In early September, we took a little day trip to Maastricht, in the Netherlands. Partly because we wanted to visit a new place and partly because I specifically wanted to visit the cool bookstore there that I had read about in an article on beautiful bookstores around the world. Our trip was great and someday I will get around to writing about it, but this post is all about another cool bookstore. When my friend Chrystin saw that I had gone to the Boekhandel Dominicanen bookstore, she sent me a great article on other great bookstores around the world — including one in Buenos Aires (where she is) and one in Brussels (where I am)!
So of course I made it my mission to get to Cook and Book, the bookstore in Brussels. Cook and Book takes the cafe-and-bookstore combo and goes a step further, with actual restaurants in the bookstore. Yes, I said “restaurants” plural: there’s Bloc A and Bloc B of Cook and Book, which each have their own entrances, themes, and restaurants. In each of these two areas, inside is broken down into different sections, as one might find in any bookstore. The difference is that the sections are physically separated and the decor is thematic: the travel section has an Airstream in it and Campbell’s soup cans hanging from the ceiling, for example.
There’s also a fabulous English language book section (in Bloc B), complete with dark wooden bookshelves and red leather seats. Although the majority of the books are in French (with the obvious exception of the English-language section and the perhaps not-as-obvious partial exception of the travel books, of which a number are in English), I had a wonderful time wandering around, checking out both the books and the decor. There are some great little gifts and a lot of cards in English if you are in Brussels and happen to need a card or two.
Although I only had a hot chocolate and my friend had a salad, the restaurant sections definitely began to fill up as lunchtime rolled around. I’ve read that reservations are necessary for dinner. We were there just before the lunch crowd and noticed that salads seemed very popular, as did breakfast (there’s even a Sunday brunch in Bloc B!). So while I can’t speak to the quality of the food, the hot chocolate was excellent, and it does appear to be a pretty popular place. It is definitely worth checking out for the bookstore part alone (in my opinion. and that is the opinion of someone who reads a lot so keep that in mind…). Also they have multicolored poodle doodles as the background to part of their website — seriously, how could anyone/I not love that?
Cook and Book is conveniently located at Avenue Paul Hymans 251, which is right at the Roodebeek metro, across the street from the W Shopping Centre. Also, the hours are great: Bloc A is open 8 am until midnight daily; Bloc B is open 10 am until 8 pm, and until 10:30 pm on Fridays (the restaurants have shorter hours).
What cool bookstores have you been to? Where else do I need to go?
Whenever someone found out our next assignment was going to be Brussels, nine times out of ten that person would ask, “Oooh, and are you going to visit Bruges?” (And no, we have not yet seen the movie In Bruges — but it is on the to-watch-soon list.) Friends of ours who have served in Brussels twice recommended that we go to Bruges to get it out of our system, then just send visitors there and revisit Ghent multiple times ourselves. As I’m writing this a few weeks late and we’ve been to both Bruges and Ghent, I completely agree with what they said, but more on that later.
Our second weekend in town, we took the train to Bruges for the day. I had bought tickets online earlier in the week, getting the special online “weekend ticket” for Grant and myself (if you go roundtrip between Friday evening and Monday morning, there’s a 50% discount) and an under-26 discount ticket for Laura. The trains work more like NJTransit than Amtrak in that you don’t get a ticket for a specific train but can take any one you want (with the caveat that with our tickets, the travel had to be within that weekend timeframe). This made planning a lot easier! We easily took the metro to the central train station, found the track for the train, and got on when it arrived. We were early enough that it wasn’t very crowded, which was good. The ride to Bruges was a bit over an hour and then we were there.
Once in the Bruges train station, getting to the old part of town couldn’t have been any easier: we just followed the crowd. I picked up a map at the info center, then we joined everyone else in the picturesque walk through a park to town. We weren’t disappointed, as Bruges is beautiful (despite the hordes of tourists). The Grote Markt, or main town square, is definitely something to see. We stopped there to snap a few pictures before walking down smaller streets to get to some of the canals.
