November 02, 2005

A letter from the motherland

My friend Tuck, from Kentucky, is on a European stint in Ireland. He hopped over to the Continent for some R&R and this is what he wrote (to his partner, Chuck, but I have permission to reprint, with the norty bits cut out):
"So, Belgium. You would really like it! Brussels is full of beautiful old buildings, the men are generally good looking (it is that French/Moroccan influence, I think). Every where you turn they are selling Belgian Waffles on the street corners, and you can buy cones of chips with mayo everywhere.
And there is such a local cafe scene too--all the things you like.
It definitely shows that Belgians love dogs--they are everywhere. I even found the Royal Dog Shop yesterday, and they sell upscale doggie accessories. And people take their dogs everywhere--even on the train, on their bikes, everywhere...
Today I went to this giant market that was incredible--food and clothes everywhere, it was huge. I then hopped a train and went to Brugge (one hour, 5 euro!) You would love Brugge. Apparently the canal that got all of the textiles (lace and tapestries, primarily) silted over so it destroyed the economy. People left in droves, and the town was not rediscovered until about 400 years later when folks were on the way to visit Waterloo, and some guy wrote a novel featuring it. And that pretty much sealed its fate, that it could not change much since then. So you have these buildings that are generally at least 400 years old, many older than that. So, lots of plazas and belfries, cathedrals, museums (I went to see the Rodin exhibit they had). Van Eyck is from there (my feet were exhausted from the cobblestones so I rested them on the Van Eyck plaza). I could definitely see going back to Brugge for several days--there is just so much to see there, really...
So going to continue touring around tomorrow, see what I can find.
Unfortunately the museums are closed tomorrow, so I may need to just check out the shops. Things are so much cheaper here that Dublin, it is very noticeable.
I'd love to live somewhere where French was the local language. Even 'laundromat' sounds so genteel here--'le salon lavatoire automatique'."

Pretty good assessment, I'd say, apart from the language thing: Brugge is a Flemish city and because most people speak French in Brussels you could be forgiven for thinking it is the national language (it is, but more people speak the other one of the three, Flemish - I leave you to guess the third one, and no, it's not sign language). Since we all speak perfect English nobody cares about this oversight, really.
If you're in the neighbourhood, go visit the newly refurbished Atomium, the pride exhibit at the 1958 World Fair. It's an enlarged representation of the iron atom, even though the structure is mainly aluminium. It's been buffed, spic and spanned and generally made shiny again after years of neglect.
The 1958 World Fair was HUGE for Belgians, and many people of my parents' age still speak fondly of visiting it. Except my mother, who was highly pregnant with me when it was on and she has really never forgiven me for missing out.

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