savoring every bite of our fabulous Belgian meal. In the middle of the room we were seated in there was a small stove top and a few supplies. At first, we weren't sure what it was for. After a while, a waiter started firing up the stove and everyone in the room was watching intently as he began to prepare crepes suzette. It was so fun to see the orange liquor burst into flame! A wave of heat ran through the room and everyone cheered! After this show, everyone was ordering crepes suzette so that we could watch them light the fire over and over. My mom and I however, opted for the profiteroles with ice cream in the middle and hot chocolate sauce on top. My oh my were they good. My mom is still talking about them four weeks later! I think I will have to go back, even if it is just for dessert! It was such a fun evening, and the start to a wonderful trip with my mom!

                         Profiteroles after

My favorite part of my time with Judy, Phie and my mom was our afternoon at the Grand Place. After lots of walking around and shopping, we were all exhausted and decided to go in to Delirium for an early happy hour! Per usual, I was slightly turned around and we had to wander a bit and ask directions before we found it. While we were wandering, Judy spotted a bar that she had gone to while she was living in Belgium. She had fond memories of having her first Gueuze there, so we decided that we must go and have a Gueuze all together! The name of the bar was Taverne le Cercueil, which means The Coffin Tavern. In order to get in you had to walk down a long dark hallway from the street. It was kind of dirty and was most certainly not a likely entrance to even the shadiest of bars. Once we got to the next door, which was unmarked, you had to climb up a few stairs and then enter the pitch black bar with only black lights to guide your way. We found some seats right next to a table that was a glass coffin! There were funeral flowers as decorations, skulls, etc. If it had to do with death, it was there. Judy had prepared us for what to expect before we got in, but my mom was still super freaked out. She was in fight or flight mode, jumping at the slightest strange movement or noise. While Judy and I enjoyed our Gueuze beers and my mom her glass of white wine our eyes began to adjust to the lighting and my mom began to relax. By the end of our drinks, we were laughing, but we still only stayed for one drink! We ended up finding Delirium right away after leaving the Taverne le Cercueil. Here, we all got to witness my mom drink (and enjoy) her first full beer EVER. I couldn't believe she had never finished a beer before, but if you are going to do it, Belgium is definitely the right place! She ended up liking the Gueuze too. It is beer that has a natural bubbliness to it like champagne because of the CO2 that gets sealed in the bottle... however we all knew that the prettier the glass she was drinking out of the better she liked the beer! Before leaving to go to dinner, we stopped at the Floris bar and Judy, my mom and I each took a shot of absinthe! It was so much fun!! Unfortunately Judy and Phie could only stay for a week and the time went by much too quickly! We will share lots of great memories of our time trudging through the rain together though! 

With the arrival of Jen and Sam, came the arrival of slightly better  weather... it was still absolutely freezing, but the rain had let up. We visited lots of great restaurants and sampled lots of great beers! We went to Delirium again (a must for all visitors of Brussels) and this time Lilian came to join us. It was... how should I say this... pretty awkward. I mean Lilian is just awkward to begin with, but it was loud and hard to hear each other and we are all native English speakers so his language abilities were just not sufficient enough to hold conversation. I felt bad that I had invited him and I promised that when his cousins are in town after Easter that I would do something with them and we would speak in only French! It seemed like a great idea at the time, but I am already getting nervous for when this day actually comes! 

The best part of my time with Jen and Sam was when we gathered at my apartment for appetizers. My mom and I went to the grocery store and got a few fresh cheeses, some fruit, macaroons and other little snacks that we could sample while drinking more Belgian beer! Jen and Sam brought three kinds of beers to share, one of which was a Chimay reserve (soo delicious)! We had a wonderful time chatting and eating! After a few hours, Jen suggested that we find somewhere to watch the Belgian football (soccer) game. I was hesitant... I am not the biggest sports fan... at all, but I knew of a bar down the street that we could watch it at and wanted everyone to have fun (after all it's not all about me alllll the time). So we finished our last beers, took some beers for the road and headed to the local bar. I pass by this place every time I go to the grocery store. No matter what time of day or night it is, there is always the same small group of older men sitting at the counter drinking. This time, there was a medium size group of old men and a few ladies there. Everyone was intently focused on the game. The bar tender came right over and suggested a bottle of beer for us to try. He was most certainly three times my age, or more, but he was rubbing my arm and whispering in my ear all night! As we started watching the game, I realized how serious these fans were. The man next to us had two hats, an umbrella, two men had flags they were waving... crazy stuff! Oh, and they were all silver backs (hahaha I have been waiting for the right time to use that word). When Belgium scored, the man next to us led a chant and we would all cheer! It was definitely one of the better sports matches I have ever watched! I am thinking about going back to the bar to watch another game! We had so much fun cheering on Belgium, trying on the different hats and soaking up all the attention from the locals (or maybe that was just me). A great night with a great group of people. 

When my dad arrived, my mom and I had already been together for quite a while, and we were soooo tired from all the fun we had been having. I had been going to school, working at my internship, and spending all evening with my guests for two weeks! So for some much needed down time we picked my dad up from the airport and went straight to the mall for a day filled with shopping! Of course my dad was all but thrilled to be taking part in a shopping adventure on the worst day of adjusting to the time difference, but as usual he was a good sport and even offered to carry our purchases for us! :) The three of us did lots of traveling together, but my favorite memory in Brussels was visiting the Cantillon brewery and beer museum together. I had already gone on a tour of the brewery during orientation week, but I loved sharing the experience with my parents! It worked out perfectly since my dad and I had been trying as many different kinds of beers as we could (including one that was 12 euros a bottle... :0 ) and my mom had found a new appreciation for Gueuze, "the champagne of beers". It was also our last full day all together. I couldn't think of a better way than to conclude our time. 

Having visitors was absolutely fabulous! This is the first time I have ever traveled abroad completely alone, so I loved being able to share everything that I have discovered and grown to love on my own with people that mean so much to me! By the time everyone went back home, I was ready to catch up on sleep, homework, and eating healthy. Routine is my best friend so we were happy to be reunited after three weeks apart. 

I will have one more guest, Angelo, at the end of April! I can't wait for him to arrive! :)

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