Thursday, May 31, 2012

Brussels: Manneken Pis, Grand Place, Rugbyman No Two, and More

Wrapping up my posts on our Belgium trip has proven easier than I expected it to be! I was thinking that Brussels would take at least 2 posts, but when I reviewed our photos, I realized that it could all be crammed into one. Which, sadly doesn't say too much for Brussels. I much preferred Bruges and was glad that we'd followed Yuki's suggestion of only staying one full day in Brussels. We were basically able to see all the major sites within that time period, and I was more than ready to head home when the time came to catch our flight. Well, I would've liked more time to linger over our superb lunch, but otherwise we were done in Belgium.
  So, what did we see? Of course the Grand Place, the Manneken Pis, and the Royal Palace. And...that was about it. Oh, and a lovely cathedral, the Cathedral of St. Michael. Definitely worth going into if you love churches.
 The Grand Place was of course impressive, but Yuki said it's much more impressive if you're lucky enough to see it in the winter, under a veil of snow. And the Manneken Piss was decidely UNimpressive! Apparently we weren't the only ones who thought so, as a lot of people around it were saying things such as 'Is that IT??' Keila absolutely hated the imitation Manneken Piss statue, poor girl. So far, she doesn't seem to do well with statues or soldiers!
  We also had some more Belgian waffles, but the ones in Bruges were better. The only food we ate in Brussels that was really worth mentioning was our lunch at the Rugbyman No. 2 (not to be confused with the No. 1 a few doors down). I'm sure that the food at either establishment is superb, but we liked the course menus listed on the No. 2's board better. Great atmosphere, very attentive service, and the food....amazing seafood! I really wish we hadn't had to cut the meal short in order to catch our train. If you do visit Brussels ever, try to have a long, relaxed meal at Rugbyman No. 2! Address: Quai aux Briques 12, Brussels
 That's all on Belgium, next up: Paris!

                                             The Grand Place

                                                              Easter in Brussels

                                               Tiny Manneken Pis (above my head)

                                      The imposter Manneken Pis

                               Royal Palace in Brussels

                                    More Belgian Waffles

Set menus at Rugbyman No Two

                                                   Inside Rugbyman No Two

                               Salmon with honey and lime

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

't Huidevettershuis and Laurenzino: Bruges Restaurant and Waffle Reviews

   For our last night in Bruges (and my final post on Bruges before moving to Brussels), we ate at 't Huidevettershuis (address: Huidenvettersplein 10-11, Bruges), a great restaurant that happens to be located quite close to the most photographed site in Bruges, the Rozenhoedkaai. Quick aside--now, that canal and area around it is very lovely and well worth a look, but I'm not sure why it's the most photographed area in the city?
  Anyway, we had made reservations well in advance of our trip via email, and the concierge or owner was quite helpful. We arrived at opening, 6 pm, and found the place virtually vacant. If you want to eat out with a toddler and not have to worry too much about her behavior, I'd definitely advise eating early so only the staff can see her throwing food! By the time we left, other families with young children had come in, so even if you take the kids later, it's still acceptable and you likely won't feel like you're annoying other diners too much. Or at least you won't be alone in doing so.
I wish I could remember exactly what we ate, but once again too much time has passed between the trip and this post. I do remember that we got 2 set menus again, both of which involved some amazing white asparagus soup with smoked salmon in it. Our main courses were fish, again wonderful albeit a bit heavy as per French-style cooking. Even so, I managed to choke down their AMAZING dessert of chocolate cake and 2 different mousses (if you go there and can only eat one course, make it their dessert!)...and still managed to scarf a Belgium waffle while waddling back to our hotel. Pretty sure that I have not 1 but 2 hollow legs!
 In my defense, I'd yet to eat a Belgian waffle, and we'd seen a bunch of Japanese tourists lined up at this waffle shop earlier in the day. And if there's one thing that Japanese tourists know, it's where to get the best food (this statement is often uttered by my Japanese husband). They weren't wrong this time, either. The teenage clerk behind the counter was quite helpful, too. When asked which was their best-seller, she told me the banana choclate waffle. I then asked what was her favorite, and she suggested the Lotus cookie spread/topping. If you've never had Lotus cookie spread, then you need to get out there and find some asap! I guess it contains something like 57% ground Lotus cookies, and it's got a caramel/light ginger flavor. Whatever's in it, it's GREAT on waffles! That waffle went down in no time flat, yum yum. We did try other Lotus spread-covered waffles in Brussels, but I have to say that this shop was the best out of the ones we ate: Laurenzino. It is also said by Rick Steves' to be a favorite of Belgian teens. What can I say, Belgian teens have good taste! Laurenzino, Noordzandstraat 1, across from Gelateria Da Vinci. Go there. Eat the Lotus waffle. Do it.
                                      Near 't Huidevettershuis restaurant

