Posts Tagged ‘Belgium’

The next day, Monday, was our last day in Belgium so Bear and I headed out on our own with Rachel and Pete’s car (thanks guys!) to explore some nearby castles and the battlefield of Waterloo.

Mound of the Lion--monument at the site of Waterloo

Mound of the Lion–monument at the site of Waterloo

It seemed sort of appropriate that it was raining at Waterloo when we got there since it had been raining before the battle in 1815 which caused muddy conditions, so I could appreciate a fraction of what the soldiers had been through.

Looking down at the building that houses the theaters for films about Waterloo and a large panoramic painting of the battle.

Looking down from the mound at the building that houses the theaters for films about Waterloo and a large panoramic painting of the battle.

Coming down the steps from the summit of the mound was a little trickier than I had thought My legs were a little wobbly and everything was slick in the rain so I held onto the railings like a very prudent person. However, my gloves (the ones that I inadvertently stole during the 2010 Gulf Winds 5 mile/10 mile challenge race) are made of absorbent material and before long they were as full as a sponge on the bottom of the ocean. I was wringing nearly a full cup of water out of them by the time I made it all the way to the bottom.

Portion of the panorama depicting one of the great cavalry charges

Portion of the panorama depicting one of the great cavalry charges

Bear’s gloves were soaked as well, so after we watched the Waterloo films and walked around a bit more, we got back in the car to head off to see two more castles, and he came up with a clever way to keep his gloves dry.

When traveling, never bring anything that only has one purpose, so in this case the turn signal is also a glove dryer

When traveling, never bring anything that only has one purpose, so in this case the turn signal is also a glove dryer

We went to a cool nearby castle but found that the site was closed, and not just because it was Monday — it was under serious renovations!

Really need to look up the name of this place...there was a nice restaurant next to it.

Beersel Castle…there was a nice restaurant next to it.

After a good lunch, we headed off to Gaasbeek Castle which also turned out to be closed but we could walk around the grounds and saw some really pretty scenery so it actually felt like we had the place to ourselves.

Approach to the castle

Approach to the castle

The Lowenbrau Castle -- just kidding, but that's what the crest looks like.

The Lowenbrau Castle — just kidding, it’s Gaasbeek Castle, but that’s what the crest looks like.

Side of the castle--the brickwork is sort of dizzying

Side of Gaasbeek–the brickwork is sort of dizzying

View from the side of the castle back to the lake/mere beyond

View from the side of the castle back to the lake/mere beyond

We had to leave all too soon for me, but I’ll admit that taking away some really good Belgian chocolate made up for having to say goodbye to good friends (and head back to work). I had promised Bear one more last stop though to make make it a little easier to get back on the train.

The Nandos by King's Cross Station -- perfect end to a perfect trip

The Nandos by King’s Cross Station — perfect end to a perfect trip

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Sunday morning, Rachel proved that she can still put on a fine breakfast spread worthy of the South, including homemade biscuits, which I haven’t seen since we left America.

Rachel also knows how to lay out a spread for breakfast, including homemade biscuits which I haven't seen since America

Ahh, biscuits…

After that, we walked over to visit their church, the International Baptist Church just a few blocks away. After meeting a somewhat dizzying number of people, all speaking different native languages, we went to see the Grand Place in downtown Brussels and do some shopping. I was unfamiliar with the Grand Place before this, but it’s listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and we’ve never gone wrong with one of those. some of the coolest places we’ve seen so far were ones I never would’ve known about except for scanning through that list for Europe and the UK.

Every few years, they decorate the Grand Place with the carpet of flowers.

Every few years, they decorate the Grand Place with the carpet of flowers.

With Pete and Rachel in the Grand Plaats (you can laugh at my hat all you want, but it was warm)

With Pete and Rachel in the Grand Place (you can laugh at my hat all you want, but it was warm)

With Rachel in the most amazing chocolate store ever (and I've been to Callebaut HQ in Calgary)

With Rachel in the most amazing chocolate store ever (and I’ve been to Callebaut HQ in Calgary)

The evil little girl helpers at the chocolate shop kept giving us free samples until I bought a phenomenal amount of chocolate to take back to the States as presents. I think that I have never dropped money so willingly and gladly in my entire life. (Note: Bear later ate a decent portion of what I thought would be presents, so if you didn’t get anything this year you know who to talk to.)

