Eating & Drinking Our Way Through Brussels, Belgium

With a pint of raspberry flavored beer in one hand and my Brussels guidebook in the other, I tried to make some sort of a list of things to see and do in the capital city. We were only a forty-nine minute drive away from the city – according to Google maps – and in no hurry, whatsoever. The weather was lovely in Antwerp. Sunshine and not a cloud in sight. May the rest of the day be blessed with sunshine too – I said to myself. Fingers crossed.

Before making our way downtown, we went to see the Atomium, which is a building that was originally constructed for the Universal Exhibition – just like the Eiffel tower in Paris – and is now a major tourist attraction. The Atomium depicts nine atoms and is in the shape of the body-centered cubic unit cell of an iron crystal, magnified 165 billion times.

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We didn’t buy tickets to enter the building itself as the lines were too long and we were too impatient to stand in what looked like a never-ending line to buy tickets, then another long line to enter. Neither me nor my partner were ever good at being tourists. We’re just good at taking photos of stuff and moving on to the next place. Which is exactly what we did.

We stayed at the Bedford Hotel & Congress Centre, a large hotel conveniently located in the heart of Brussels, just around the corner from the famous Manneken Pis. We were agreeably surprised by the price of the hotel. 130 euros for two nights  – including breakfast!

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Although we saved a lot of money thanks to our nice-price accommodation, we definitely didn’t keep our wallets closed while in Brussels. Not at all. Just ask the barmen and the chocolate-salesmen (and women).

I couldn’t resist buying myself a hot chocolate – white chocolate and coconut – from Le Comptoir de Mathilde , even though I didn’t initially want one. Everything in that store looked tempting, and I would have bought half the store if my partner hadn’t put his foot down and dragged me out of the store after I got my hot chocolate. No wonder I’m not skinny.

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We bought ourselves some yummy chocolate as well as cute souvenirs for our loved ones at the lovely store La Belgique Gourmande. I wanted to buy everything there. I mean, I found the most adorable cookie tins – obviously filled with deliciousness – which would fit perfectly together with all the other stuff I’m hoarding in my apartment. La Belgique Gourmande also offered a large selection of beer. But so did the mini market around the corner. And the souvenir shops across the street. That’s just Belgium, really.

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Speaking of beer; when in Brussels, you have to visit Delirium Café. This bar is enormous, and so is their selection of beer. With 30 beers on tap and over 3000 beers in total, how can a beer lover possibly resist? Even if you don’t like beer, you’ll love the Belgian fruit beers. Hands down. I ordered the cactus beer by Floris (photo below – the green one), which was one of the few fruit beers on tap. And I loved it. Amazingly refreshing and sweet, but not too sweet.

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The most beautiful part of Brussels is without a doubt the Grand Place, or Grote Markt, the central square of the city – and a World Heritage Site. There’s no better place in Brussels to take beautiful pictures than here. “Smile to the camera,” he said. I did, but not to the camera. I looked away instead. “Let’s get back to the hotel and relax with a beer before dinner,” I suggested. He laughed at me. “All you wanna do is drink beer”. He made it sound like I had a drinking problem. My only problem was feeling like a kid in a candy store. That’s me in Belgium.

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C’est Bon, C’est Belge was the name of the restaurant we went to that evening. And yes, it was good. Traditional Belgian cuisine. It was really good. We both ordered the same thing; a tasting platter with five different traditional local dishes and some deli meat/sausages. Everything tasted as good as I imagined it would. And the waiter was everything you want in a waiter: he had a great sense of humor, he was efficient and he knew the menu by heart – and the beers too!

As always, whenever I visit a new place, I check out their local coffee shops. So in Brussels I found this place called OR Espresso Bar. When I told my partner I wanted to go there, his immediate reaction was “but you don’t like espresso”. Which is true. I don’t like espresso, but as a coffee shop, I knew they’d have other things too. Like the lemonade he ordered for himself. Me, I went with a classic latte.