                                      Lovely French country style of 't Huidevettershuis

                                        One of our main courses. Fish topped with tiny shrimp in (of course) a cream sauce. Tasted great but very rich!

                                                   The dessert trio

                                   Canal at sunset

                               The most photographed site in Bruges: Rozenhoedkaai

                                               Laurenzino menu

                                        Me and my amazing Lotus spread-covered waffle


Monday, May 28, 2012

Bittersweet Cafe in Bruges, Belgium

   After wandering around the lovely Begijnhof (Beguinage) monastery we decided to take a break at Bittersweet Cafe. I'd read reviews raving out their amazing tulip hot chocolate, so of course we had to give it a try.
  We arrived without a reservation (it's a cafe, after all) and were almost turned away, but luckily one couple just happened to be leaving at that time. Yay! Bittersweet is an adorable but tiny cafe; I think there were maybe 10 seats, tops?
 They had a range of items on the menu and sandwiches and the like are served for lunch, but we just opted to get 2 of the tulip hot chocolates. If I remember correctly, there were 3 selections--white, milk chocolate, and dark. Or I could just be making that up; it's been a while since we were there! Whatever the case, we ordered the dark chocolate tulips.
   In case you're wondering what in the world is a hot chocolate tulip, it's really just that: we were each served a glass of piping hot milk (in special themal glasses that cost 15 Euros if you broke one), along with a molded chocolate tulip to drop into said milk. The tulips were so cute that it was almost a shame to immerse them...almost. As to the taste? Let me just say this: that was the best mug of hot chocolate I've ever had. Ever. Pretty sure it was also the unhealthiest one I've ever drank too, but saturated fat calories weren't really on my mind at the moment. Hot chocolate heart attack, yum yum! Bittersweet Cafe is a MUST if you're in Bruges. Do like we did and head there right after you see the Beguinage monastery!
  Oh, and a couple of final notes--the owner is quite friendly and kind and, triple bonus for those of you with babies/young toddlers: she had a fold-out changing table available in their little bathroom at the back. Thank you, Bittersweet Cafe!
   Bittersweet Cafe, Sint Amandsstraat 27, Bruges Belgium

                                       Hot chocolate tulips and milk

                                     The charge for breaking a glass is clearly written on the menu...the owner explained that she had to start charging after a particularly bad weekend when 7 of these expensive little buggers were broken by careless customers.

                                      Bombs away! Hot chocolate tulip, Bittersweet Cafe in Bruges Belgium


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Bruges Monastery: Begijnhof (Beguinage) and De Wijngaard

  Before I say anything else, let me preface this post by admitting that I'm likely not going to finish talking about Belgium before we take our trip to Paris on Saturday. That being said, I'll do my best to cram it all in without compromising quality. Meaning that these posts may be a bit shorter than planned, but I figure shorter is better than nothing at all!
  ...On the morning of our first full day in Bruges, we got up and rambled over to the Begijnhof. The concierge had pointed it out as an area of interest on our map, which showed it as a large green square (the guidebook showed pictures of swans when I flipped to 'Begijnhof'), so based on these details, I thought we were going to a park. Seeing as Keila was already tiring of being carted around all over in her carrier, we thought it'd be a good place for her to run a bit. Imagine my surprise when we ended up at a beautiful monastery! Reminding me once again to actually read the words printed in my guidebook.
  Founded in 1245, the Begijnhof (aka Beguinage) became a monastery in 1937 for the Bendictine sisters, who still reside there. If you're interested in the history behind the name of this place, click HERE for the basics. Like I said, I'm trying to keep this short.
  The monastery is centered around an area called De Wijngaard (the vineyard), although I'm not sure why it's called that, since it's full of poplar trees and daffodils. Whatever the case, I can definitely see why this is one of the featured sites of Bruges. Situated a ways away from the bustle of the other attractions (and even with bus-loads of people wandering through), it's beautiful, refreshing, and peaceful. This was my favorite spot in Belgium out of every place we visited. Definitely go if you're ever in Bruges!