Eating fresh waffles on the street--pure bliss.

Eating fresh waffles on the street–pure bliss.

Photobombed by Abigail and Andrew while we were innocently taking a group shot

Photobombed by Abigail and Andrew while we were innocently taking a group shot

At this point things got a little interesting. We were on our way to view a famous statue, Mannekin Pis, which is (as you might have guessed) of a little boy in the process of urinating. It’s just that simple. It’s a little statue of a kid who needs to pee. For some reason, known only to God, this statue has become a major tourist attraction and a symbol of the city of Brussels.

The name says it all

The name says it all

They don’t even have one cohesive story behind the statue — you get to take your pick of several! My favorite is that enemies were trying to attack the city with explosive charges on the city walls and a little boy peed on the burning fuse and saved the city. The little guy is so popular that they dress him up in costumes–you actually have to submit the costume to a committee and they pick how they’re going to dress him.

Judo MP!

Judo MP!

All was well and good–we got to see the statue and have a good laugh. Then the marching band showed up. Right in the middle of the street, a marching band came along, swelling and filling everything until we were practically standing on top of ourselves to let them pass. If I’d been so inclined, I could’ve jumped right in.

The statue has its own marching band. Yes, it really does.

The statue has its own marching band. Yes, it really does.

That seemed pretty cool and we hung around some more to watch the festivities. There seemed to be an official ceremony going on, even though I couldn’t understand a word of what was going on. We were all clustered in pretty close, which apparently was what the evil masterminds were hoping for because at that point the statue started to, for lack of a better word, go off. See video below for a good example of what they do to unsuspecting tourists.

Then they actually hooked the darned thing up to a beer keg and started dispensing free samples! (Bear said it was pretty good.) You really can’t hold a grudge against a culture that apologizes with beer. We ate some escargot with garlic broth from one of the street vendors and wandered around a lot more before we headed home by way of Egzon, a sandwich/wrap shop run by Albanians. (I didn’t ask.) The food was really great and they have an unusual option of putting the french fries directly into the wrap with your sandwich filling.

After dinner, we had a great time visiting and playing a new board game, Wits and Wagers, that I hadn’t seen before. It really didn’t fit into the usual game categories that I’d played before. I love board games but rarely get to play, so this was an especially nice capper to the day for me.

Wits and Wagers

Wits and Wagers

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Having taken nearly every other mode of transportation out there, when we planned a trip to visit my college friend Rachel in Belgium, I decided it was time to try out the Eurostar train.

When I started college in the fall of 1989, one of the first people I met at Stetson University was Rachel. She was also from Florida, like most of the students, and we had both gone on overseas summer mission trips through Teen Missions International. Looking back, while the organization seems at times like a slightly wacky born again version of the Peace Corps, it was definitely one of the better formative experiences of my life. It taught me a deep appreciation of cooked food, laundry, electricity and being able to speak a foreign language. Spending that summer in very rural Poland just prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall probably led to my winding up in a Russian major and other things which somehow led to this job.

Rachel and I hit it off well from the start but were too busy with student life in general to spend much time together until our junior year when we became much better friends, in part due to her serious bout with mono which required someone several times a day to truck over to the cafeteria with her ID card and fetch back trays of food so she wouldn’t have to waste precious platelets going up and down three floors in the door. (Chaudoin Hall was an all wooden dormitory with the dubious distinction of having a burn time (down to the foundations) of less than three minutes. It was generally decided that it would be best for Rachel to save her energy up in case she needed to use one of the three dozen cafeteria trays she was using for floor tiles in her dorm room to slide down the stairs, shoot out through the lobby and land safely in the courtyard.

When she met her husband, Pete, an officer with the Air Force in the space program at the nearby Patrick AFB, they said they loved me too much to ask me to be a bridesmaid, which I greatly appreciated since formal wear and I are not exactly on speaking terms. Rachel went on to live all over the country as Pete was posted around the States, and they finally went to a posting with NATO in Belgium. It’s funny that yet again I found you have to go halfway around the world to catch up with people, but thankfully our orbits had crossed again after coming to England.

