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For The Memories, Babe Finding myself in a rut, I've decided to try something new. Or a few things new actually. I've taken a job as an au pair. And moved to a different country. And don't know anyone else. And am directionally impaired. Here goes nothing...

Food for [every] thought

BELGIUM | Monday, 17 March 2008 | Views [1359] | Comments [7]

I have a feeling this is going to be a long one, since Belgium was a three-day adventure, so fasten your seatbelts, ladies and gentlemen...

I met up with my new friend Guus last week and mentioned that I was thinking of going to Belgium soon, and somehow that ended up as an invitation for the weekend that was upon us in less than 4 days, so my impromptu trip planning began. Which is perfectly "Katie" in my opinion, since you know...that's how I roll.

Anyway, I couldn't find a CS host and was getting a little worried, but Guus somehow managed to find us a place to sleep and a bus ticket, so he was already coming in handy. We departed on Friday for Eindhoven, where we were supposed to start our 2 1/2 hour bus ride to Brussels. We waited and waited, and we thought the bus was a no-show. It finally arrived an hour and a half late! No apologies and no explanations were given, but we were off. Kind of a shaky start. And we all know I get car sick.

So after what seemed like riding forever in a bus that apparently was going for some type of Guinness record for most bump-hitting, most near-collisions, and greatest ability to shift both vertically and horizontally so as to increase Katie's nausea, we finally arrived in Brussls.

We met up with Esteban, and the night really started. He was fantastic! He spoke mostly French, but was fluent in English as well (most people in Europe are, I'm finding). He is writing his thesis for school, so I think he was happy for the break, though he looked like he'd had a long day , so I kind of felt bad for dragging him around town, but I'm SO glad that he was willing to be drug! (Obviously that sentence didn't turn out how it was supposed to.) We did our own "Brussels by Night" tour, featuring several cathedrals, the bar scene, and the main attraction of Brussels, the Manneken Pis. This is literally the most famous statue in Belgium and features a boy peeing into a fountain. It's ridiculous- especially with my well-known aversion to "bathroom humor". Anyway, it's everywhere. There are candles, mini-statues, and corkscrews (guess which part is the screw) dedicated to the thing in every souvenior shop. There is also a bar that created a female counterpart for the statue, the Jeanneke Pis. Lovely. Of course I have pictures, so I guess it is what it is because of dorky tourists like me. We also saw the Grand Place, which is kind of like a central square for Brussels. It was amazing. I'm so glad we went at night, too, because it was almost magical, all lit up. The downside was that they had erected this horrifically modern tent and light show in the middle of Grand Place to rehearse a talk show they were having there the next morning. It took up a lot of room, and limited the number of decent pictures we could get. There are some though, so please browse the 200+ pics in the new album. While we were in the bar area, we were surrounded by Greek street restaurants and were finally coerced into one by a little man shouting at us. I had a vegetarian pita, since it was pretty much the only thing that didn't look like it had already been digested. Yes, I'm broadening my horizons, but let's not get carried away.

So, after our tour, we went to sit down at Zebra bar to have some of Belgium's famous world-class beer. I, not being an avid fan of beer in general, resigned myself to the fact that I would just maybe gulp the stuff down while holding my nose so I could at least say I'd tasted it. However, a wonderful thing happened. Esteban ordered a cherry fruitbeer (there is a real word for this, but you know I don't konw it), which opened up the floor for me to order a flavored beer too :) I settled for peach, which I don't like in tea, but thought may be overwhelming enough to knock out that not-so-lovely beer taste. And it worked wonders! I can see now why people get addicted! Good thing I was only staying the weekend, because we may otherwise have had to call AA. Also, as a side note, Euro beer is a little stronger than American, I'm told. So, we each had one beer, and the photos with us climbing on statues resulted. Dangerous.

The following morning, after I finally pulled myself out of bed around 11 (I don't care if it was wasting our short time there- I need rest and I'd been travelling forever the day before), I was greeted with croissants and sandwiches from a local bakery and deli. Gouda is the national treasure of Netherland cheese-makers, and I love the stuff. Guus and I left Esteban for the day to work on his thesis, and began our own day-tour. As we had seen many of the sights the night before, we were able to kind of concentrate our efforts. And, let's be honest, when people think of Belgium, they think of three things. Waffles, beer, and chocolate. Seemed the perfect place to start. Unfortunately, once we got started it was hard to stop! So after a long stroll through the Botanique (Botanical Gardens), we had waffles, ice cream (gelato), and frites (fries- which are also a Belgian specialty) with mayo (everyone eats mayo on fries here. It's even called "fritesaus"- so all of you who bagged on me for eating it in the states can get over it). All of these were huge portions, and I couldn't finish any of it before we got to the next "Belgium's Best Blank" stand.

