I love Belgium. No doubt about it. It's my second time there, and after spending 2 days in Brugge (at the end of October), 2 days in Antwerp, and 3 days in Brussels, I must say it suits me. The land of chocolate, beer, waffles, and EU bureaucrats, I'd say all my personal interests are covered there. So that is why I love it, and that's why I spent a half week there. There is simply too much to write about, as I am a pretty efficient and no-holds-barred traveler, I get places, and see stuff. So I'll just pick some of my favorite pics and explain. First we'll start with Brussels, then I'll move on to Antwerp.
Pic number 1 is the Arc de Triomphie or Triomfboog depending on whether you're Walloon or Flemish. (Belgium is actually physically and politically divided into the Vlaamsche speaking north and the French speaking south; everything in Brussels. EVERYTHING is in 2 languages, streets, road signs, chocolate names, EVERYTHING). TheTriomfboog is a massive, overly sized structure that you see from the end of Wetstraat. You see the green statues on top, and the shiny gold medallion from well over 2 kms away. Its quite cool because to get there, you have to walk through the entire EU superstructure--Council, Commission, Regions--and the eclectic robustness of all the buildings, they really evoke that Schumanplein is the center of Europe. The buildings are all glass, all massive, and invoke the sense of "So, this is the place that runs a continent?" Behind the Arc is Autoworld, with a special Volkswagen exhibit, and a National Belgian Military museum.
The next one is unique to Het Schelde Dal and one can only truly get it in Brussels. Its call Gueuze, Lambic, en Kriek. It's a "spontaneously fermented" beer that tastes like a mix between wine and beer. After some processing, it sits in a tub, where natural yeasts blow in from the countryside, ferment the mixture, and produce probably the most interesting beverage. At Cantillon, its the last place in the world that brews it to the real process---and takes up to at least 3 years to produce one cask of Lambic. When in Brussels, you have to drink Brussels. The last picture there was the by far the most interesting, intimidating, and awe-inspiring structures I have ever seen. It is the Paleis van Justitie and has more space in it than St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, and is built where they used to hang people. It was started in 1866, and well, it still ain't finished. To say how awesome and mind-boggling this is is an understatement. You see it no matter where you're at, with that gold cap always telling you that justice is there.
You feel miniscule, and King Leopold's structure does quite that. All I can say here is that the eventual building killed its creator, as the architect who designed the place eventually went insane and committed suicide. I would never want to have to go there other than for tourist related activities, and found myself weirdly drawn to the building. I think it's just my Pitt-fixation with anything stone and tall! I must explain that, as a side because there's some space here, that the waffles and fries are awesome. They do something special here, and just a plain, suiker wafel is just tremendously delicious. There is a hint of maple syrup (but it's definitely NOT that). Going and getting about 2 lbs of double fried potatoes smothered in Belgium mayo is an act of unhealthfulness that I can say I indulged in. Was the cone of fries only 3 Euros? Yes; Was the cone the size of the Fiat's tire next to me? Yes; Did I see a paradox as I walked through the park eating my fries as kids did PE class next to me? Yes; But boy was I happy.
I love pulpits. I have not been in a kerk yet in Europe where the pulpit wasn't completely unreal. But the gothic themed St. GoedeleKathedraal was fantastic. The pulpit had a battle between heaven and hell, some random farm animals on the bottom, and a carved dark cherry stair case that mimicked climbing ivy and leaves. This one takes the cake though, because not only is it an entire story in one wooden masterpiece, but it was built on ancient Roman ruins. Also, this kerk was full of dead saints. Tooth here, skull fragment there, even though a lot were taken back from the Crusades, and a lot of blood and gore were flooding the streets of Palestine at that time, its neat to see it even if its some random guy's dead skin tissue in that golden tabernacle outlined in diamonds.
Next pic is Grotemarkt. It's Brussel's main civic square. And, as you can see, was just getting ready for Christmas. All the surrounding buildings are glittered with gold statues and ecclesiastical statues, and is one main destination for all of one's mains trysts. It is really nice to actually be able to guide by monuments in Brussels. Because there are these things called "hills" (heuvels)you can navigate without having to memorize concentric streets and grachten. The occasional visual is wondeful. Lastly, I must discuss my favorite let-down. The Manneken Pis. It is truly the one reason why people come to Brussels, and people flock to it like crazy. It is simply this, a small "cherub" looking figure who is urinating(What's the big deal? In Belgium there's an open bottle law, so public drunkenness is tolerated, and I saw many a people urinating in places that I could clearly see everything happening). The entire statue would fit into a shoe box, and Asian people love it. Luckily I was there to see him in a sombrero looking outfit, which made it kind of more enjoyable. All I can say is that there is a bar right by there that has the same figure, only inside with really great beer (De Poechenellekelder). Below are a few extra Brussel's pics, like before, too much to say, but a few pics can sum it up.
If Brussels is the place to work, then Antwerp is the place to reside. I personally find Antwerp to be perfect. It's not French-itized like Brussels, is solidly Belgian, and is old, a little less old, and really old in some respects. Once the financial capital of the world, it is now simply the diamond capital of the world. And if I had to choose, it would be my home. Brussels is too modern, Brugge too tiny and too far removed. But here are some sites I hope to see again.
My favorite gothic/Art Noveau building this point in my life is Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal. It's tall, pointy, and the outside is just plastered with all sorts of statues, skulls, and neat columns. The thing is the tallest building around, and besides having a really nice open space in front, has Henry Consciousplein right behind it (pic 3). It has this nice green tree that opens up into a sandstone style Spanish courtyard. It is a great place to trot through and listen to the guy on the guitar playing for beer money (last time I was there I watched him wrap up the night, then enter the bar right next door). Then there is Het Steen with its castlely figure. It is techically my second adventure around a castle in Europe, and it's always exhilarating to come up from it to see the big river on the other side. Pic 6 there is of Het Schilderstraat, or where they used to exclusively paint ships (hence the boat jutting out of the side of someone's house). It was so quiet on the Sunday we were there. Everyone was taking it easy, and with tourist season for Northern Europe finished, a leisurely stroll was all that was needed (besides the brisk jog to catch our train, which we caught with no more than 4 seconds to spare).
Of course, a trip to Antwerp would not be complete if you didn't go to't Elfde Gebod, an ecclesiastically themed restaurant where you eat next to the Virgin Mary and sip your Koninck next to St. Peter. With a completely ivied exterior, literally 15 feet from Vrouwekathedraaland great Abdij brews on tap, you feel very medieval. The city is nothing but the 1300s all over again, and if the city looked as it did then (I would imagine the cement and stop lights are about all that have been added) I wouldn't of minded much. Of course I would of only lived to be about 35, but eh, enjoy life while you got it right? I mean the plague wasn't that bad......So I will say that I've been to the BENE of BENELUX (with LUX to come, I got to go for the trifecta at this point). And those two countries couldn't be better for me.
Semester: Fall 2011
Homeschool: University of Pittsburg
All pictures by Aaron. Read more of Aarons blog at http://anorangeexcursion.weebly.com/de-blog.html.