Pete and Rachel's wedding -- 1993

Pete and Rachel’s wedding — 1993

We actually had so much fun while we were visiting them that I sort of forgot to keep track of what we were doing and didn’t write much of it down at the time. That’s really out of character for me but it shows what a good time we were having! So forgive the stream of consciousness, but here’s our weekend in Belgium…

St. Pancras station

St. Pancras station

Inside the train--everyone was happy because they were on holiday

Inside the train–everyone was happy because they were on holiday

Bear settled in to watch videos and see how he likes the train

Bear settled in to watch videos and see how he likes the train

Pianos are available in the station for anyone to play (thankfully he was good)

Pianos are available in the station for anyone to play (thankfully he was good)

Once we arrived in Brussels, we had a little adventure on the metro which involved…well, there’s two versions and since we’ll never agree on what actually happened, let’s just say that we got there eventually and all was well. It was great to see Rachel and Pete again and to meet their kids (for the second time technically). The university I went to had a small student body and the people were extremely close–I’m still in touch with nearly every good friend I made there over 20 years ago and it was really wonderful to see them again and feel like no time had passed at all.

It should be noted that Rachel has always had a lock on hospitality, whether in Southern America or central Belgium. As John noted, "When they come to visit, you need to step your game up." No kidding.

It should be noted that Rachel has always had a lock on hospitality, whether in the American South or central Belgium. As Bear noted, “When they come to visit, you need to step your game up.” No kidding. (The bottled water is highly practical — the water in Brussels is so calcified that people who live there for very long can form kidney stones from drinking it.)

On Saturday, the kids and Pete went to a swim meet in Germany (Pete is the coach) and so Rachel took us over to Bruges, a well known town nearby noted for nice architecture and generally being interesting and quaint and also known as the Venice of the North. We managed to get tickets without much trouble and had a little seating area on the train all to ourselves to visit on the way over.

Nice somewhat typical (that sounds dismissive) little canal in Bruges

Nice somewhat typical (that sounds dismissive) little canal in Bruges

No idea, Bear stole the camera from me and images just magically appeared

No idea, Bear stole the camera from me and images just magically appeared

They had little boat trips, even in the rain

They had little boat trips, even in the rain

Frittes with andaluce sauce (certainly spelled incorrectly)

Frittes with andaluce sauce (certainly spelled incorrectly)

A cafe named after my cat -- wonderful! Even if they spelled it wrong, so I sent them a note to let them know
A cafe named after my cat — wonderful! Even if they spelled it wrong, so I sent them a note to let them know
Santa Klaus and Schwarz Pete -- if you haven't read "6 to 8 Black Men" by David Sedaris, you must, must, must go read it right now.Sinter Klaus and Schwarz Pete — if you haven’t read “6 to 8 Black Men” by David Sedaris,
you must, must, must go read it right now. Seriously, I mean it. Here’s the link
to the full text in the original Esquire article. It’s the funniest thing I’ve ever read, and I never dreamed
I would see the real Dutch Santa Claus and his 6 to 8 black men.
DSC06440

It started raining mid-morning and we found an outdoor cafe with awnings and heaters running — it was a weirdly smug feeling to be able to watch the rain and know it was cold but not be affected by it while we drank coffee, ate Belgian waffles and looked at the gorgeous square plaza area.

An honest to God Belgian waffle, and it tasted wonderful
An honest to God Belgian waffle, and it tasted wonderful
No idea which cathedral exactly

No idea which cathedral exactly–we ducked in and really enjoyed looking around, but just as we were leaving, they said it was time to go because they were closing down. Good timing!

The organ, with Bear and Rachel walking out the aisle
The organ, with Bear and Rachel walking out the aisle. The irony here is that at Rachel’s wedding rehearsal,
she pulled a fast one on me and invoked the Southern tradition that a bride only goes down the aisle once,
and so I had to stand in for her with her Dad. At the time I had no intention of ever going down the aisle at all, so she was pretty delighted to tell John that she had actually gotten me down the aisle before he had.

In the next installment–on to church, downtown Brussels, and dinner at a sandwich shop owned by Albanians!

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