11 November 2007

Belgian Bonanza

Beyond Brussels were so many worthwhile things to see, so many that it is nearly impossible to decide what I liked best. All of it was the perfect, classic European vacation, with plenty of café time, ye olden alleyways, a couplea excellent bridges, and not one but TWO supercool and authentic castles. Thanks to L's bilingual superbness, we got an earful from an ancient Flemish-speaking lady with fast fingers in Bruges about how she makes her lace doilies. L's family members who were well sprinkled across the country also made for the best kind of trip. I learned what a "brown bar" is in Bruges where I met her cousin (for you Bostonians, this is the kind of bar that John Harvard's Brewhouse is trying to create, all smoke-infused beams, high ceilings, wavy ancient glass, creaky floors and six hundred beer varieties), I learned how to crack freshly harvested walnuts at her parents house further south, and our travels were peppered with stories of ancestors who'd lived in various chateaus and ancient houses all over the country.

L also made sure I had all the proper and most local traditional cuisine- the chocolate, the fries from the little stand below the church in her neighborhood, the meatballs with the tomato-pickle sauce (don't wrinkle your nose until you've tried it, folks!). I saw and explored and tasted so many things it's hard to believe it was so short a trip. The other remarkable thing was that this sojourn was planned after L and I had met each other only 3 short times previously, so spending 4 1/2 days in close company was something of a risk. Somehow though, we ended up having happily similar tastes, and everything she suggested turned out to be an absolute delight.

I know I'm prone to falling in love with countries easily, but one of the things I enjoyed most about this trip was the total new-discovery element. I knew almost nothing about Belgium- the terrain, the total language division, the cities beyond Brussels, and L was such an excellent tour guide that I have returned raving about everything I saw and did there.

At the end of the Belgian Bonanza, I took a sleek double-decker train 3 hours south, over the Ardennes to Luxembourg, where my German friend C zipped up from Stuttgart for a day of wandering and avoiding getting completely soggy in the sporadic rain showers. It's a pretty tiny place but the location is quite cool, a little natural fortress of butter-and rosewater colored buildings on a rock surrounded by a river in a gorge. Can't say much about the tin-box airport but it didn't matter too much in light of the bonus visit from C. I've probably lamented how so many friends from Iceland have moved away but what it means in the end is that I can have these nice meet-ups in odd places where we have intense catch-up sessions, or spend days completely immersed in a new place and come away with a crash-course in the coolness of the spot.

I took far more pictures than I linked to above, so for the rest of them, check here


SOe said...

Wow, sounds like a really nice trip. I´m sure you had a great time. Like always, I loved to read your post. ... and now I´m going to check your pictures.

Rose said...

My sister in law's family is from Belgium, and I also knew little about the country. I enjoyed your introduction. You're putting your new camera to good use: lovely pictures. I still can't seem to love any landscape as much as the stark, brilliant, magical Iceland. I don't what it is, but it has got a hold on me.

ECS said...

soe: it was the perfect holiday, actually. Just long enough to really feel Away, not too long that it got overwhelming.

rose: Belgium is a great place- I definitely recommend visiting! As for the landscape, Iceland's just so much more unique that I think it just stirs a stronger loyalty, and stamps its impression just that much more firmly in your mind.

Rose said...

I think you're right about the uniqueness being a large part of the appeal of Iceland. I wonder too if the lack of trees plays a large part: you can see so much more. Trees are lovely, but they obscure land forms and views of the horizon.