Thursday, November 13, 2014
I'm writing most of this post at 2:39 am. Because... jetlag. Because... Belgium!
Land of the EU, and waffles, and Tin Tin, and curious, cone-shaped sugar candies called cuberdons or 'little noses'. I just got back from a week-long trip to Belgium--primarily for work at the university in Leuven, but my collaborator made sure that I did get a little bit of sight-seeing in towards the end. So here are photos from my quick, 48-hour whirl around the Flemish region of Belgium.
Pictured above: central Brussels train station entrance. I'm obsessed with the font, mainly! Perhaps I've watched too much of Agatha Christie's Poirot in my life, but I loved the art deco-y and art nouveau-y architectural details endemic to the region.
Most of the photos below come from a day in Ghent, a picturesque city about an hour-ish train ride west of Brussels. Apparently, Ghent is particularly pretty because it was restored and cleaned up for 1913 World's Fair. The canals do make it quite charming to stroll around and get lost in, with plenty of fun little shops (a mustard shop, for instance?!) to peek into and cafés to leisurely people-watch from while sipping on hot chocolate.
And of course, no proper Western European old city would be complete without the requisite grand churches, a castle, and canals. Pictured below: Saint Nicholas' Church, Gravensteen Castle (which made me crave apples), building façades along one of the canals.
In our wanderings, we stumbled upon one of the graffiti alleyways in Ghent, where one is allowed to freely paint on the walls! The artwork ranged from your regular tagging to beautiful, floor-to-top paintings--all temporary and ever-changing. And, I got to do something I've always wanted to: leave a little DfB mark of approval (hey, sometimes it pays to be a packrat and carry around Sharpies everywhere).
And street snacks! They have these cone-shaped sugar candies called cuberdons, which have this thin sugary shell on the outside and are liquid sugar syrup on the inside. Texturally, the cuberdons reminded me of those giant jelly beans that one can get around Easter, except more liquidy inside. Traditionally, they're raspberry? flavored and colored purple (meaning, they may be raspberry flavored in theory, but they just taste purple), but we managed to stumble across anise-flavored black ones too which were a bit like eating liquid licorice.
The waffles, I have to say, were ah-mazing. I so wish I were capable of replicating them at home! They are a wee bit caramelized and crunchy with sugar on the outside, but inside, they are hot and custardy. I also made sure to pick up plenty of fries and chocolate and marzipan petits fours during the trip--all delicious. For the fries, there were a bajillion different sauce flavors to dip the fries in, like andalouse sauce, which is this tasty amalgamation of ketchup, mayo, and spicy almost-cajun-ness. So perfect for my would-you-like-fries-with-your-sauce tendencies! (Although, I have to admit, I'm still partial to German curry ketchup. :))
On my last day, we had a quick hour or two to stroll around the city center of Brussels, which is filled with endless dessert and chocolate shops. Ah, be still, my heart! It was like being dropped into sweets heaven. The royal galleries, for instance, were lined with chocolatier after chocolatier after chocolatier, and punctuated in between with pâtisseries of all different cultures galore. .. for example, a pastry shop specializing in nut-filled and brightly-colored Middle Eastern desserts! -- second photo below.
We also happened upon one of the best French shops for perhaps the next big dessert craze after macarons: merveilleux! I actually didn't know what these were at all, but there were these brilliant little domes piled high with shaved chocolate calling out to me from a window display, so naturally, I had to go in and investigate. Turns out, these are little dessert domes made up of fluffy and crunchy and creamy layers of meringue, flavored creams, and chocolate--in a variety of flavors ranging from cherry to chocolate to coffee to speculoos. They melt like luscious air into your mouth when you take a bite. It's sort of like a pavlova or an Eton mess in handheld form. So worth the investigating.
On the plane ride back, I realized that I am so thankful that my job allows me to travel so much and to see and experience new adventures. It's wonderful that I get to do that and, at the same time, spend the time exchanging intellectual ideas with fellow scholars at other unis. Yes, I realize that this is a highly romanticized view of academic life, but at times--especially when filled with meringues and chocolates and art deco architecture and engaging discussions--it is just that good.