Graffiti. Its just about everywhere in Belgium apart from on public buildings, offices, houses and in the ‘old towns’. But on any governmental infrastructure not of the ancient nor hereditary type, as viewed from a train carriage, everything is smothered in graffiti including train carriages, signalling equipment, railway hoardings and fences. Bus stop shelters, glass scratched as well, power poles, light standards, its all a bloody untidy look. We like tidy, neat, rolling hills, trees, green fields, peasants working the soil, cows, sheep and not views spoilt by hoon’s infected with the ‘Can of Spray Paint’ virus.
We once again sat in a train carriage at the end where theres a bit of space and no people going to and fro. Theres eight seats four each side and over there is the very black Naomi Campbell an aspiring super model. Surrounded by her suitcase, backpack, make-up case, holding one of her two iPhones, 7 inch screen, chatting amicably, loudly on-line to Snoop Dog. Sue and I sit quietly as Naomi goes on and on in a language not Belgium, nor Dutch, nor French perhaps Zulu. Who knows. We eat our Brugge train station rolls, swig of water and enjoy the graffiti interrupted country side
Our Brussels Hotel, ‘Brussels Grand Sablon’, part of the NH Collection whatever that means, is fairly flash with receptionists all smartly dressed, multi lingual and smooth as treacle. Lucky to get this place for four nights when booking.com had a brain fade and lowered their lowest. Nice room with all the cons, LED lighting, big screen TV, 55 channels, many Aussie Speak, wizz bang overhead or rain shower, shampoos, conditioners, body gels, yeh, soap, shower cap, free bottle water, yay, mini bar with reasonable prices, surprisingly.
We find out on the Brussels streets, that a whisky costs between AUD 10 to 12, thats the low range, and a 330 stubby of Belgian Rocket Fuel beer about the same. Cappuccino Madam, thats AUD 10. Cup of tea Sir, AUD 7. Cripes. Eating ‘out’ as distinct from grazing in our room on Ryvitas overlaid with avocado, slices of canned mackerel, tomatoes and cheese, requires a call to one’s Bank Manager. ‘Out’ its expensive with mains between AUD 32 and 45 and thats in the ‘Old Town’ where the office workers and students eat. Sue likes ‘old towns’, ‘old buildings’ old things generally which gives my ego a boost as I’m an old ‘thing’.
Belgium, officially ‘The Kingdom of Belgium’, is bordered by France, Holland, Germany and Luxemburg and its 11 million population live in an area less than half the size of Tasmania. The word ‘Belgium’ come from the roman or dutch for a ‘marshy place’. Im all for naming places after a pleasing locality like Pine Gap, type of tree, aboriginal group, whatever as long as its Australian.
But we got New South Wales as it looked a bit like Wales, was south and was newer than the old Wales. Queensland and Victoria really stretched the grey matter of our early founding fathers followed by equally idiotic South and West Australia because they were. Then, not long ago, there was a real chance when they carved up South Oz’s top half coming up with ‘Northern Territory’ because it was north and not a state therefore blah blah. Don’t mention Emperor Colin Barnett naming our new waterfront cesspool Elizabeth Quay.
But wait there’s more, for in 1818 Phillip Parker King, extraordinary Australian, sailed into a large north west gulf, a stormy windy gulf and fortunately found respite in a small Bay an offshoot from the stormy Gulf. He named the Bay, the ‘Bay of Rest’. Great name, described the locality and respite he found himself in perfectly. Mind you, fortunately he wrote the name in his journal before the mossies came out to feed on him. But then, Mosquito Bay is equally as good. Phillip named the larger bay at the bottom of his gulf which had given him a ‘hard time’, Gales Bay. He then stuffed it all up by naming the large yawning gulf, Exmouth Gulf after Admiral Edward Pellew, First Viscount of Exmouth. England naturally. Who gives a holy sheet about First Viscount Pellew. Jeese, the town of Exmouth and the Gulf should be re-named ‘Ningaloo’. I like the town and surrounds of Exmouth but I would like Ningaloo more.
Two distinct linguistic groups make up Belgium with the Dutch speaking Flemish group making up 59% of the population and the French speaking Walloon group making up 40% with the 1% remainder speaking German. In Tasmania there are also two distinct linguistic groups. One being relatives on my wives side who comprise 10% of the population about Launceston.
These fine wonderful people have their own Flag, a growling white Bulldog on a blue background and National Anthem which begins with ‘Zipped Do Dar Zippedy Yay’. The other 90% are known as Tasmaniacs. These Neanderthals species chain themselves to Bulldozers, Trees and want to ban Balloons and Artificial Plants. Their flag features a Vegan Burger and their anthem is Englebert Humperdinks ‘Green Green Grass of Home’. They also want to install a money making machine in Centrelink’s Hobart office and plonk Jacqui Lambie in as Prime Minister. And there’s nothing wrong with any of that. Strewth, you got carried away a bit there mate. ‘Sorry Dad, its Mum’s poached and fried brains with sago pud for desert thats befuddling my brain’. Never mind mate, put the ABC news on willya and gets another beer.