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And what better way to say goodbye to Brussels than by eating waffles? Mokafé is known for serving the best Belgian waffles in Brussels, so we went there after breakfast. Yes, after breakfast. We weren’t hungry, we just needed to stuff our faces with a large amount of Belgian calories. Just one last time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why You Should Visit my Hometown, Stavanger (Norway)

As a teenager, I couldn’t wait to grow up and move away from my hometown. A boring, old-fashioned city with bad climate. How anyone could possibly fall in love with that place, was beyond me. But times have changed. Now I fall in love with my hometown again and again, every time I come back to visit. Let me introduce you to Stavanger, a charming little gem in the southwest of Norway.

The city is primarily known as the Norwegian oil capital, which has shaped the identity of the city in many ways. For example, one of the main tourist attractions in the city is the Norwegian Petroleum Museum, the local hockeyteam is called “Stavanger Oilers” and the city’s nickname is “Oljebyen” which means “Oil city”.

But there’s more to Stavanger than that. The region is blessed with spectacular nature. Visit the beautiful Norwegian fjords, Kiragg mountain and the pulpit rock. And when you’re done hiking or finished your tour with the Lysefjord sightseeing cruise, there’s plenty of cozy coffee shops where you can go to relax with a good cup of coffee in Stavanger city. Norwegians love their coffee, and they take their coffee-culture very seriously. Don’t forget to order one of the local pastries like kanelbolle (cinnamon roll), skolebolle/skolebrød (bun with egg cream) or solskinnsbolle (cinnamon roll with egg cream) to go with your beverage – to get the true Scandinavian coffee-break experience. 

Take a stroll along the picturesque Old Town, where all the houses are itty bitty and painted white. Visit the little galleries and charming boutiques and imagine you’re back in the early 1900s. Here you’ll also find the Norwegian Canning Museum, which displays a typical factory from the 1920s.

And for a completely modern approach, visit Øvre Holmegate, more familiarly known as “Fargegata” (Colorstreet). This colorful neighborhood is home to some of the most chic bars, cafes and boutiques in the city and is a joy to visit. It’s a good spot to take some cool Instagram snapshots too!

Dining in Stavanger can be expensive, but totally worth it – as long as you select your restaurant wisely. My personal favorite is the Renaa restaurants, Re-naa; a gourmet restaurant which has been recognized for its excellence and awarded with a Michelin-star, and Renaa: Matbaren, which is the cheaper option – but with the same, high quality and a relaxing atmosphere. Another favorite is Døgnvill – Bar & Burger, for when I want a delicious gourmet burger accompanied by a tasty milkshake.

Should you check out the nightlife in Stavanger? If you want an awesome night out, yes! Believe it or not – and this is coming from someone who has lived in Oslo (the capital) too – I’m not the first person to say that Stavanger has better bars and clubs than many other Norwegian cities. And most of them are centered around the port! Check out Checkpoint Charlie , Gnu , Chevy’s and Folken if you wanna hit up the indie/rock/metal scene. If you’d rather dance the night away to the beats of the latest house/pop music, check out Alf&Werner , Hall Toll or Hexagon. If you prefer dancing to a more underground style of electronica and indie music, check out Cementen. If you just wanna hang out and drink craft beers in a more relaxed and mature atmosphere, Cardinal is the place for you. Or Circus , if you want a beer bar with a younger vibe.

The best time to visit Stavanger is between May and September. Every year in late July, there’s the annual food festival Gladmat (which is great fun if you’re a foodie) and the Tattoo Convention (for the alternative crowd). Next year – in May – there will be a wine festival too!

So what are you waiting for?

Visit my hometown in Norway. Visit Stavanger!

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A weekend in Luxembourg

On a beautiful weekend in mid-May, my better half took me on a surprise trip to a destination unknown. It was my birthday that weekend, and he knew exactly what I wanted for my big day. The idea of packing my suitcase with absolutely no idea where I’m headed to, while someone else takes care of everything has actually been a fantasy of mine for a long time. Usually I find not knowing and not organizing things on my own, to be a somewhat stressful affair. And yet I love surprises. As much as I hate not knowing. What a paradox. I was told to get in the car with an open mind and a suitcase packed with whatever I would have worn had we stayed home in Paris that weekend. Traffic signs gave away a few hints along the road. We were not headed to the airport. We were not headed south, nor west. The large crossroads close to the border suggested Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg or Eastern France. I was clueless. They all seemed like good options to me!

