Dr. Nicole Basaraba

Assistant Professor in Digital Humanities, TCD

Nicole Basaraba


‘A Summer in Europe’ Adventure: Brussels, Belgium

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It is an honor to welcome Marilyn Brant, award-winning women’s fiction author of “According to Jane” (2009) and “Friday Mornings at Nine” (2010) here to talk about her newest release: “A Summer in Europe” (2011) and her experiences traveling in Brussels, Belgium. 

Many thanks to Nicole for inviting me to visit today—it’s wonderful to be here!

For the past six weeks, I’ve been celebrating the release of my third women’s fiction book, A Summer in Europe, by taking a journey around the web and talking about some of my favorite European sites, specifically the ones that appear in the novel. I’d hoped to share a few personal memories of places I loved, many of which greatly inspired the writing of this book.

A Summer in Europe is about a teacher named Gwendolyn Reese, who gets a month-long tour through Europe as a 30th birthday gift from her eccentric Aunt Bea and her aunt’s Sudoku-and-Mahjongg Club. At first, Gwen has her hesitations about the trip, but she’s soon convinced to go and, before long, she’s exploring famous cities, tasting delicious dishes, meeting unusual people and having her first foreign adventure. During the course of the story, Gwen gets to visit Italy, France, Switzerland, Hungary, Germany, Austria, Belgium and England, and she finds her life changing in ways she never would have expected.

One of the interesting cities Gwen travels to in the novel is Brussels, a place I had the pleasure of visiting only once, but it was both a memorable and very enjoyable experience. I am, I’ll admit, a little envious of Nicole for getting to live there! My heroine’s activities in the Belgian capital and mine were a bit different, however. When my husband and I were there, we were backpacking through the country in our early marriage/pre-parental days and, so, ours was the very casual visit of semi-aimless tourists.

Manneken Pis (statue/fountain in Brussels)

For the purpose of my novel, though, my characters needed to have a little more direction than I’d had ;-). Their reason for visiting Brussels was specific to an event I created: an international Sudoku festival, which my heroine and her travelmates had planned to attend. It was completely fictional but, given the math motifs woven through the book, it became a short but important event and a turning point in the story of a couple of secondary characters. As a writer, it was a whole lot of fun to make up, too! I researched how Sudoku championships were organized in other cities around the world, chose a location in the Mont des Arts cultural quarter of downtown Brussels and learned that there were huge convention centers there that would be a perfect spot to hold an event like this. Hopefully, my fictitious festival ended up being fairly realistic in its depiction, but I’ve never attended anything like this in person. I’d love to go to one sometime just to watch!


Another thing my heroine got to do was to see the Atomium while standing alongside another character who happened to be a physicist. I greatly enjoyed getting a glimpse of the famous monument myself, which was originally built for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair, but I had no idea when I saw it that it was supposed to be an iron crystal magnified about 165 billion times! (My husband, who teaches world history, knew about many of the major historical sites in Europe, but neither of us had any background on this structure, and we ended up learning most of what we know about it after we got home.) If I’m ever fortunate enough to return to Belgium, I not only want a longer look at the Atomium, but I want to go inside of it, ride the escalators and check out all the cool exhibits. (Nicole, have you been in it? If so, what’s it like?!)

Belgian waffle

My husband and I had more free time in the city than my characters did, so we wandered around for hours in the Grand Place, exploring the shops and side streets and taste-testing a few items from the vendors. I picked up a couple of lovely lace pieces to bring home as gifts for family members. We snapped a bunch of pictures of the Manneken Pis, which makes me laugh even thinking about it—all those cute little outfits he has from around the world! And, even though we’d eaten our way through several other countries before arriving in Brussels, we still couldn’t bring ourselves to leave the city without doing one of the most embarrassingly touristy things imaginable. Can you guess? Yes, ordering Belgian waffles! They were delicious, by the way. I still remember how wonderful they tasted (!!) and they were well worth the gazillion calories. (If you aren’t fortunate enough to be living in Belgium so you can get your waffles freshly made from a downtown vendor, you might try this recipe.

I’m sure, since I was only there a few days, I missed many important sites in the city (Nicole, I’d love to know some of your favorites and those of anyone else reading this who’s been there), but I do hope we’ll get to go back someday… For now, though, my big international excursions are all virtual, LOL. If you wish to travel the full book/trip itinerary with me, the stops I made on it include:

Friday 11/25: Rome at Magical Musings
Monday 11/28: Pompeii at SOS Aloha
Tuesday 11/29: Isle of Capri at The Stiletto Gang
Wednesday 11/30: Venice at Girlfriends Book Club
Thursday 12/1: Budapest at Women’s Fiction Writers
Friday 12/2: Florence at Writer Unboxed 
Monday 12/5: London at Austen Authors
Tuesday 12/6: Salzburg at Robin Bielman’s Blog
Wednesday 12/7: Lake Como at Brant Flakes
Monday 12/12: French Riviera at Get Lost in a Story
Thursday 12/15: Pisa at Fly High
Wednesday 12/21: Vienna at What Women Write
Friday 12/30: Verona at Brant Flakes
Monday 1/9: Brussels at Nicole Basaraba’s Uni-Verse-City
Tuesday 1/10: Paris at Chick Lit Central

Any additional information can be found on my website: www.marilynbrant.com. And if you’d like to read an excerpt from A Summer in Europe, which was a Literary Guild, BOMC2 and Rhapsody Book Club featured alternate selection for December 2011, you can find one here.