Brussels, where we currently are on our World Expedition, has a population of 1.192 million most of them spotted between the hours of 5pm to 1am on a weekday, at a Cafe drinking beer, eating chocolates, syrup covered waffles and saying ‘Ya’. Yesterday at a busy ‘Old Town’ cafe, sitting outside, all chairs aligned to face the street as though to see any remnants of Napoleons Army coming to attack, two 50kg girls are working their way through large wine shaped glasses of, wait for it, ‘A Degustation Menu of Six Beers’. Cripes, these are young adults and they are not lonely as males are sitting with huge 2 pint beers in unusual shaped glasses like a round bottomed wine decanter and needing support in a wooden frame whilst at rest. Thats the beer glass not the drinker. And here we sit with a woosie Corona and a Stella.
Those other beers start at 6% alcohol and work up to above 12% in a 330ml bottle. Male life expectancy here is 78.8 years for males and 83.5 years for females. The many cigarette’s, cigars and other readily available ‘tobacco’s’ smoked outside the cafes, possible contributes to the early male termination. As does having a chocolaty, syrupy waffle or iced donut washed down with a runny boiled egg for brekky.
What we have seen of Brussels so far, we much like. The 19th century grand buildings, the ‘Old Town’, and theres bits and pieces of the ‘Old Town’ from the 15/16/17th centuries sprinkled about Brussels in surprising places. In these old enclaves of lovely 4/5 storey narrow fronted quirky buildings, the Rue’s are narrow, windy, cobblestoned, go uphill, downhill and are smothered in quirky clothing, art and antique shops, cafes, waffle, bread, chocolate, beer and assorted other shops. The majority of Brussels, which is about the other 80%, is seemingly well planned with many ‘right angled’ broad avenues, tree lined, large cobblestoned squares surrounded by official looking grand grey stone buildings, colonnades, heavy porticos, large recessed windows with glazing bars, heavily embellishment about. Theres sweeping views down squares, beyond fountains, statues, broad stone and marble staircases into a spacious tree lined avenue or rue below and across the Belgian Plains where Napoleons foot soldiers rampaged once upon a time.
It all speaks of wealth hand in hand with good planners in days gone by and today as the European Union and NATO’s headquarters are here bringing with them 39,000 jobs, many new office blocks, skyscrapers, more fountains, squares, statues, all sensitively designed and juxta-positioned to enhance the already grand streetscapes, everybody is relatively happy. Or seems to be. Good rip snorting stuff mate. ‘Thanks Dad. Would you like another beer and a bowl of warmed giblets’.
There’s many formal and informal parks some on a monumental and grand orderly scale with huge trees, wide walkways, fountains, orderly garden beds with vistas of majestic buildings in the distance. A short five minute walk uphill from our hotel, is a small park, ‘Place du Petit Sablon’. Its rectangular in shape, surrounded by a wrought iron fence pierced by 48 stone columns atop each a weathered burnished green bronze three quarter full sized statues of Belgium ‘heroes’. There’s Freedom Fighters, Politicians, Poets, Writers, Tinsmiths, Clockmakers, Tilers and Choclatier’s. In the centre of park, a Grand Fountain spouting heavy plops of water into ponds, they flowing down into a large shallow semi circular pond with peaceful gurgling.
Atop the fountain on a low heavy plinth, are statues of Counts Edgmont and Horne who were executed in this place in 1568 because they led the resistance against Spanish tyranny. They should follow this practice in Canberra. All in favour say ‘aye’. Theres swathes of grass here with wide crushed grey limestone paths weaving about. I’m standing on the grass taking photos of the bride when I hear a loud tweet tweet tweeting whistle blowing like its knock off time. Way up by the fountain, Susan points out a dumpy girl outfitted like Robin Hood in Sherwood Green who waves with her arms sideways as though I am cleared for takeoff. She wants me off the effin grass. No stand on grass, Get off, Ya!! Theres no signs to that effect but with two Robin Hood girls both with tweet tweets, whose job is to keep people off the effin grass, they have their whistles going as there’s a few hundred people strolling about and standing on the grass.
Opposite this ‘park’, across the busy rue Regent, is the Church of Notre-Dame de Bon Secoure overlooking and dominating Sablon Square which is a smallish square falling away down the hill to the ‘Old Quarter’. Our hotel faces this small busy square which on one evening was thronging with people eating and drinking from small stalls, vans and purveyor’s tents of waffles, hot chocolate, cold beer and good times. Then on Saturday, the historic red and green vertical striped canvas stalls of ‘Antique Dealers’ were put up upon ‘our’ Sablon Square for the day with a real eclectic mix of ‘stuff’ from jewellery, aged carpenters tools, old watches, chairs, artworks, cutlery, plates blah blah. Sharp, eagle eyed, cash register eyed mainly older persons manned the stalls.
