Monday, July 09, 2012

Impressions of Belgium

Snack time at the Grand Place in Brussels, Belgium

I crammed a quick trip to Belgium in at the front of a business trip to the UK. (trip via extra-quick Eurostar service from London to Lille, France.) Here's a few impressions, as I take the sloooowwwww train from Brussels to Lille.....

-hard to believe that Belgium is <200 years old. The monarchy was founded in 1831 based on a displaced German prince. I'm also not sure if Belgium should exist today - there are 3 distinct parts to the country (Walloonia, Flanders, and the capital, Brussels) none of which make sense together.

-amazing contrast between the French and Flemish parts of Belgium. The Flemish part seemed happier, taller, and the people were less likely to smoke. The French part was more global - many more Arabs, Turks, and Africans, and seemingly a bit poorer, both in Brussels and beyond.

-all that talk about Belgian frites (fries)? They're really only notable for their ubiquity - they're served with EVERYTHING. Frying the chips twice makes them slightly different and arguably slightly better, but not much different. They're often topped with different sauces (I saw as many as 16 different sauces), which adds to the uniqueness. My new favorite is Andalucian sauce. I have no idea what it is besides orange colored and slightly spicy.

-speaking of food, I discovered that I could live on doner kebaps and pain au chocolat - yum! Belgian waffles and beers were less impressive. I'd say crepes>waffles. I also tried a Flemish specialty flammades carbonnade. It's basically beef stew, cooked in beer with sugar, minus veggies, but of course with frites.

-here's something weird: Belgium regulates when retailers can have sales. Apparently July 1-July 31 is the permitted month of sales. Every clothing store has this screaming I their window.

-both Ghent and Antwerp were worthwhile side trips - I enjoyed both even more than Brussels. Both are picturesque, with Ghent's canals making the town special, and Antwerp with a very nice old town center.

-I walked through the EU area and was surprised at the small footprint of the EU, though there was a great deal of construction underway. Turns out that Brussels is one of 3 EU capitals (along with Strasbourg and Luxembourg.) If the EU was a stock, I'd short it. It is cumbersome, dysfunctional, and probably irrelevant. I had a chuckle when I saw the message on the outside of a parliamentary building: "Towards a stronger economic union." How about better, instead of stronger?

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With my new friends on the Great Wall of China

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China
Click to go to my online photography

World sun clock

Uncommon Man's Creed

"I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon -- if I can. I seek opportunity -- not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I wish to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole, I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence, nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master, nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud, and unafraid, to think and act for myself, to enjoy the benefit of my creations, and to face the world boldly and say, "this I have done." All this is what it means to be an American." -- Anonymous