Brussels seems to focus on food, beer and shopping. No big chain stores here - only a handful of local or European chains. All the rest are boutique with amazing window displays. Kind of like walking into a museum where everything is for sale. Throughout the Grand Market area (where the hotel is located) are small streets and alleys that are lined with restaurants and sidewalk seating. Some of the smaller alleys are filled with the most restaurants and each alley tends to stick to a theme (traditional Belgian, Greek, Italian).
Last night was spent wandering through the alleys sampling some of the local beers at some of the local bars (luckily, there were no more thunderstorms or showers). Dinner was waterzooi, a Belgian stew with chicken in a cream sauce - a hearty meal, but not very flavorful. It was interesting to stop at an Irish bar and find that the Chimay Bleu was only 3.50 but a Guinness was 4.90 euro. The streets and bars were not that crowded - not sure if Monday is generally a night to stay in (many places are closed on Monday as well) or whether the tourists have yet to arrive.
Slept in a bit this morning (the beers have 7-9% alcohol!) and then headed to the Grand Sablon for breakfast at Le Pain. Not surprising given the name, the focus here is on the breads. You sit at a large shared table (think picnic table) with a bunch of jars containing various spreads - milk chocolate, white chocolate, peanut butter?, blueberry, apricot and honey. You select the breads you want and they arrive in a basket along with a small marble slab and knife. Spoon out the different spreads you wish to try and then spread or dip your bread in them and enjoy. They were all quite good, but the blueberry and peanut butter were the best - but I'm not really sure if it was peanut butter or not (couldn't read the label) - it might have been another chocolate variety. The combination I ordered also came with a soft boiled egg. I don't think I've ever had a soft boiled egg before so figuring out how to eat it was a bit of a puzzle. I'm sure I provided a bit of entertainment for others at the table with my trials.
After breakfast I was wandering again, hoping to end up at a place for frites (french fries) that was highly recommended (Mick Jagger had their fries). After getting a bit lost navigating around some massive construction projects (the city seems to be undergoing some huge building projects), I turned a corner and was exactly where I wanted to be. They offer about 30 different toppings for the frites, but mayonnaise is the local favorite so that's what I ordered. The frites are served in a paper cone with a huge dollop of whatever topping you chose - and I mean huge dollop. They were quite good. From what I understand, they are cooked multiple times at two different temperatures - one time is to cook the potato, the other time is to crisp the outside.
I wish I spoke a bit more French. I'm definitely able to get by with English, but would be more comfortable if I could speak natively. When I arrived at the train station, I knew that I needed to take the metro to get to the hotel. I walked up to the ticket counter said "Gare Central" which is where I wanted to go. The response was quite lengthy of which I understood nothing. I asked if he spoke English, he said a little and then repeated the same answer in French, this time a bit more slowly. I got my ticket and hoped for the best. Actually turned out to be relatively easy - there are only two lines (though one line has two branches) and the stations are clearly marked. So, I was able to get on the right train, make the right connection and reach the hotel without trouble. Its interesting that the subway is more or less on the honor system - there are machines to stamp your ticket, but no gates to pass through that require a ticket to gain entry.
Saw an interesting site while walking through the shopping area. As you'd expect in any city, there are beggars every so often. Though, most beggars here are women of what appears to be middle eastern descent, often with children, that neal with their head bowed and hands in prayer. But that's not what was interesting. A dog passed by that was wearing a hat and sunglasses. The dog was also carrying a cup and note in its mouth begging for money (or perhaps a dog treat). I assume he had an owner nearby, but perhaps the dogs here have evolved quite a bit more than in the states.
Coffee here is definitely not a priority. There are few places that focus only on coffee and there appear to be no coffee chains (there is a McDonalds and Pizza Hut). At the places where I have ordered a capacinno (including the hotel bar), the serving size has been small and the quality generally very poor. I guess I'll have to wait until Amsterdam as I hear they have lots of coffee houses. Though I'm not sure they actually sell coffee at the coffee houses I've heard about.