Belgium for Thanksgiving 2012, Part 2.

So, Belgium. It’s a weird little country. No one knows it’s there, but it’s actually a big deal. If I could live anywhere in Europe, I would live in Brussels. Why? For a few reasons. One, the food. Maybe the best food in Europe, for realzies. Bread, ham, cheese, pastries, chocolate, salad, seafood, wild game, soup – I ate everything and everything was exquisite. C’mon, they have a restaurant just for mushrooms called Les Spores, how awesome is that? One point five, the beer. I don’t drink beer, but they have really special water that makes really amazing beer. Beer is a food group there. Jem loves beer, and she asked me to take pictures for her while I was there, so Jem, these are for you.

The one being poured out of the little jug is a lambic which is only brewed in Belgium and only in a very specific area. And the one with the Brian Froud drawing on it, Troll Beer, I made The Moomins drink that just so I could get a pic of the bottle and glass (she didn’t mind, she said it was light and refreshing).

Two, the centrality and trains. Belgium was one of the first countries to have a train system going all over the place, and the rails are smooth as butter. It’s like there’s Metro-North all over the country. Some of the trains are double-deckers! Also, Brussels is the home of the European Union, so it is very worldly. And here’s the clincher: It’s got those crazy high-speed trains. A guy we met up with said, “Whenever I want to go clothes-shopping, I leave my house at 8:00 a.m., I’m on a train at 8:30 a.m., and I’m in Paris at 10:30 a.m. Then at night, I take a similar train home and I’m in my house at 9:00 p.m.” One way costs $30.00. So envious. It’s about one hour and forty minutes to London and about an hour and a half to Cologne. And it’s not like a flight, you can show up seven minutes before the train leaves.

Three, the architecture. Belgium is the home base for my favorite art movement, art nouveau. Here is Wikipedia’s definition of art nouveau:

Art Nouveau is an international philosophy and style of art, architecture and applied art—especially the decorative arts—that were most popular during 1890–1910. The name “Art Nouveau” is French for “new art”. A reaction to academic art of the 19th century, it was inspired by natural forms and structures, not only in flowers and plants but also in curved lines. Architects tried to harmonize with the natural environment. It is also considered a philosophy of design of furniture, which was designed according to the whole building and made part of ordinary life.

Translation: Lots of nature and swirly curved lines with tension. I love it. I kept walking all over almost getting hit by cars while gawking at amazing buildings that I wanted to hug. They really love that style. It’s on their buses:

And their bus stops.

But even when their architecture isn’t art nouveau, it’s still beautiful and visually delicious.

By the way, please note that it is overcast in all these photos because in Belgium it rains all the time, which I actually count as a plus. First of all, everyone’s skin is soft and beautiful from the mist. And guess who would never have to squint and wear sunglasses and sunblock ever again? This guy *points to self*. Their winters don’t get as cold as ours here, so there’s no biting wind that chisels your flesh offa your bones.

They also have a Grand Place (Center Square), which is ORNATE. Did I type that in big enough letters? Because it is. Guilds were/are an important thing there. Each one of these buildings is a guild house of some kind. Lonely Planet has a short list:

No 1: Maison des Boulangers (Bakers’ House)- Le Roy d’Espagne, one of the square’s most popular cafés, occupies this building, which belonged to the bakers’ guild. The gilded bronze bust above the door represents their patron, St Aubert.

No 2: La Brouette (The Wheelbarrow)- Faint gold wheelbarrows can still be seen above the door of this house, which was home to the grease-makers. The statue of St Gilles was added in 1912.

No 4: Le Sac (The Bag) This incredibly ornate building was the headquarters of the cabinet-makers.

No 5: La Louve (The She-Wolf)- The archers’ guild topped their building with a golden phoenix rising from the ashes to signify the rebirth of the Grand Place after the bombardment.

No 6: Le Cornet (The Horn)- The boatmen’s guild is easily identified by the stern-shaped gable.

No 7: Le Renard (The Fox) This house served the haberdashers.

No 8: L’Étoile (The Star)- Across Rue Charles Buls from the Hôtel de Ville, this is the smallest building on the square. Everard ‘t Serclaes, the city’s hero and modern-day good luck charm, died here.

No 9: Le Cygne (The Swan)- Adorned with a huge swan and built in classical style, this house originally served the butchers’ guild. Nowadays it’s home to the square’s finest restaurant.

No 10: L’Arbre d’Or (The Golden Tree)- Hops plants climbing columns hint at this building’s former and current role as the brewers’ headquarters.

Nos 26 & 27: Le Pigeon- This guildhall belonged to the city’s artists. Later, Victor Hugo lived here during his exile from France in 1852.

One of the things that we don’t get here in ‘Merka is old things. Really old things. They’re so used to it, they build around it. I came across this walking around. I would love to live in the building next door and give directions. “Yeah, so when you see the chunk of monastery parked in the middle of the road, turn left.”

Same thing in Ghent. Castle hangin’ out in the middle of traffic.

And Antwerp. Castles be everywhere.

So The Moomins and I used Brussels as a base and took day trips to three different neighboring cities: Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent. They are all less than an hour away, so it was no big deal with those fab trains they be rockin’. Antwerp was a must-see on my list because of the buildings there. They have a famous neighborhood that is now a city heritage site and cannot be torn down or modified in any way. See, Antwerp was and still is a major harbor city with goods going in and out all the time. At the turn of the century (and I mean 1899 to 1900, not the recent turnover) a great deal of wealthy German merchants were coming through, so someone had the idea to build an enticing and elegant neighborhood for them to live in. This is what it looks like. Every building is a jewel.

Well, all the buildings except one. When Antwerp got bombed in the Second World War, one of the buildings was destroyed, so this one was built in its place. People were MAD. I would be mad too. Those two houses are not working with the theme at all.

There’s a crossroad that is so sweet. They got the same architect to build all four buildings on all four corners, and each one is named after a season.

While it looks like each building is a mansion, it’s actually three or four houses inside. This cracked me up. Apparently the person on the right paid to have the exterior of their home cleaned and the person on the left did not. It’s like a before and after clip in an infomercial for tub cleaner.

As I said, Antwerp is a harbor city. Since the harbor isn’t in as much use as it used to be, they built the art museum on the banks of the river. While I don’t love the look of it, I like that they made the windows out of woogly glass so it resembled water.

We didn’t go to any of the exhibits, we only went to the roof to look at the view. And then the sun came out, which caused everyone to react like they were either seeing God manifested as man, or to sizzle and hiss.

We passed this cool samurai sculpture on our way up though to the roof.

Tomorrow: more Antwerp.

One Response to “Belgium for Thanksgiving 2012, Part 2.”

  1. Gemma says:

    Hooray beer! Thanks for all the great photos! 🙂 Have to get myself over there one day (hopefully soon)…

Leave a Reply