By DJ Adams
Okay, so we’ve landed at the Brussels airport and began the journey through Belgium customs. Upon entering the country we each must present our passport and are asked “Why are you in Belgium? Will you be visiting any other countries?” Granted admittance, crossing over we are welcomed with the obnoxious scent of coffee and cigarettes. We collect our luggage, and find a gentleman holding up a sign that reads “Kennesaw State University”. As we are taken to our hotel, our tour guide gave provided us with a condensed version of the “do’s and don’ts” and even introduced us to the delicious and famous Belgium Chocolate. Our guide (forgive me for not remembering his name) explained how chocolate here is really a thing of culture that is wrapped and often given as gifts. He pulls a box out of his bag that is wrapped in beautiful paper, and then asks, “who has the highest grades here” without hesitation we all reply “Roberta!”
With that he presents Roberta with the box of chocolates, she unwrapped it and graciously passed it around the bus for all of us to try. When we arrive at the hotel, our rooms were not ready, so we were able to walk around Brussels a bit, explore, and do our own thing for the rest of the day.
Monday morning everyone met at 9:15 and we walked about a mile to the Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussel, which is also known as HUB. There we met Stefaan, who I believe is a History Professor at HUB. Stefaan took us on a walking historical tour of Brussels. The first thing he explained to us is that there are two parts of Brussels, the “upper-town” and “down-town.” Now, before we go any further you must understand that these are not the same as in the States (or maybe it is). Historically, upper-town is where rich and high society lived and dwelled while downtown was where the lower class lived. Stefaan gave us a ton of information about past Kings and other rulers of Belgium describing that for majority of Belgium history, it was either owned by the Dutch or the French, which explains how Belgium is divided by language. In the Northern region Dutch (also known as Flemish) is spoken, on the Southern side French is spoken, while in the middle there is a constant silent battle between the two. In the 1830’s the country was divided one last time splitting up the United Kingdom of the Netherlands into Luxembourg, theNetherlands, and Belgium.
Stefaan took us through the first shopping mall where the upper class were able to do their personal luxury shopping, we re-visited the Grand Place (also known as the Market Square) as he pointed out where town hall was, and that each of the buildings were houses that business people lived in when the city was rebuilt. Each house had a different architectural structure full of history. We visited several historical landmarks in the down town area ventured to the upper town that we literally took an elevator to get to. It was here where Stefaan asked us each for 1 Euro so that we could experience some of the best chocolate Belgium has to offer (in his opinion I am sure).
Of course this is where my antlers to receive information really tuned in. Prior to visiting Whittamer Chocolats, Stefaan provided a history of chocolate. He explains that a pharmacist named John Royal provided a medicine for women and weak creatures that gave them strength. Now, during this time we must remember that women were not equal to men and were actually thought of as “weak creatures” that could not survive without their men. This medicine was sold in triangular paper bag and the shop was located in the first shopping mall. Inside the bags, Royal packaged almonds that he covered each side in chocolate and called them “Pralines.” There was a problem however with the triangle bags, the chocolates at the bottom of the bags kept getting smooshed. So, the idea to package the chocolates in a box was provided by a woman (of course) who then decided to wrap the chocolates up making them all pretty.
At Whittamer, everyone was allowed to pick one chocolate to sample. There were easily 75-100 different types of chocolates, at which I asked the young man helping us, which one was his favorite. After what seemed to be a debate within himself, he points at the Diamant and says he loves the way the caramel oozes out when you bite it. “Je vais qu’un sil’ vows plait” I say to the young man and he picks it up and places it on a tray. As I bit into the Diamant, instantly I realized that this was not your average
caramel mousse filled chocolate. This was an experience unlike any other. The chocolate seemed to melt in my mouth, as the caramel spread itself evenly across my taste buds. One would have been one bite, I gladly made into two in attempts to savior each and every moment. At this point, I had my first taste of heaven, then I had to come back to reality and as we exit the shop, each of us tells the staff “Merci.” This is one place that will undoubtedly be revisited.
Until next time…