July 2001

Belgium-Holland Musical Holiday

Brussels, Belgium

July 10





We took Virgin Express cheap seats to Brussels airport, train to Central Station, short walk to the Hotel Mozart - smack in the middle of the Plaka - more Greek restaurants in one place than anywhere but Hellas! The hotel has a charming foyer, filled with antiques, Egyptian glass bottles, Turkish boxes, cut crystal, old paintings, damask comfy lounge chairs, painted design on ceiling trim. Our small clean room with bath was a fair price, one level up in the lift, past a small courtyard with a fountain (lit at night), more stairs to the room - beautiful painted doors here and there along the way.

Our first stop was for a gyro sandwich at Mykonos.  There was a little drizzle as we headed off to the Grand Place - Grote Markt - Large Market Square with its impressive 15th- century Gothic Town Hall and 17th century Renaissance Guild Houses.  It was being set up for a concert. We wandered across and around the Grand Place and into Galerie Royale St. Hubert, the first commercial arcade of its kind in Europe - stops at Monel Umbrella shop, Neuhaus for chocolates (inventors of the praline - exquisite), lace shop, posters, art, glass, great browsing or shopping place with a few excellent restaurants along the way. We left the Galerie by turning  onto Rue des Bouchers through a stream of aromas rising from its many restaurants, a zigzag to Rue a Buerre and the Dandoy bakery with it's famous biscuits, an olive oil and spice shop, some windows and then the Bourse before heading back to the room to rest, Intense center of town.

For dinner we ventured out to Halloween.  This fine restaurant has an unusual and fantastic decor that included vampires, gargoyles, sarcophagi, skull candle holders, wall art, sculptures and oils. Crystal, our waitress was very pleasant and helpful with advice on menu items. We started with a Moinette (rich, cloudy, brown) and a Kwak (spicy but not bitter) beers, a "salade gourmande" (summer time offering of duck foie gras on a bed of frisee and red leaf lettuce adorned with haricots vert, toasted pinoles, smoked duck ham and blood red tomato wedges - the vinaigrette made it undoubted that the chef was French), and a "Cassoulet d'Escargots" (regular offering - baked en croute with a voluptuous and subtly seasoned herb gravy). Next, a Chimay (meaty and spicy double brew with subtle undertones) and a Gueuze (alambic process) beers were served with our entrees - "Brochette d'Autriche (ostrich sauced with a berry and chive blend that balanced well with the cool and gently minty tabbouleh) and a "Filet d'Agneau" (lamb steak resting on a light pan gravy, accompanied by a savory tartin of chard and some whipped potatoes). After dinner, we strolled leisurely back through the Grande Place and (for "good luck") touched the statue of Everard't Serclaes (a 14th century hero) under the arches of the Maison de l'etoile at rue Charles Bul - touched his dog for luck too. And then to bed.


View of the Mozart Hotel

This was our first view of our hotel 

July 11


We had breakfast at 8 am - coffee or tea, orange juice, a croissant, french roll, butter, jelly and boiled egg as part of the hotel's accommodation. We climbed up through the center of the park below the Palais de Congres -a beautiful formal garden with a wild variety of healthy herbs, fountains, neatly trimmed shrubs - most remarkable the lavender, soft scented and lingering. We were on our way to the Museum of Musical Instruments (MIM) on the Place Royal.

Not only is the "Old England" building an incredible example of Horta-like architecture thing (by Satenoy) with nouveau softness and suppleness of line executed in iron work and wood, it is also a marvelous museum for anyone who has any interest in music. There are musical instruments within that cover the entire gambit and include those of a folk nature to a philharmonic genre. Many of these have sound recordings made from the actual instrument that play when one stands in front of it. The combination of sight and sound within the museum resulted in a sensory overload.

A mid-day snack at the Coudenberg was in order - shrimps and frites, salad nicoise, voest malle and orval beers - tasty, simple, a chance to relax. MIM was one of the most fun museums we've been to - guidebook tells all. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 9:30 to 17:00, Thursday 9:30-20:00, Saturday and Sunday 10:00-17:00 and adult admission is 150 BEF (or about $3).

The afternoon was filled with the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium's museums of modern (20th Century from Fauvinism to date) and ancient art (15th to 18th Century). The building is an interesting and expansive structure, but it was difficult if not awkward to negotiate - the lift didn't function and the areas did not circuit easily. The art catalog listed many artists, but often only one or two lesser examples were found (e.g. one Dali, 2 Picassos, etc.). Of note were the Magritte collections (a special exhibition) and the permanent collection of Memling, P.P. Breughel and H. Bosch. There were a plenitude of Belgian artists to the point of redundancy. The most modern pieces focused on the Belgian and were less than exciting. Admission is 200 BEF for both museums, open 10:00-17:00, closed Mondays.

