On The Road in Brussels: Never mind the antiques, I'll take the chocolate

 

Sundays in European cities kill me. I've lost count of the number of times I've trailed aimlessly around a city, found the gallery I desperately wanted to visit is closed and all the restaurants are so busy that I can't get a seat. I then walk for miles, eating a stale sandwich for lunch and spend money in pointless shops just to while away the time.

My friends in Ghent told me there was only one place to go in Brussels on a Sunday: the Place du Grand Sablon. Once I'd driven past it three times (driving in foreign cities not being my strong point), I saw their wisdom. The square has a small antiques market on Sundays, more like a flea market, selling china, faded silver teaspoons and old oil paintings, and it is edged with the city's most elaborate boutiques. Lifestyle and fashion shops count among them, but it is the chocolateries that drew my attention.

Pierre Marcolini was the name I was looking for, the modern Belgian master who creates chocolates offering a trip around the world for your tongue. I peered into his shop window like a romantic girl looking at engagement rings: the delicate chocolates gleamed back. Another of his windows reminded me of the British Museum – African masks, all made of chocolate, with intricate detailing, were beautifully lit, inviting me to consider something of Belgium's colonial history along with its chocolate-making prowess.

I continued down the street until something stopped me in my tracks. Frenchman Patrick Roger has some nerve, setting up a chocolate shop here in the Place du Grand Sablon, and his dramatic shop window lays down a bold challenge to the Belgians. His shop has no shelves and looked more like an installation at an edgy modern art gallery than a chocolate boutique. In the window, his pièce de résistance squatted: a large, life-sized orangutan sculpted from pure chocolate. This was chocolate as art, chocolate as culture; and a Sunday spent in the best possible way.

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