And shortly after, there we were. Luxembourg City, the capital of the country by the same name. A small rural country, peaceful and green. The capital city is famed for its medieval old town, perched on sheer cliffs. A small country, but a country rich in history. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg contains around fifty historical castles – more than a hundred if you ask those who also consider the old manor houses as castles.

We spent the first day strolling around, exploring and photographing Luxembourg City. What really caught the eye was the Palais Grand-Ducal, a beautiful palace in the city center. We were obviously not the only ones who were fascinated by it, as it was surrounded by tourists taking pictures or smiling for the camera. There seemed to be some sort of an EU-festival happening in Luxembourg that day – as plenty of locals were waving European Union-flags, marching bands were parading the streets and women in traditional costumes were handing out flyers. Although we had no idea exactly what they were celebrating, it was fun to be there and take part of it.

We wanted to try local specialties while we were there, but we couldn’t find the very few things that were supposed to be traditional dishes from Luxembourg on any restaurant menu at all. So we went to a restaurant called Urban and had burgers instead. And we had burgers again the next day, from an equally great burger restaurant; Snooze. So, I did’t learn much about the local cuisine in Luxembourg, but they sure know how to make delicious, gourmet burgers!

The next day was spent visiting a few castles. The New Castle of Ansembourg and its spectacular garden was our first visit. It started to rain towards the end of the visit, but lucky as we were, we managed to visit the garden entirely before getting soaked. The next one on the list, was also the last one – due to the weather. The Vianden castle is set on a rocky promontory, overlooking the river Our and dominating the town of Vianden. We only saw it from afar – again, due to the weather -and went to grab a drink in a cafe downtown, while waiting for the rain to stop.

The weather didn’t clear up that day. The following day was, however, sunny and nice. What a lovely birthday present from the higher powers. What wasn’t as lovely, was the present from the police; a parking ticket due to illegal parking. Parking was free of charge during the weekend – but the weekend was over. It was Monday morning.

We left Luxembourg City to go somewhere else – for another surprise. A concert at edgy, new venue Rockhal in Esch sur Alzette (still Luxembourg). Hans Zimmer, the well-known German composer, whose works include The Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean, Inception, and more. The show was fantastic. At times I was misty-eyed and had goosebumps – that’s how amazing it was. Applause to you, Hans Zimmer. I haven’t felt this emotional since I saw another famous composer, John Williams (works include music from Spielberg’s movies) in concert.

From being a small country I knew little to nothing about, to a country where I have now spent my birthday and created wonderful memories together with my partner, I now smile when I think of Luxembourg.

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New Castle of Ansembourg

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Vianden (town and castle)

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The Vegans Guide to Paris

I came up with the idea of writing a vegans guide to Paris after having spent a week exploring that side of Paris with a friend who is vegan. My friend had never been to Paris  or even France before and had been told and/or read online that she’d have a hard time finding anything to eat in France. After all, France is known for its Foie Gras, Boeuf Tartare and creamy pastries and buttered croissants. France is not exactly famous for being a veggie haven. But I did my research. And I got results. Needless to say, vegans won’t starve in Paris. Quite the contrary. I found several restaurants, a few coffee shops and even a 100% vegan supermarket!

Where To Get Your Vegan Coffee

Oatmeal Paris in the 5th arrondissement (metro: Censier-Daubenton, line 7) is a 100% vegan cafe. They offer coffee-drinks and other hot drinks, “sandwich du moment”, oatmeal of the week and different desserts. I tried their tarte tout chocolat, a rich chocolate mousse tarte. It was delicious! My cappuccino was good too, and so was the matcha latte that my friend ordered. Besides, this place is great for Instagram-snapshots!