A rest at our hotel prepared us for dinner at the Roue d'Or - exquisite meal! We had lambs tongue (langue d'agneau) in a subtle shallot vinaigrette on arugula salad and clams Provencal (cassoulet de palourdeas) with a pleasant house champagne (Bruno Paillard), a rack of lamb (carre d'agneau) on ratatouille and a "thick" filet mignon (filet de boeuf) with an anchovy, curry and ginger butter and frites with wine of the month (vin du mois) an Haut Medoc. These were followed with espresso, then a cointreau and a vielle eau de prune.

After dinner, we walked to the Grand Place with its music, lights, structures - quite glowing. Back to the room and packing at 11 pm (just now dark), had some strong wind and a little drizzle today - typical of this time of year. Tomorrow, we're off to Holland!


Old England - Museum of Muscial Instruments

This is an absolute "must see and hear" for anyone interested in musical instruments


Brussels Again - May 2005

May 7


We arrived at the Gare du Nord around 7 pm, walked down to the hotel and into the welcoming arms of our friends, Virginia and Harvey (the McQs). After sharing some wine and cheese, to accompany a quick recap of what we had all been doing for the past few days (they had cruised Holland and seen the fabulous display of tulips and other bulbs at the Keukenhof), we bundled up and took off for the "Plaka" zone (Rue des Fromages) - we call it this because it has more gyro and shwarma places than any couple of blocks could ever want! We shared an enormous Greek feast at the top of Mykonos (generous people and great food). While Sal and I went for gyro platters, the McQs went for the mixed grill platters - they were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of all their tasty delights and we all cheerily washed it down with retsina and a good kriti type red wine - had no room for desserts! A stroll around the Grote Markt, a stop at Neuhaus (for a little late night treat), and a wander back to the hotel brought us to pajama time where we had some wine, relaxed and talked until midnight.  
May 8


We 4 took a taxi up to the Serras Royale Gardens and greenhouses - what a splendid place to visit - after walking through the stables, we began touring the grounds. The greenhouses were amazing inside and out! An orangerie led us to a walk past the main greenhouse with its crowned dome, to a picture perfect view of fields edges with multi-colored and vista of the lake and viewing patio of the old palace. At the top of a gentle slope, we entered the largest greenhouse and descended through what seemed to be thousands of meters of arbors covered with fuscias and geraniums to finally reach the expansive center of the main building under the dome. Our visit to this elegant and intimate place was a delight.

From the palace we went south to the Horta House. As huge fans of Modernista architecture. we were fascinated by the Belgian Nouveau creator of design, Victor Horta. His home was a study in angles and shapes that blossomed in his later years to his fabulous hotels and incredible iron work. Next a "lost tribe" manouevre back to the Grote Markt and T'Keldekerk for an exceptionally tasty lunch - french onion soup au gratin (almost as good as my home made) - shrimp croquets (large shrimps, none of that finely chopped bland baby shrimp) - lapin au gueze (rabbit braised in slightly fruity beer) - carbonnades a flemand (a spicy flemish beef stew - of course, all of this was accompanied with plenty of crusty fresh baked bread and wines. From there, it was "nap time" for all of us. Once we had rested, we all got back together to share cheese, wine and snacks along with more good conversation.
May 9


What a pleasant morning! The McQs had run off early to see "Mini-Europe" with its outdoor compendium of some of Europes most outstanding works of architecture (all done in a 25:1 scale). So we slept in until 11. We went out for coffee at the fine old Cafe d'Opera - it is a wonderful place with wood panelling, dark velvets and stained glass - such ambience! We also dropped into the Metropole, just to see the nouveau style interiors. We wandered about, got some cash, found a great bookstore, and had another coffee at the Dada jazz bar before returning to the hotel to meet back up with the McQs for lunch at Roué d'Or. This a favorite place that serves some of the finest food in Brussels in a wonderful "brown cafe" style building painted ala Magritte on the walls and ceilings. We have been known to spend a lot sampling 8-10 plates with different wines, but be advised that there is always a daily menu for 10 euros and excellent house wine that puts most restaurants to shame. Sadly, the McQs had gone for a snack after Mini Europe and they only joined us for a glass of wine. The daily menu had a thick green vegetable soup, followed by a smoked pork tenderloin served on a lentil stew. My choices were ala carte with their always superb foie gras du maison, followed with a salad of shaved lambs tongue on arugula drizzled with a mustard cream sauce and sprinkled generously with chives. This is one of those rare places where dining is always a pleasure. Feeling full, relaxed and satisfied, we wandered back through the many restaurant streets, stopped and listened to a jazz quartet (sax, bass and 2 dulcimers), picked up a Lalande de Pomerol for the evening, and stopped for a coffee at Drug Opera. In the evening we shared snacks, wine and champagne with the McQs and retired early since the McQs had to continue by an early bus up to Bruges.