Brussels is a city full of history, beautiful architecture, and the smell of waffles, chocolate, and tiny coffees. It is also the home of NATO and the capital of Europe. Brussels Expo is home to many worldwide conferences and that is where I would start my week. Welcome to the North where in November, it is dark until 7:30am and the sun sets before 5pm. A 43 degree high makes for some cold weather for a Southern California boy who is used to traveling in hot and humid places with lots of mosquitos.
Our first morning started with a brisk walk to the AIDex Brussels conference where we finished setting up our booth before the crowds arrived at 9:30am. AIDex is the largest relief conference in Europe and Sawyer was a featured clean water company amongst a sea of Government and Non-Profit organizations from Bangladesh, India, the Philippines, African nations, and European agencies focusing on the Syrian refugee crisis.
A highlight for me was getting to talk about Fiji and Liberia which both have border-to-border clean water efforts going on, and are the only 2 countries in the world where 100,000 Sawyer water filters are being deployed as part of the clean water solution! Getting to be a part of these clean water projects, plus many others around the world is a great thrill!
Thursday morning before we headed to the convention, I was eating breakfast and felt a little tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see my wife's smiling face and I was so happy! She had just flown in from San Diego and I knew this trip was going to be extra special with her there!
As the convention wound up on Thursday, we decided to head to downtown Brussels for the evening. It was cold outside, but not as bad as I thought it would be. From our hotel, we walked about a half mile to the local metro which is an awesome trolly system in Brussels. You can take a train just about anywhere in Europe! We took the metro right into the heart of the city. The night skyline was lit up and very beautiful. The cobblestone streets and historic buildings made for a picturesque setting.
One of the first things we noticed was there were tons of Chocolate shops! Brussels is home to some of the world's best Chocolatiers and their artistic crafts were on display in the storefront windows. Of course, we had to go into a few and try some samples. Some shops were very affordable and others were quite pricey, but they all smelled yummy!
After our chocolate appetizers, we decided to find somewhere for dinner. There was one particular street that was lined with restaurants and reminded me a bit of Little Italy in New York City. Outside every restaurant, there was someone recruiting customers. They all had a good sales pitch and we listened to each one, only to find ourselves back at the very first restaurant we saw.
Now I'm a pretty boring foodie when I'm at home, although I do like trying new things. When I'm traveling I do try to branch out every once in a while and try something new, if I can ID it and it's not still moving! This time, I went for the steamed mussels and fries. I had never tried mussels before because they reminded me of my childhood days when my dad, brother and I would go down to the beach and surf fish. The bait of choice many times was mussels. The thought of eating that for dinner was never very appetizing, but I figured I would try it out when they told me that mussels were like clams and I like those.
They brought me a bucket of mussels, one so big, you would definitely have to "believe in yourself" in order to eat it all. So let's just say I really believed in myself that night. Eating a bucket of mussels was a bit like drinking a gallon of milk with a swizzle stick. There was a lot of work with small amounts of progress along the way. They were good though as they were cooked in a nice broth with celery.
After dinner, we took a walk to the Grand Place square which was beautiful! The architecture was stunning in this 360 view of Belgium royalty! There were many chocolate shops that lined the bottom floor, and to my surprise, a Starbucks. I refrained from Starbucks that night, but I have to admit, the thought of it sounded great as the normal cups of coffee in Europe are so tiny! I felt so American in that moment and realized how we have really grown to like our large cups of coffee! After all, we all drink it for the anti-oxidants right?!
For dessert, we had to try a Belgium waffle place. There are many waffle shops to choose from but we found one that served them with ice cream, fruit, and whipped cream. Mine came with fresh strawberries, pistachio ice cream, whipped cream, and a drizzle of Speculoos...aka cookie butter. WINNER! Sheri went a little more simple with a plain waffle with Nutella.
After our dessert, we were stuffed and I looked for a place to throw away my trash. I looked across the street and saw what looked like a fancy trash bin. As I opened it I got an eerie feeling that this might be a mail delivery bin. My hunches were right and I'm so glad I didn't throw my trash in there! Funny moment!
If you are ever in Brussels, you have to see it at night, especially the Royal Place! Knowing that we'd be back tomorrow in the day, I wondered what the daytime would be like. Stay tuned.