It is hard to describe to someone who doesn’t know Brussels just how many times you can walk up the hill towards Place Ferdinand Cocq from Place Flagey and not really pay attention to where you are going. It is just something that locals end up doing all the time – especially if you live in Ixelles. (And more recently, if you’re headed up to De Haus… a bar where you can get Gin & Tonics the size of your face… but that’s a story for another time.)
A few weeks ago, I was taught to pay attention. And that’s because of La Mercerie, Brussels’ loveliest tea room (halfway up the hill) at rue de Vergnies n°2.
You might feel like you are in a Viennese salon. You might feel like you are eating pastry from Laduree in Paris. You might feel like a Chinese tea clipper just pulled up outside and offered you many a choice of beverage. Whatever you feel – it is simply a lovely escape from the hustle of Flagey on a crowded weekend market day. Service was lovely and you could tell everyone felt a little bit excited when walking in, like they’d just discovered a secret. I’d like to think it will become a must visit locale in Brussels – one of the many recent places popping up that will hopefully get visitors out of the Grand Place circuit (as stunning as it is) to discover the broader neighborhoods that actually make Brussels feel like home to so many converts.
La Mercerie is open Thursday-Friday from 10-18h and Saturday-Sunday from 9h30-18h.
When I say “not seeing anything”, I am half lying. What I mean is I never stepped foot in a museum or a tourist site. And that’s because I went to Amsterdam and just walked the canals for three straight days. And it was lovely.
Indian summer in Amsterdam is gorgeous. (Slightly humid and there was a confrontation with a mosquito of gigantic proportions, but otherwise, gorgeous.) Discovering a new city just at the point where the leaves start to change and there’s that tiny shiver in the air once the sun goes down is the best. Arriving in a huff after my first trek out of Luton Airport (verdict: it beats Gatwick but I’m still not used to this take a bus then a train then a shuttle then a plane then a shuttle then a train again then a bus again routine that seems to have crept into my travel itineraries lately), I found our little AirBnB houseboat by the tune of a grand piano being played inside. As I crept down the stairs, I saw boats sailing by out the open windows, most of them with music of their own playing and with picnics spread out – it felt like everyone in town was enjoying the last days of summer.
I dropped my bags and ran outside. And that’s basically how it went for consecutive three days. Up one canal and down another. Glancing down on a side street, deciding it looked worth exploring and then wandering to our little hearts content (and rather to the woe of our little feet.)
Amsterdam surprised me. I naively expected it to be like other Dutch cities I had visited and rather stupidly thought it might look somewhat like Flanders. But Amsterdam has a style all to its own. Not a harmonious style grant you… its hard to reconcile the gorgeous architecture with what you see in certain red tinted windows. Or to pass by mountains of colorful flowers only to catch a whiff out of a coffee shop. Or to realise, yes, that is someone carrying a cello on a bicycle and he’s going so quickly he almost ran me over. But that unexpected, informal, convivial atmosphere is everywhere and it just makes you want to explore more.
So we will just have to visit you again, Amsterdam. Next time, the Rijksmuseum will be my first stop.
My bags are packed and I am off for a long weekend* in Amsterdam this afternoon!
What are my expectations for Amsterdam, you ask? Stereotypically, I’m going to answer clogs, cheese, “special brownies”, lots of tall people and gorgeous architecture.
Less stereotypically, I’m still hoping for clogs and cheese and know I’m going to be blown away by the architecture. I love cities built on water so I can’t wait to wander the canals and just get lost. I can’t wait to explore the Rijksmuseum and find the stunning doll’s house featured in a favorite recent read The Miniaturist. I’d like to find some great design shops. I want to dig into the history of the city a bit.
What am I worried about? My Dutch vocabulary extends to three words: alstublieft (“you’re welcome”), kip (chicken) and brotautomat (kind of like an ATM for bread). I know what I’ll be studying on the plane…
What am I most excited about? We’re staying on a houseboat :)
More when I return. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions on things to see or places to visit, please do not hesitate to send them my way!
*Things that happen to you when you live in England. Many people will call a long weekend a “mini-break” which is adorable, but which only makes me think about Bridget Jones.
**Other things that happen when you live in England and leave on the day of the Scottish referendum vote: you’re not sure you’re going to come back to the same country you’re leaving… its a very odd thought.
Photo of Tadao Ando’s “Silence” fountain in front of the Connaught Hotel in Mayfair. Ando is one of Japan’s leading architects and his beautiful granite fountain silently (and beautifully) mists every 15 minutes.