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Las Vegans in the 10th arrondissement (metro: Bonne Nouvelle, line 8 and 9) is a 100% vegan take-out place. They offer hot coffee drinks, smoothies and are mostly known for their delicious doughnuts and ice cream. They also offer salads and vegan kebabs if you’d rather have something savory. Both me and my friend ordered a banana caramel doughnut. Good place for a quick takeout!

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Le Pain Quotidien is a restaurant and bakery franchise located in different parts of Paris. I didn’t take my friend there, but I’ve been there several times on my own and I know they have a lot of vegan options on the menu. They offer coffee, pastries, salads, fruit juice, tasty sandwiches and more. I usually order the hummus or the avocado tartine (open sandwich) when I’m there. They’re both vegan and delicious!

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Where To Get Your Vegan Sweet Treats

Vegan Folie’s in the 5th arrondissement (metro: Place Monge, line 7) is a 100% vegan bakery. I have heard a lot of positive things about this place, but was unable to go there as they were closed for the week while my friend was here. I’ll definitely check it out one day, though!

Ara Chocolat in the 9th arrondissement (metro: Anvers, line 2) is a vegan-friendly artisan chocolate shop. I only found out about this place today – so it’s yet another place I need to visit.

Where To Have Lunch/Dinner

Gentle Gourmet in the 12th arrondissement (metro: Bastille 1, 5 and 8) is a 100% vegan bistro-style restaurant. This restaurant is a perfect place for a date/romantic meal and for those of you who love and appreciate modern french gastronomy. I started with a faux gras with raspberry jelly and sauce, accompanied with bread and decorative, eatable flowers. The server recommended the portobello mushroom burger with polenta sticks as a main course, so I ordered it. Sadly, I didn’t order any dessert as I was too full. I will definitely return to this restaurant….and order a dessert – no matter how full I am.

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42 Degrés in the 9th arrondissement (metro: Poissonnière, line 7) is the first 100% raw food restaurant in France. This vegan raw food restaurant is – like Gentle Gourmet – for those who appreciate modern bistro-style dining. I haven’t been to this chic raw food place just yet, but would love to go one day!

Hank Burger in the 3rd arrondissement (metro: Rambuteau, line 11) is a 100% vegan burger restaurant. If you’re in the mood for fast food rather than fine dining, you should definitely check out this place!

Végét’Halles in the 1st arrondissement (metro: Châtelet, line 1, 4, 7 and 14) is a vegan/vegetarian restaurant that I’ve heard great things about, but have yet to visit. They have a large menu with plenty of options and I’m sure even the pickiest eater will find something they like there.

Where To Get Your Vegan Groceries

Un Monde Vegan in the 3rd arrondissement (metro: Strasbourg – Saint-Denis, line 4, 8 and 9) is a 100% vegan supermarket. It doesn’t look that big from the outside, but they have absolutely everything you need. And more. Everything you need for a vegan barbecue, cookbooks (in French), cereals and oatmeal, cheese and spreads, faux gras, vegan rillette, pizzas, different kinds of pasta and sauces, candy and chocolate, biscuits, ice cream – you name it.

…And last but not least, tips to non-vegans like myself, who are planning to host a vegan friend:

  • Cater to their needs. All supermarkets have basic things like soy milk and cereals without honey or traces of milk. And obviously fruit and fruit juice. So even if you don’t want to cook a proper vegan dinner, at least serve them a good breakfast.
  • However, if you do want to cook them dinner, ask them what they like. Just because someone is vegan, doesn’t mean they like absolutely every single vegetable. And it doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to serve them dry lettuce just because you want steak and they can’t eat it. Be nice. Make an effort.
  • Don’t ask them annoying questions like “Why did you go vegan? Do you think you’ll be able to stay that way for a long time? Don’t you think it’s just a phase?”. I got the exact same questions about having tattoos, and about moving to France. And I’m sure vegans get those questions even more often than I did, and I’m sure they’re sick and tired of hearing it.
  • Be open-minded. Take your friend to a vegan restaurant. Have a good time!