As a general rule, we usually avoid doing the super touristy things when traveling and prefer to do a lot of walking and getting a feel for the place on our own. But everything I had read said that a canal tour is a “must” in Bruges, so I suggested we do that right away, before the lines got long. At eight euros, the half-hour ride is not inexpensive (and we were squished like sardines on the boat itself), but it was worth it. The boat driver spoke number of languages and provided some commentary about the surroundings throughout the tour, so we were able to get a good feel for Bruges and a better sense of the layout of the town.
After the boat ride, we stopped to get some waffles to snack on before tackling the Groeninge Museum, which houses Jan van Eyck’s masterpiece, The Madonna with Cannon van der Paele, among numerous other wonderful works. But seriously, it is worth going just for this one painting. The museum is closed on Mondays and when we went was eight euros for adults and six for those under 26. The ticket price also includes the nearby Arentshuis.
Following the museum visit, during which I tried not to linger too long but inevitably made the others wait for me numerous times, we decided to get something to eat. We had scoped out some potential places near the museum and now went back to examine their menus. The place we originally had wanted to go to didn’t have any outdoor seating left (and it was a beautiful day!) so we looked around a bit longer before deciding just to sit inside. It was possibly the best decision of the trip, as the inside was tastefully decorated and much quieter than if we had sat outside. Not to mention the food at Gruuthuse Hof was fabulous. Laura and I had the fixed price tourist menu and Grant enjoyed his first moules frites of our time here. Grant and I also ordered a local beer, Brugse Zot, which is now one of my favorites.
During our lunch, we watched as the waiter had to turn many people away because, as is the case with many restaurants in Europe, the kitchen closes in between lunch and dinner. One is usually able to get a drink at any time, but food is another story. So if you’re in Bruges and want to go to Gruuthuse Hof (and I highly recommend you do), make sure you get there early enough! Even better would be to make a reservation ahead of time, as by midway through our meal, all of the tables had been reserved for dinner that night.
To round out our Bruges trip, we walked around some more, visited churches, checked out an outdoor concert, and walked through some truly lovely places. The only thing we missed that we had wanted to see is Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child sculpture in the Church of Our Lady. We made it to the church, but the section with the sculpture had closed for the day (it requires a fee), so we didn’t actually get to see it.
Bruges is adorable and well worth a visit if you’re in Belgium. It is so easy to get to on the train from Brussels that there really is no excuse for not taking a day trip out to see it!
Grant and I went back to Croatia a few months later, except this time we went to Istria for truffle season. This had been a dream of mine for some time and, ever since we watched Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations episode, we had really wanted to go to a number of specific places and restaurants in Croatia. This time, it was the restaurant Mondo, located in a quaint town called Motovun, high in the hills of Istria.
We had white truffles grated on top of every single dish — including dessert — and they were all fabulous. The restaurant itself is tiny, with only eight tables or so, and everything from the decor (white and bright turquoise) to the food brought to mind a simpler time, where life moved at a slower pace. Outside of America, life does tend to move a bit more slowly, and it can be nice to take a moment and just appreciate everything at that point in time, without having to rush forward to something else.
Truffles aren’t for everyone, but they’re definitely for us!
For the past few weeks, we’ve had a stream of visitors and we won’t be without at least one until August. I love having visitors! My youngest sister is the only one left now; it is great having someone else here who is just as eager to explore Belgrade as I am.
While having visitors, we’ve checked out many places, both in Belgrade and around the country. In fact, we even spent a long weekend in Croatia! I hope to get around to writing more details about some of these trips, but I will say that I continue to love it here. I’ve also realized I am glad we are living in Belgrade. It is a really cool city with a different feel from anywhere else I’ve ever been.
Some have compared it to New York City, due to the 24/7, nonstop lifestyle (and big night life scene), I think. There are always people out and about , and Belgrade is known for its party scene. But there’s also a large cafe culture. At any point in the day, one can find Belgraders sitting in cafes, drinking anything from coffee to juice to rakija. They like their drinks. Sometimes, when we’re looking for a new restaurant to try, all we come across are cafes, with people lounging around, drinking. I’m not sure when people actually eat. Or sleep. Or work, for that matter…
There are gorgeous buildings and hideous ones, the occasional cobblestone street, and outdoor markets galore. There’s also at least one bakery on every block, and many of them double as cafes. We are certainly looking forward to trying out a few more in the upcoming days. Happy almost Friday!