Christmas, cooking and cycling – combined. “It doesn’t get any better than that!”

Photo Kevin Mayne

My colleagues came up absolutely trumps for the ECF Christmas party this year.

We set off in convoy under the Christmas lights of Brussels for a group bike ride to a mystery destination, known only to a select few.

After about twenty minutes we ended up at the brilliant Mmmmh! in Chaussée de Charleroi where we were ushered in to a large professional kitchen and handed aprons.

Photo ECF

Oh yes, it is an episode of Masterchef and in our teams we have an hour to invent and cook three dishes.

What a laugh. Even the self-confessed non-cooks chopped and stirred with vigour, perhaps encouraged by the free flowing wine.

Photo Kevin Mayne

And due respect, we found out that we have some superb cooks on the team, there wasn’t a failed dish on the table.

Given that a group of cyclists can often resemble a plague of locusts, devouring its own body-weight in food in a day this could be the perfect cycling outing.

In the British version of the TV show Masterchef there are two lead presenters who regularly shout lines at each other like “Cooking doesn’t get tougher than this!” I can only say “Christmas, cooking and cycling – combined. It doesn’t get any better than that!”

Photo Kevin Mayne

Brussels for Christmas

Brussels Atomium from below Brussels Chocolate

Remarkably I have hardly published any conventional travel content about Brussels on the blog despite my two years of working in the city.

The visit of family for Christmas is an excuse for an old fashioned tourist trip to the capital of Europe, with the twist that I have two teenage nephews to entertain so we have to pick out some sights that provide lots of wow. A small nondescript statue of a boy peeing in a fountain really doesn’t cut it I am afraid, the Manneken Pis must be the most underwhelming icon of a city I have ever come across.

belgium

The Atomium however, now that’s more like it. Out to Hysel, emerge from the metro to the symbol of modern life from the 1950s and work our way up into the structure. The high speed lift takes us nearly 100 metres up the central shaft to some great views from the top level, then there is chance to wander round most of the modules and levels where there are exhibitions and displays about innovation.

Atomium view Brussels View of Brussels from the Atomium

It is cleverly done because the lower levels have no windows, just an occasional porthole so you lose all sense of which level and which direction you are moving. Plus they have added some fun by playing with the linking escalators, for example one has been darkened and has coloured lighting and spaceship-like sound effects which appeals to big kids as much as younger ones. My first time inside, but a big tick box for the Atomium.

Brussels Atomium escalator

Mini-EuropeOutside the Hysel entertainment area is a bit sleepy for winter but as my visitors come from outside Europe we have to wander into Mini-Europe and have a bit of fun with the impressions of 28 countries of the EU. It is all a bit twee but they put in some good enough impressions of the countries and lots of mucking about such as steering your boat round the harbours, making Mount Vesuvius erupt, ringing the city bells and chasing thieves round Paris so it sort of worked. Some very odd exhibits which made me chuckle – somehow the entire display for Luxembourg consisted of a motorway bypass, which seems a bit unfair. Some sort of Belgian joke?

Time for a Belgian delicacy before we go back to the city. Waffles with the lot? Of course!

Gaufre Waffles of Belgium

Then it’s back into the city centre of Brussels and the order of the day is very much Grand Place by day and by night, the Royal Galleries and window shopping seemingly endless quantities of chocolate. Now that’s a Brussels we can enjoy.

Grand Place Brussels day Grand Place BrusselsChristmas Grand PlaceRoyal Galleries BrusselsChristmas display Galleries Royale Brussels Brussels beersMacaroon display shop window Brussels

Cyclists’ Christmas greetings from around Europe

Magyar KerekparosklubIt has been really nice to get a mixed selection of cycling themed Christmas greetings popping into the inbox. Now I can steal one or two to make my own Christmas message.

I’m sure the general standard is getting higher every year, but there will always be a case for a bunch of cyclists dressed as Santa on their way to a party, at least in Stevenage! And Copenhageners just can’t help showing off their levels of cycling can they?

My personal favourite is the one above from the Hungarian Cyclists Club. I think the wording is just perfect, it sums up my philosophy of cycling completely and is the perfect antidote to those who bring their tribalism to our great pastime, transport and sport. Goodwill to all cyclists from me.

Best wishes for the season.

Ukrainian Cyclists AssociationSanta's Cycles StevenageLedbury Xmas e cardCopenhagen Christmas 2012