Monday, December 06, 2010

Red Light Special

Brussels Red Light District

After such a nice dinner, I asked the taxi driver to take me back to Bruxelles Nord train station. He dropped me off at the Aarschotstraat entrance, smack dab in the middle of Brussels Red Light District. I couldn't help but to have a look!

Like Antwerpen and Amsterdam, the windows have red lights indicating that a girl is available. The windows are big, making it easy to peruse the merchandise and figure out just what you'd like to have on the menu before committing. I only checked out the few in front of the station entrance so I don't know how big the district is or what else is available. I presume that it's like the other cities where there's something for every taste.

The girls ranged from decent to Wow on my own personal hotness scale. One girl in particular was especially tempting: brunette, European, amazing body. Unbelievable. Like the girl you wished you could land in high school.

I'll admit, I was tempted. I had some leftover Euros in my pocket that will just sit in an envelope at home until my next European adventure. Part of me thought what a shame it would be to let those Euros sit in an envelope and go to waste.

Then there's the El Cheapo part of me: I don't like to part with my money. Don't get me wrong, I have no ethical or moral dilemma about paying for sex - the truth is: we ALWAYS pay for sex. Some people pay simply with cash at places like this. Typically, the ones who say "I never pay for sex" are the ones who pay the most: with gifts, dinners, drinks, cars, houses, children and more.

In fact, when you break it down to a Sex versus Money Spent calculus, you'll find that "paying for it" is always cheaper. It is the oddity of life.

Even with that calculus in mind, and the near unbearable hotness of the girl, I still couldn't bear to part with my hard-earned Euros. It's got to be pretty damn freaky sex for that to happen.

And a good thing too. Upon returning to my hotel, I asked the concierge to give me a thorough rundown of the costs in the Red Light District. The prices were similar to Antwerpen. Fifty Euros for basic sex and maybe a blowjob, covered. And that's for like fifteen minutes. Anything more can be open to negotiation but the costs go up from there.

Hmmm, fifteen minutes for fifty Euros. Sounds like a lot, but so too is that mortgage that lasts thirty years...

La Bonne Humeur

La Bonne Humeur

Brussels is supposedly known for its Moules Frites, or Mussels and French Fries. Supposedly, these people are masters of the art of mussels and I'm determined to find "the best."

After consulting numerous online resources who said to avoid the touristy streets and the "known" mussel joints, I was directed to a small and simple restaurant called La Bonne Humeur or The Good Humor. Growing up with Good Humor Ice Cream, the name is instantly appealing and I'm determined to make it out there.

The inside.

According to the maps, La Bonne Humeur is not easy to get to. I ask the concierge about a taxi to the restaurant. Google Maps says it's an eleven minute drive. The concierge tells me forty five Euros. Forget that.

Instead, I look to transit. I can take the metro to Brussels North Station and then the tram - all for under 15 euros round trip. But that includes a 750 meter (3/4 kilometer) walk in the bitter and freezing cold with clothing ill-equipped to handle the weather. I opt for a taxi from the station.

My 1,5Kg of moules.

Twelve Euros and ten minutes later, I'm in the restaurant. The wood paneled walls and formica tabletops remind me of the 70s/80s era of interior decorating. The fifty seat restaurant is about 75% full and filled with patrons sitting at tables with steaming cauldrons of mussels in front of them. I think I'm in the right place.

The owner is a relatively young-looking guy, maybe late 20s or early 30s. He's friendly and welcoming and hands me their menu. It's a few pages long and filled with grilled meats and other stuff that seem superfluous when coming to a mussels restaurant. I just want mussels and there are six options to choose from ranging from the simple white wine to garlic to curry and more, with or without cream.

The mussels come in two sizes: 1 kilo and 1.5 kilos. I opt for the 1.5 kilo size not even thinking that this really means roughly three pounds of mussels.

The Curry Sauce.

Ever since I had the curry Moules Mouclade at Les Halles years ago, I've always been a fan. Problem is, most places offering mussels do not offer it with a curry flavored sauce. However, La Bonne Humeur does and I'm waiting on 1.5 kilos of curried mussel goodness - with a side of frites.

After what seems an interminable wait (I was pretty darn hungry when I walked in), my own searingly hot cauldron of mussels arrives and the pot is jam-packed with mussels. Oh gosh, so this is what three pounds of mussels looks like: completely off the hook.

I start into them and they're blazing hot. I must slow my roll and wait a moment for the top layer to cool.


To be honest, I'm expecting Mussels in Brussels to be transcendental. I'm expecting them to be amazing, or at least as good as the mouclade that I've grown to love. In other words, I'm expecting a lot.

In the end, the mussels were good, but not transcendental. The mussels were a different variety than the ones I see at home. These are not orange colored, these are cream-colored mussels and they're slightly mushy in texture rather than springy. The serving was plentiful but I really didn't like the curry sauce. The curry flavor was quite mild but it was the combination of ingredients that didn't sit well with me. A major ingredient here was celery and I now know that I am no fan of celery in a mussel broth. It just doesn't lend a complimentary flavor.

I leave filled with steaming hot mussels but I wasn't blown away. I just didn't agree with the sauce. I'm a little bit disappointed but only because I was expecting so much.