Belgium has a constitutional hereditary monarchy since the official establishment of Belgium as a stand alone country in 1830. The Royal Sit Down Throne, currently occupied by King Philippe. Next in line is Philippe’s, and wife Mathilde’s, daughter Elisabeth who is a sweet 17.
Belgium is another of those European countries that has been fought, and wrestled over for centuries and centuries and has earned the unwanted title of, ‘The Battlefield of Europe’. Today, Belgium contains a mix of people with two distinct languages. Fortunately, everybody, speaks both French, Dutch and now English. Their flag, three vertical stripes, starts with Black against the flagpole, Yellow and Red. The exact colours of Australia’s aboriginal flag which has two horizontal stripes and a large yellow dot. Or is that a ‘full stop’.
Many interesting and quirky people have were born in Belgium. Take Adolphe Sax born on 1814 and dying in 1894. As a child, Adolphe had many near death experiences including, A, falling three floors and landing on his head. B, aged 3, he drank a bowl of vitrolized water (sulphuric acid). C, swallowed a pin. D, burnt himself in a gunpowder explosion. E, fell onto a hot cast iron frying pan and F, fell into a river and nearly drowned. He survived all that and went on to invent the Saxaphone. In 2015 Google Doodle commemorated his 201st birthday.
Then theres ‘Tin Tin’ a boy journalist come adventurer with his faithful dog ‘Snowy’ invented or ‘thought up’ in 1929 by Georges Remi born 1907 in Belgium. Tin Tin and Snowy cartoons come comic strip, have a support team of Professor Calculus, Captain Haddock and Bianca Castafiore.
And what about Brussel sprouts. Grown by the Romans and taken in the ‘early centuries’ AD to Belgium, the Belgians embraced them as their own and gave them a name. Just like the Kiwi’s took Chinese Gooseberries and re-invented them as ‘Kiwi Fruit’.
Then the Belgians claim ‘Hot Chips’ as their own having ‘invented’ the way of cutting up the spud and double frying it. Known here as ‘Frites’ which come in a cone of paper. Try the Belgian Beer Cafe in Murray Street Perth for the same thing. Apparently, some Belgians were eating these in a World War One camp when a handful of Yanks, and that bunch get many things confused, thought they, the Belgians, were French. The yanks were taken by the aroma of the fried potato slices and the warm salted taste, so they they took it back to the U S of A as ‘French Fries’ giving the recipe to their commanding officer, Colonel Saunders. They really are, ‘Belgium Frites’. So there.
On our second day in Brussels, my magical bride Susan suggested that rather than do another pub crawl, we go journey about Brussels on the Red Hop On Hop Off Double Decker Bus. Choice of two ‘lines’ – the blue line is the ‘Atomium’ and the red line the ‘Europe’. 24 hour tickets, 23 euro each thank you. Cripes mate, thats near 40AUD. Each, grr grr. We off up on top, pole position, whilst down below in the drivers seat is Manuel who arrived with his 3 year old daughter, plonked her on a wheel arch, inside, box of popcorn, warm choc milk in baby bottle, box of toys and we are off. Blue Line in the morn, and Red Line in the arvo both excellent tours out and about, to the suburbs, high end, low end shopping centres, past Palaces, Parks, European Union Offices, canal boats, grand avenues and to the Atonium. This was designed and erected in 1958 as part of the Brussels World Fair and like the Eiffel Tower, was supposed to have been pulled down afterwards. Neither was. The Atonium consists of nine eighteen metre diameter stainless steel balls six of which are used for tourist purposes. Connected by a web of three metre diameter tubes, containing stairs and escalators, the central tube having a speedy lift up to the top where there’s a restaurant. If your bank manager gives approval, one can have a meal. The Red Line bus tour was equally as good and showed how little of Brussels Sue and I had actually seen. A surprise, its all a bloody surprise. There’s a forty metre wide canal dividing the City into two.
And theres the second biggest arch in the world at Brussels Parc du Cinquactenaire. Well it was for a time until Mexico built a higher arch and then, the North Koreans pipped them all with their arch at Pyongyang in 1982. But when the Mexicans had a sook and cut off North Koreas access to Corona, new measurements were taken and the Mexican arch WAS higher. The North Korean arch designer was executed complete with his family, cousins and goats.
We are on the trains again today. Three trains in fact. Backpacks, water bottles, bread roll full of goodies for lunch and a view out the window of more graffiti.
Ooroo from Sue and Des