                                      Spring flowers at Beguinage in Bruges

                                 Keila getting her exercise in De Wijngaard

                              The famous geese at the Beguinage (Begijnhof) in Bruges


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Bistro Den Huzaar in Bruges, Belgium

  For our first dinner in Bruges, we reserved a table at Bistro Den Huzaar, an adorable little place about a block off the Markt (Their address is Vlamingstraat 36 if you're interested).
We were a bit worried about how a baby would fare in such a nice place, but seeing as they did have a child's seat, we figured why not. Plus, we made our reservation at 6 pm, when they opened. If I remember correctly, we had the place to ourselves for the better part of an hour! Obviously the European custom of eating dinner late reigns throughout Belgium, too.
 While the a la carte prices were a bit steep (as at most nice restaurants in Belgium), we also found that many places offer a seasonal set menu at a much better rate. Bistro Den Huzaar was no exception, so we ordered 2 of the spring set menus, along with a bowl of french fries and some meatballs for Keila. That and a few mugs of beer came to about 86 euros. Still not cheap, but the food was definitely worth it! Well, given a second chance we wouldn't order any 8 euro meatballs, seeing as Keila flat-out refused them and just dug into the fries. But otherwise, everything else was superb. Only general complaint about the food was that it was all rather rich, so we were quite stuffed by the time dessert rolled around. I don't think this is specific to Bistro Den Huzaar however; I'm just not used to such creamy dishes.
 One other issue I did have with the meal however, was the pate that came with the free bread. It tasted great, of course, but we thought that we were eating tuna pate. When I asked the waitress what was in the pate (hoping to recreate it at home with the right spices), she responded 'Rabbit!'  Had there been any of it in my mouth at the time, I dare say it would've gone straight into my napkin. AHHHHH! Lesson learned: if in doubt, don't take a bite before asking. I am by no means a vegetarian, but I can't say I'm for eating rabbits, either! Fish and chicken are more what we tend to eat at home. Have to say, I'm still a bit traumatized by that experience.
 Moving on from the food: service. Our waitress was really pleasant, but the service wasn't exactly prompt. We had to wave for her attention several times in order for her to mosey over from the bar, where she was chatting with other workers. It seemed to be a family-run restaurant, and I'm sure that most diners like to take their time over such an exquisite meal. But if you've got a toddler who doesn't sit still for long, it can turn into a bit of a problem. Keila did extremely well, but she was more than done by the time we got our bill over an hour and a half later. I can see why classy restaurants and babies don't usually mix.
  All in all, a great restaurant and I'd definitely recommend Bistro Den Huzaar to anyone. Just stay away from the pate.

                                         Keila, waiting patiently for her french fries

                                       Basket of bread and the infamous pate

                             Appetizer: white asparagus and smoked salmon. With a cream sauce, of course.

                        Another appetizer: tuna tartare salad

                             Big bowl of french fries!

                         One of the main courses. I forget what kind of fish it was? Again in cream sauce!

                            One of the desserts. Ice cream swan with pear wings in a chocolate lake

Sunday, May 13, 2012

De Whitte Pelikaan in Bruges, Belgium

  I really need to finish posting about our Easter trip to Belgium before we take a long weekend in Paris in a few weeks! Once again I'll make excuses about not having posted recently, including activities such as painting various walls of the house (we now have a silver wall in the dining room and a lilac mantel breast, among others). Hopefully the painting is almost done, and seeing as we just finished assembling a new bed frame, I thought that I could take a break from house tasks tonight and do a really quick post.
 This one is to feature a great little shop in Bruges, De Whitte Pelikaan. It's located on a street just off the Markt, 23 Vlamingstraat, but it's about a block down and didn't seem to have much tourist traffic when we went by. Maybe it was just the time of day, however. (Directly across from it is a great restaurant Den Huzaar, but that's my next post).
 What drew me into this little shop was the massive display of teddy bears in the front window. Very posh looking little bears, and they all turned out to be pajama holders. Basically, there is no body inside the little bears' nightshirts, and you unbutton the back to store children's pajama's. Great way of getting them out of the way in the daytime! Of course we had to buy a bear for Keila's room; if I remember correctly they were around 23 Euros each? Maybe a bit cheaper. The sales clerk quite proudly told us that they get people from all over coming in for the pj bears.
 The rest of De Whitte Pelikaan showcased assorted holiday decor (Christmas and Easter are their specialities) along with other odds and ends. All very cute, and if you're looking for original knick knacks, this is the place to go! Some of it was a bit more 'country house' than to my liking, but I'm pretty sure they have something for every taste inside if you take the time to look.
  De Whitte Pelikaan, 23 Vlamingstraat Bruges, Belgium