Have you visited Brussels? Do you have a beloved regional dish from Belgium or from another favorite country? I’d love to hear about it!

Thanks again, Nicole and everyone, and Happy New Year to all of you!!

Thanks so much for stopping by Marilyn. Sounds like you hit the major spots, which is was aimless sightseeing is all about. I have written a blog post about my visit(s) to the Atomium (here) and I really enjoy going to the parks in Brussels so if you get a chance to come back, I’d definitely recommend them in the summertime and Place Sablon for the market, cafes and chocolate shops. Mont des Arts is also impressive and I’m all for the Liege waffles. I’ve just started reading “A Summer in Europe” (since I bought in while home in Canada) and I can’t wait to finish it. Thanks again Marilyn. For some more fun reading, check out Marilyn’s blog, Brant Flakes.

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23 thoughts on “‘A Summer in Europe’ Adventure: Brussels, Belgium

  1. Nicole, it’s a pleasure to visit!! Thanks so much for hosting me here and for your wonderful recommendations of sites to see in Brussels. (Chocolate shops??! Yum!) I can’t wait to read your Atomium posts, too… 🙂

  2. Martha, only part of Brussels that I’ve “visited” is the airport, but you’ve made me want to see it. Thanks and best wishes.

  3. I’m looking forward to the read! We spent four days in Brugge three years ago … stuffed ourselves on moules/frites (mussels and the unbelievable Belgian fries), beer, and um, oh yeah, a bit of chocolate! Thanks Nicole and Marilyn!

    1. Patricia, wasn’t Brugge lovely?! I didn’t have the mussels there (next time…), but I do remember those frites (!!) and I thought the canals were just beautiful. Thank you. 🙂

  4. Oh, that Belgium Waffle looks yummy. I was born in the Black Forest of Germany, my dad was stationed there during his stint in the army, but I’ve never been back. My family is pretty much all German and I think they do make the best Riesling.


    1. Deb, I didn’t know you were born in Germany! When I was growing up, our family had very dear friends — neighbors from down the street — and the mom of the family was born in Black Forest region, too. She is a wonderful person, and her daughter was my favorite babysitter ever ;). I’m happy to say that, even 4 decades later, with most of us having moved to different states, we all still keep in touch.

      As for wine, I’m not an expert judge of any type, so I will believe you on the Riesling! But desserts I know, and I LOVE the German apple strudel!!

  5. I have not been to Brussels, but I enjoyed the little mini tour you shared. Love me some Belgium waffles though! (-; And I’ve heard the chocolate is to die for.

    Thanks for the post!

  6. Glad your tour is still going on Marilyn! I’ve never been to Brussels. My gf was there for the month of August and I was going to go stay with her but the month was crazy busy and I couldn’t. She posted pics of waffles on Facebook daily and they looked delish. Hope to make it there soon.

    Favorite regional foods would be crepe and hot dog stands in Paris. Love that Paris uses hollowed out baguettes for buns. And love authentic brown bread in Ireland. Live on that and Bulmers cider ale every time I visit there!

  7. Beth, LOL about the FB waffle pictures that your friend posted ;). And now I’m wishing I’d gotten to try a hot dog in Paris!! I did have a crepe (yum!), but now I’ll have to go back for the hot dogs…

  8. I’ve never been to Brussels but I have eaten my share of Belgium waffles. My mother and I used to go out to lunch every week and we would often share a Belgium waffle. I definitely inherited my mother’s love of sweets and I’m sure I’d love their chocolates, too.

    1. LOL, Edie!! I have to go out to breakfast sometime soon at a place that has Belgian waffles because I have SUCH a taste for them now! I love that you and your mom would share them… 🙂 xox

  9. Thanks everyone for the comments! I have to say I’ve been busy writing and reading “A Summer in Europe”. It was a pleasure to have Marilyn here. Living in Brussels, I can say you can get good waffles and bad waffles depending on where you go. After a while, they start smelling like “McDonalds” in that they are so common you tend to not want to eat them. As for chocolate on the other hand, now that has become a daily habit… 🙂

    1. Nicole, thanks again for inviting me to visit this week, and LOL about waffles being so commonplace in Brussels that it’s like McDonalds!! That’s what happens, I suppose, when you stay somewhere long enough ;). I don’t doubt that it would take quite a lot to break me of a daily chocolate habit, too, though. PLEASE eat a piece or two for me!! xo

  10. Wonderful post, Marilyn. Nicole, thanks for bring Marilyn to us. The book sounds wonderful and I would love to go there one day, but it will probably be from my armchair.

    1. Marcia, thank you!!
      Armchairs…or sofas…are where I do most of my traveling now, too :).
      So nice to see your comment here and to meet you via Twitter today as well!

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