Friday, 23 September 2011


Chocolates. This was the sole reason for adding Brussels to my Euro trip itinerary. And ironically, this was the one thing I didn’t focus on completely. My chocolate exploration was to begin at Planete Chocolat, based on a recommendation by Chris, on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum. Every weekend, they hold chocolate-making demonstrations. So, my excitement was obvious. I’d planned my trip in a way that I would reach Brussels just in time for the demonstration to begin. But with great planning comes great screw-ups. And of course, Mr. Murphy. And so I missed my train from Paris to Brussels by two minutes. I almost cried in frustration as I was really looking forward to it. But the trip must go on... So I paid €90 for the next train, instead of the €45 I’d paid for the train I missed. I got lucky when I booked it online. I then spent the next hour making peace with life’s idiosyncrasies.

I had fairly high expectations from the Thalys train, and it did not fail me. Classy seats and a well-furnished pantry; all I needed now was a good book and some coffee. I added a muffin to this combination. A quick one hour and thirty minutes later, I arrived at Brussels, and immediately headed to Planete Chocolat, where I met Chris. We had missed the demonstration so he offered to take me around Grand Place and show me some prominent spots. 

 A brief glimpse into Planete Chocolat before it closed for the day
Our first stop was the touristy MannekinPis.  How a little peeing boy holding his, ahem, manhood has become such a popular tourist spot left me puzzled. And yet, I found myself following a dozen other tourists and clicking its photograph! What’s interesting is that this naked boy gets an occasional wardrobe change; I was lucky to witness one.

Adjacent to the Mannekin Pis is the Neuhaus chocolate store, probably the oldest chocolate store to open in Brussels. It is also the inventor of the renowned Belgian praliné and the widely replicated ballotin box (a box for pralines that protected chocolates better than other packaging). I was particularly fascinated by their special collections, such as the Tintin collection, where the packaging reflects the comic book character and the Lady Chefs collection that features nine different pralines created by nine renowned female chefs from across the continent. We then moved on to the Royal Galleries and scouted more chocolate shops like Corne Port-Royal and La Belgique Gourmande. My obsession with chocolate led me to do a chocolate tour of my own with Chocopolis, Valrhona and Davina chocolate stores on my list. 


Corne Port-Royal

 La Belgique Gourmande



 I ended Day 1 at a charming local bar called A La Mort Subite—replete with columns, arches, antique mirrors and posters—with Chris. Here, I discovered a fun fact: Most of the beers in Brussels come in their own special glasses that are meant to enhance their flavours. An example:

Chris and I at A La Mort Subite

Day 2
Day 2 began with a cup of coffee and some conversations at the GrandPlace Hostel. As we discussed our passion for life—travel—Marcella—a choreographer from Austria—and I decided to join forces and conquer our yearning for authentic Belgian waffles. It was love at first waffle. Chocolate sauce and whipped cream made themselves comfortable on my waffle, while strawberries daintily sat upon hers. 

 Yet another interpretation of the Mannekin Pis

We headed on towards the Sablon area to catch a flea market that was to pack up in an hour. Walking is one the best ways to discover a new destination, and the cobbled streets in Brussels make it gentle on the feet. One of the things I enjoy most about travelling is that feeling of the unexpected that arises when you don’t know where you’re heading. We walked along many by-lanes and streets with buildings that had graphics from Tintin comics painted on the exterior, finding our way around. The feeling of being lost is just priceless.  

Comic strip bits painted across the city

We finally got on to the Sablon area that is dotted with shops that house abstract art, antique furniture and vintage wear. The items here were really fascinating. One store even had a carousel inside it! We stopped at a vintage wear store, where I simply couldn’t resist buying a beautiful green jacket. The items at the store were gorgeous, it look a hell lot of resistance to restrict myself to just that one jacket. Gowns adorned in lace, fur coats, felt hats and satin gloves, it was like going back to another era.

 Marcella in a carousel, inside a store

The Place du Jeu de Balle Flea Market, my first ever visit to one, had everything you need—furniture, clothes, cutlery and paintings—and things you don’t—signboards, posters and home decor items. Temptation struck again as I bought a colourful knitted open jacket for €3. Once we satiated our shopaholic side, we stopped to satiate our empty stomachs with some sandwiches and coffee. Please note that most often, it shuts by 2pm, so make sure you go earlier to catch it.

We walked on forward around the area that housed the Palais de Justice. A few photographs and grasping views later, we stopped for some coffee and then headed on to pursue our individual itineraries. I began looking for famous chocolatier Pierre Marcolini’s store, based on Chris’ recommendation. Seeing their chocolates with creative elements like pepper, chestnut, sandalwood, oak and earl grey as well as unusual fruits enveloped in chocolate like apple, pear, blackcurrant and melon, I knew I just had to try some! Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford these creative delights, so I stuck with a chunky piece of dark chocolate filled with gooey chocolate mousse with a slight crunchy bottom. all I can say.

We stopped for a coffee and sandwich lunch

Things we saw while walking around...

Chocolates at Pierre Marcolini

Day 3
Day 3 may as well be called ‘Beer Day’ as I found my way to De Bier Tempel and the supremely popular Delirium Cafe and Bar. All those who consider beer sacred or those who have reached crazy levels of obsession collecting beer-related objects must visit
De Bier Tempel. From 50 different types of beer to beer games to a dozen different beer mugs and glasses to souvenirs like fridge magnets to aprons and’s literally all here. If you aren’t a bonafide beer worshipper already, you’ll probably turn into one. Don’t believe me? See for yourself:

The beer journey continues to the Delirium Cafe and Bar, and ends there. Now you’re probably wondering why I said ‘Beer Day’, and then mentioned just two places. What could possibly take all day right? Well, when you have 2,000 different types of beers on the menu, you’re going to want to take you time trying them, don’t you think? Tucked in a
basement in a building down an alley, Delirium has one of the vastest selections of beer in the country, and is usually overflowing with backpackers and locals alike. 

Among my other visits, was a quick tour of the European Parliament; here are some photographs:

LOCATIONS for your reference:

Planete Chocolat: 24, Rue du Lombard 1000 Bruxelles (Grand Place)
Corne Port-Royal: 5, Galerie de la Reine - 1000 Brussels 
La Belgique Gourmande: 19, Galerie de la Reine 1000 Brussels
Chocopolis: 81, Rue du Marché aux Herbes 1000 Brussels
Valrhona: 81, Rue du Marche aux Herbes 1000 Brussels 
A La Mort Subite: 7, Rue Montagne-aux-Herbes Potagères B-1000 Brussels
Grand Place Hostel: Haringstraat 6-8, Brussels, Belgium
Pierre Marcolini: 1, Rue des Minimes, Brussels
Palais de Justice: Place Poelaert, 2 508 6578
De Bier Tempel: 56, Rue du Marché aux Herbes 1000 Brussels
Delirium Cafe and Bar: Impasse de la Fidélité 4A, 2 514 4434

P.S. Most of the places have been hyper-linked to their websites for your reference


Chris said...

Hey great write up and I love the photo with our German friends smiling in the background :-)

Ruchika Vyas said...

Thanks Chris :)

Nasrullah Husami said...

superb. feel like packing my bag and leaving.

Ruchika Vyas said...

You should Nasar!

Ruchika Vyas said...

Thanks Jeremy :) Your itinerary is damn interesting. Will keep it in mind for my next visit!