Monday 8 September 2014

Meanwhile in Belgium...

Yes, I know. Another foreign trip. In my defence it was only Brussels, and seeing as we're all European, I'm not even sure it counts as a foreign trip. A somewhat hectic day, with a trip to the Isle of Wight tagged on afterwards - now that really is foreign...... Anyhow, arrived in the capital of Belgium nice and early to be greeted by a damp grey day. It is probably like this every day in Brussels, even if the rest of Belgium is bathed in sunshine. But it didn't stop a staunch Brit Eurocitoyen like me from having a bit of a look around, as my last visit had been inexplicably brief. Ostensibly the plan could have been to have had lunch with a friend, but she was unaccountably absent, so I reverted to beer. A trusted correspondent, when asked what fun could be had in Brussels for a few hours, had given me a list of "must-dos" that only involved bars. No mention of the Atomium (I saw it from the bus and reckoned I was 98% done), no mention of the quite adorable albeit very tiny statue of a small boy urinating (Le Manneken Pis), just booze - so naturally I followed these precise instructions and spent the majority of my very short visit sat in various drinking holes nursing absurdly strong beer whilst watching the world go by. Which mainly involved other people drinking beer, numerous weddings and pre-wedding frivolities, and a fair old portion of gloom. I also took in some culture at the death, and you won't be escaping that. Needless to say, I took a camera, so here is a pictorial essay on my day.

This is Albert. Most people in Belgium are called Albert or Jacques, so this isn't particularly special. What was special was a statue opposite of who I assume was Mrs Albert, gazing lovingly up at her mounted beau. Of note is that he is looking off into he distance, and not down at her.

This man was a tourist attraction in his own right. He ignored everyone. Like an aged Depardieu/Halliday, well before lunchtime he was content with fag, rag, and killer beer. Possibly he actually was a tourist attraction.

Selfie. Not really. I have no idea who this is, but I am going to hazard a guess that he is American. No reason really. He is headed towards "Le Cirio", a very charming brasserie with fab decor that served far more beer than it did solid food. I sat next to an old Belgian couple who ordered all the ingredients for a sandwich, and then proceeded to make it up at their table. It was probably the highlight of their week. It was very nearly the highlight of mine.

This is presumably the man above's reason for visiting Belgium. Or perhaps emigrating. Anyhow, much as I really would have liked to have partaken, on top of a number of fine brews, somehow I couldn't stomach it. They were, however, selling like hotcakes, particularly to Japanese tourists no more than half as big again, who would then stagger off down the street and collapse onto a bench or bollard and proceed to stuff their faces. One or two actually died.

In La Grande Place couples were getting married at the rate of one every 35 seconds, it was literally a procession. The bride on this occasion chose the traditional blue, perhaps it isn't her first time? The only reason I took it is because they had invited a Trappist Monk along, who as you can see is looking less pleased than everyone else, no doubt due to missing out on five minutes of ale-drinking and thus unable to build up an appetite for lunch.

I can't remember much about this place, I think it was called Galeries Hubert. Basically a bit like the Burlington Arcade, but a lot bigger and with a ratio of nine chocolate shoppes to one of anything else. Tourist magnet. I purchased chocolate. As gifts.

An interesting display of books. On the left you have book on wild ducks, by Jean-Jacques. On the right you have a book on fortunate hair placement, by Jacques and Jacques. That the two should be side by side shows that this is clearly Belgium.

To the Woodcock! This was yet another pub serving deadly beer. I did not partake.

Here however I did, because it is supposed to be an experience. In an ideal world the waiter would have yelled at me or something. That is what had been promised, and whilst there was a certain frisson, I can't say it was any worse than places in London where staff basically view you as an unfortunate necessity.

I could not visit Brussels without getting a dose of culture. These are some owls by Magritte. It is of course forbidden to take photos in the museum, so I have no idea where these came from. Anyway, way back in the dim and distant past I wrote a dissertation on old René and his surrealist pals. I have forgotten all of it, and one brief visit round a museum isn't going to bring much of it back. I recall a train coming out of a fireplace, but could not find it. Instead there were gazillions of paintings of owls, and a mildly unhealthy obsession with breasts.


My final piece of culture before heading back to the UK. I was most pleased to find this, and it will come as no surprise that it had about ten times as many admirers as the Magritte exhibition I had just come from. A thousand tourist cameras and iPhones have approximately this photo on them, the key difference being the presence of the owner in the foreground. Me? I couldn't even bring myself to place Snuffi in front.....


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