Esteban had given us this great map written for students and backpackers that had really great "to do" things that was really witty. Also, it had things you wouldn't think of, or things you would pay for that you didn't have to. For example, there is a point high in the city that you can pay to go up and look at the view. OR, you could follow the map's advice and go to the 10th floor of this certain random parking garage, and see the same view, but at 360 degrees, and free :) That is where all the aerial shots in the album are from. It also shared some random little known facts from the city. Like the Jeanneke Pis statue, or the urinal that is attached to the side of this beautiful cathedral. It was gross...so again, there are pictures.

The next spot on the Must See list was the Atomium. It was erected for the World's Fair in 1958 in Brussels, but the people loved it so much they decided to keep it. It has recentely been shined up and is really amazing. It's also decorated at night, so we planned ahead to go around dusk so we could get pictures in the light and dark. Worked out pretty well. It was already closed when we got there, but as we had already seen the overhead view of the city, we were ok with that. We took some pics, then headed into this beautiful garden just next to it. It was the strangest dichotomy. Here you are standing in what was at some points a densely wooded area, and you look up to see a spaceship-like thing seemingly hovering overhead. It's bizarre. We walked and waited for the sun to set, and finally planted ourselves on a bench to eat sandwiches and watch the light show. It was the perfect way to end our day.

Guus had some extended family outside of Brussels, and Esteban's couch (guest room actually) was only available for the one night, so we bid him adieu and headed over to Leuven. We had some transportation scheduling issues, so it took awhile to get there, especially leaving so late, so after his aunt picked us up, I took maybe the most wonderful shower of my life and went to sleep. Though I should say that the room I was sent to was a bit of a shock. You know those Che Guevera flags? The Cuban rebel leader guy who is causing some trouble for the Obama campaign I think? Anyway, I don't know all the controversy behing the thing (I should bone up on my history), but I do at least know that maybe this isn't a good guy? Anyway, I walk in and the image is EVERYWHERE. Pillows, blankets, flags, posters, books, postcards...it was a little insane. And really, not just because it was this guy. Like, if you walked into a room and there was a pretty teapot, you may think, hmmm...that's nice. But, if you walked in and the same teapot was copied on every piece of fabric and paper in the place, you'd be a little freaked out. Or, for you HP fans, Delores Umbridge's office with the kitten photos. Yuck.

Anyway, in the morning Guus went to see his sick grandmother and I chatted with his aunt. Things I learned: 1) no one is married in Europe. I mean, I knew this from things Josh told me about Celine (his sister-in-law)'s family, but it's interesting how common. It's just as liketly that people are just living together, whether or not there are children. So, assumptions can get you in trouble. 2) Belgium's government is completely wacky. They have five active governments, usually, one representing each culture facet of the people that live there. So there is a French gov, a Belgian gov, a Flemish gov, and two more (those may not be right, but it worked for the explanation I think). However, there is currently an interim gov for the Belgian part because no one can decide which language to speak- French or Flemish- so the previous government essentially gave up and left. Wierd.

When Guus returned, we had planned to go explore the little town of Leuven, but it was pouring, so we opted for a museum. Leuven is tiny, but it houses the "best" African museum in Belgium. Not that I can imagine there are many African museums in Belgium fighting over this title. And before I explain why I don't think it was the best, even if there were this struggle, I'll give some background. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Kind Leopold II was in charge in Belgium (when history interests me I remember names and dates?). He was basically a complete asshole scumbag. He had some obsession with Africa and gaining territory there, as were many European countries at the time. So he sent people over claiming to be either missionaries or people who wanted to help "civilize" the poor natives. Instead, of course, they forced the African people of a certain region into slavery. Leopold was mainly interested in rubber, so he would capture the families of able-bodied men, and hold them as ransom to be sure the men would keep working hard. If they didn't produce a certain amount of rubber by some point of time, they would wait for the man to return from the work, then kill his entire family in front of him. How very civilized.