And the frites? They were decent, but I'm still holding fast to my previous statement that I have yet to find frites in France or Belgium that truly rival those I can get in America.

La Bonne Humeur
Chaussée de Louvain 244
1000 Brussels
02 230 71 69

Sheraton Brussels Airport

You can see my hotel from the terminal.

I've always been fascinated by airport hotels. You know, the ones that are right on the airport grounds - no shuttle bus necessary because it's right across the ramp. Like the Hyatt at O'Hare in Chicago, I've always been interested in staying there.

When I made my bid through Priceline and landed the Sheraton Brussels Airport, I figured it was like the other airport hotels. I'd have to go outside, in the freezing cold, and wait for a shuttle bus to take me on a fifteen minute drive to the hotel.

So it was to my pleasant surprised when I landed in Brussels to find out that the Sheraton was one of those airport hotels I'd always wanted to stay - directly across from the terminal.

Lucky thing too, because my wardrobe is ill-prepared to handle the recent freezing and snowy weather blowing across Europe and I'm looking forward to sleeping in as late as possible, then walking across the roadway to check-in for my flight back to the United States.

Gotta Get Outta Here!

Stranded passengers waiting in line.

Florence Airport is a small airport. The terminal is surprisingly small and everything feels very smalltown. I arrive a little bit early and the kind girl at the check-in wants to help me out by getting me a seat on the earlier flight. That's very kind and I'm grateful.

As I'm waiting by the gate, amongst a throng of Chinese tourists, cloud cover rolls over the airport. Which is exactly the same time that the captain of our Lufthansa flight coming in from Frankfurt.

Since Florence is a small airport with a short runway that they use not only for takeoffs/landings but for taxiing as well, it's probably short on IFR operations and the pilot decides to abort his landing and divert to Bologna, leaving us stranded at the airport in the dense cover.

Now comes the mad scramble to reschedule everyone on this flight to the next. Rather than handle it all at the gate, they make everyone board the bus, go to baggage claim, pick up our bags and go back out to the check-in lobby to fall in line and do it all over again.

I've been here before, so rather than wait in the line for things to be handled, I make a quick call to Lufthansa reservations and speak to an agent who promptly changes my reservation back to my original flight at 1445. Quick, simple and easy. I do all of this during the bus ride to baggage claim and I no longer have any worries.

When I return to the check-in lobby, there's a long line (as expected), an agent asks me which flight I am on and I tell her the 1445 flight since it is my flight. She pulls me out and escorts me to a different queue and tells me to wait a moment. After a few moments, she motions me to come up to the counter to check in.

Another not-so-very-tasty chicken sandwich.

This is where it took a turn for the odd. As she's checking me in, she notices the baggage tags from the previous flight then attempts to lecture me how rude it is to jump the queue while everyone else has to wait. I'm not one to be lectured - especially when I've done the work for her and promptly tell her: "Madame, I think you ought to inspect my reservation before speaking."

I guess she must be thinking that she can shame me for jumping the line. I remind her that she was the one who pulled me out of the line and brought me to the front. I didn't ask her to do it, she did it of her own volition. I further reminded her that I've saved her time and effort by taking the time to call reservations and make the necessary arrangements. She wasn't too happy about my response. Guess she thought better.

She then tells me that it looks like a close connection in Frankfurt but the machine won't print the boarding pass for the second leg. I tell her no worries. I'm positive that the lady was trying to screw with me regarding the boarding pass since she wrote down some sort of non-existent gate number in Frankfurt and said that it wouldn't print the boarding pass, thinking that she would screw up my travel in the end.

Unbeknownst to her, I still had my original two boarding passes from the first flight - including the second leg boarding pass.

Doom on you, Female Italian Agent!

The Terrible Tourist

In Florence. Somewhere behind me is The Arno.

My parents like to travel. And when they travel they like to go with their friends and take tours. Organized tours that show them the best spots that country or city has to offer.

It's because of this that I don't usually travel with my parents. That and it tends to cramp my style with the ladies...

The thing is, I'm definitely not the Tourist kind of tourist. I'm not big on formal tours where we're driven in a bus to the important "must see" sights. I'm much more the kind of tourist that likes to go to cities and just hang. Soak up the local culture and not do too much of anything in particular. Heck, I didn't go and see the Eiffel Tower until this summer - and I had been to Paris twice before. Three trips to Paris and I still haven't seen The Louvre.

But I've had a great time there without it.

Narrow streets.

I thought about this as I quickly drove the streets of Florence. He's a beautiful city filled with history and great architecture, yet I couldn't wait to get out of there. The city was crowded, parking was difficult and it was just packed in. I had spent the last few days away from the cities in small towns where getting around was quick and simple. I didn't want that urban experience of "must see" places.

I'm the Terrible Tourist.

Give me my time in the town to hang out, walk around, visit shops, eat new cuisine and maybe even a nice place to smoke a cigar and I'm quite happy. Maybe I'll spend a week in Rome and never see the Colosseum. Or London and never make it to Big Ben. But I will have had a great time in those places anyway.

Road Without A View

Of all the cars that zoom past me on the A1 Autostrade, the Audi is the most populous.

Look Mom - It's like Gran Turismo 3!!!

Descending into the cloud-covered mountains of Tuscany.