                         Keila's bear is in a white night shirt with a matching hat.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Happy Year And A Half, Baby Keila!!!

 Yep, it's already been a year and a half since we were blessed with beautiful baby Keila. And how much she's changed in that time! Here are the (half) birthday girl's details for her 18 month mark.
 1. Talk, talk, talk. That's basically all Keila does at home. Get out in public and the kid pretty much turns mute, but here it's another story. She tries to imitate a lot of what I say, plus she'll toss out words like 'church', 'kitty', 'ball', 'bowl', 'more', and lots of animal sounds if you ask her. She can tell you the sounds that a cow, cat, dog, bird, duck, and shark (don't ask) makes. Keila also asks for her favorite animals by name 'Roo', 'Pooh', etc. Colors are another favorite thing to talk about--especially blue, purple, and sometimes green.
Randomly I won't be able to understand the word she's saying, and she'll just patiently repeat it until dense Mommy figures it out. Today, for example, she wanted some ice cream but didn't know how to ask it she kept yelling 'Mooore' since she does know how to ask for more food. Took me about 3 minutes to get that one, poor kid. And yes, she did then get a couple of spoonfuls.
 2. Can't see any more of her teeth popping through, but I keep wondering since she continues to chew on anything and everything. Honestly, everything. Last week I went to wake her up from her nap and found her chewing on the wooden slots of her crib. So either she's working on some molars, or Keila now thinks she's a woodchuck.
 3. Well, Keila still isn't sleeping through the night, but I'm dealing with her once-a-night wake-ups ok so far. The little stinker did sleep completely through the night once about 2 weeks ago, just to show me that she can....and then she hasn't bothered to do it since!
 4. Keila's gotten faster and faster lately, and she loves to run all over the house. We got a little safety leash for her to use when we go on walks, just because I don't even want to think about her darting out into the road. So yes, I'm that mom, the one with my kid on a leash. I think the PC term is 'harness and reins' but let's be honest: it's a leash. Keila quite likes it however, and even gets excited when I get it out, since it means time to go outside. Then again, my mom's dogs also get really excited when they see their leashes, too!
 5. New favorite foods include whole plums, and Keila would happily munch on big pieces of peeled apple too, if I wasn't worried she'd choke on them. When do babies start eating chunks of apple, anyway? Broccoli has also been a big hit lately, as have pasta noodles. Use of her spoon is getting better, especially if it involves eating something like sticky rice that doesn't fall off before the spoon hits her mouth.
 6. New actions. Basically, what doesn't she do! 2 days ago, Keila turned on not only the tv but also the DVD player (this after I told her she didn't need to watch her favorite Japanese kids' animation video, An Pan Man). I'm not really big on her watching tv, but when she is allowed to watch this particular video, she stamps her feet and waves her hands along with the characters on the screen. Imitating my actions are also a lot of fun for her--she'll mime washing her hands when she sees me wash mine, and she also wants to help vacuum, among other things. Keila has discovered that I did a poor job with the child safety locks on one of the kitchen cabinets, so whenever I'm prepping lunch or dinner, she gets into that cabinet and pulls out items to 'help' me cook. Finally, Keila loves to give hugs and kisses, sweet baby!
 7. Not sure of Keila's weight or height this month, but hopefully I can measure her some time soon. Until next month, you can enjoy a few pictures from today's outing. We went to a little petting zoo/farm at Cob House Fisheries, a fishery just outside Worcester city limits. Keila had a great time watching Daddy feed all the animals!

                                    Chasing ducks!