Anyway, Leopold also wanted to create this museum. I would assume that most museums are created to house artifacts. Instead, he decided to collect artifacts to fill his museum. He did whatever he needed to get the items he wanted in these halls. Mostly, he wanted two things. One, he wanted to show how an African village worked. To do this, he imported men, women, and children to come over on treacherous boat rides and play house on display in his museum. Second, he wanted to be able to display all the different species of animals in Africa. But not just one. Whole families. So he and his men systematically hunted and killed entire families of animals, stuffed them, and created a panorama (diorama? not sure of word usage) of them in their habitats. These displys are apparently what the museum is known for. Belgians are fascinated. Guus was fascinated. I was completely sickened. I didn't realize at first that these weren't just models of the animals, but instead murdered and stuffed for our enjoyment. I thought it was cute that they had been so careful in the details of even the smallest, youngest baby animals. When I realized what it really was, I almost started crying. Fine, I'm a dork, or oversensitive, or whatever. The room then smelled of death, and I immediately looked for the least alarming escape route. I found the door to the next room, and learned that I had only just begun. I must have left the wild cat exhibit, only to be thrown into the reptile room (complete with snakes, fish, and lizards in jars of I don't want to know what), then the bird room, then the spiders, locusts, and other disgusting insects room. The last of these had an (out of place) entire giraffe in the center. I finally managed to find the exit, which was placed next to an elephant. All of these poor creatures...it was just awful. Maybe I should work for PETA or something.

Anyway, this definitely spoiled the morning for me, but I was trying to keep my spirits up (and my breakfast down). There were some beautful gardens outside of the museum (a mini-Versailles) and we walked around for awhile since the rain had stopped. Then, another big first. We missed our bus, so Guus suggested we hitchhike. At first I was adamantly against the idea. We've all heard the horror stories. However, it was basically our only option, and I had someone else with me, and it was the middle of the afternoon on a Sunday, and of course there's always free will, which gave me veto power should the proposed car alert my stranger danger alarm. Within about 2 minutes we were picked up by a school teacher who took us half way back to where we needed to be, then 2 minutes after she dropped us off, another nice man took us to the center of the town. Still can't believe I did that.

Anyway, we had but hours left of our trip, and still had no chocolate, and Guus wanted to show me the town square, so we walked around, found an open chocolatier, and settled into a quaint little restaurant for dinner before our train. It was really nice.

I've finally taken my first away from home-base trip. How freeing!

Thanks for reading, guys. Seriously, it means a lot.

Fin, for now!

 

 

Tags: adventures, food

 

Comments

1

So, throwing out the idea that this probably is tacky but really who cares... isn't it Chandler on Friends that says, "Hitchhikers are in every scary movie" and then Joey says something to the effect of "Yeah, but also in porn." That is what I immediatly thought of. Aren't you glad I shared that with you?? Also, I am looking forward to a big cup of coffee and a comfy chair to browse all your pics! Yay for Kates!!!

  Kera Mar 19, 2008 1:43 AM

2

Katie you know I can't read for long periods of time. Can you please give the me quick and dirty version?!?!

  Rochelle Mar 19, 2008 12:13 PM

3

Esteban is hillarious looking, you should totally give into that hottie Guus, and Viva El Che!

  Michael Mar 19, 2008 2:00 PM

4

Sure, Rochelle, ignore my blog. I went to Belgium, ate a lot, and came home...and rolled in mud? Can't think of anything dirty in either version :)

  katieback Mar 19, 2008 9:02 PM

5

Christ, Katie - Summarize! Kidding, but that was so long that I've forgotten all of the funny remarks I thought of while I was reading. I should have kept a list.

It sounds like Belgium is WACK. Peeing kid statues, stuffed animals that scare you, psychopathic Che fans. I can't believe you made it out alive! You also should not hitch-hike. That is scary. Please be careful. And maybe you should hang out with Gus-Gus in groups.

... Only you would have these adventures... Only you...

  Lauren Mar 20, 2008 5:30 AM

6

Katie, I love the braids!

  Mom Mar 20, 2008 9:23 AM

7

Hey, just wanted to drop you a note letting you know tha I do still read all of your blogs! I am glad to hear that things are going well for you. I definitely miss you and Potter! Hope things are going great!

  Josh Mar 20, 2008 11:54 AM

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