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"Down with the French-speaking Walloons and Freedom for Flanders, that's what I say!" - The Titfield Thunderbolt
Heisenberg might have stayed here
"Down with the French-speaking Walloons and Freedom for Flanders, that's what I say!"
The quotation, of course, is an ad-lib by Michael Flanders in All Gall, but I couldn't help thinking of it on several occasions during our holiday in Belgium.

We'd booked Belgium in the aftermath of the Volcanic Ash Fiasco, as somewhere that was generically on the list of places we'd like to visit and that we didn't have to fly to. The Eurostar was mostly fine; I don't really understand how they have problems with the air pressure in the tunnels between St Pancras and Stratford, but not with the vastly longer and (presumably) deeper one under the Channel itself. The onward transfer to Brugge certainly demonstrated that one thing the Belgians do get right is public transport.

Brugge was pleasant, and although we found the Groeninge Museum had closed its doors in preparation for an exhibition, some of its paintings, including Bosch tryptics, were to be found distributed in the Sint-Jan Hospital Museum. In consequence, we had perhaps overestimated the time we'd need to see things in the town, but this meant we had time to fit in a trip to Ghent as well, including a whistlestop tour of its quite impressive Fine Arts museum.

For most of the week, we were in Brussels, though we also managed a day trip to Antwerp. I have to say, the monumental scale of buildings in Brussels such as the Palais de Justice and the Sacre-Coeur (looking on the inside essentially as a leisure centre with some stained glass) did make me want to paraphrase Tom Baker: You know, this is a classic example of the inverse relationship between the size of the buildings and the importance of the country; or possibly, to compare these and other buildings with Ceaucescu's Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest. The Horta Museum was crowded and didn't really gain my attention; on the other hand, we had the Maison Autrique to ourselves (possibly because the door was firmly shut and you had to ring the bell for entry). Certainly, the Magritte section of the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts was well worth a look; the rest of the museum was interesting but probably not exceptional. We ventured out to the Museum of Central Africa, which was doing its best to be a bit more politically correct than it has been historically. Due to technological issues on our part, we failed to meet up with nwhyte, but never mind.

The weather wasn't great, but we did get some sunshine on most days (and rain on every day apart from the day we arrived and the day we left). The food was generally good, though a number of places we'd found in listings were either gone for good, or at least closed for August - I've read about this "closed for summer" thing before, and everywhere else I've been it's been a complete red herring. Still, you can't have too much rabbit in kriek, beef in gueuze, or lobster. (Actually, you can have too much lobster; even a little of it burns quite deeply into the wallet).

I'm probably being unfair, but I came away with a rather negative feeling about Brussels. There are an awful lot of dilapidated and crumbling buildings, old and new, all over the place. I'm not widely travelled, but it's the only place other than Barcelona where there have been so many beggars (quite a few of whom, wearing my Daily Mail hat, I suspected of being in a commercial operation). The Metro was fast but did not strike me as particularly safe, and frankly downright dangerous when the drivers do their not infrequent "emergency" stops. And on the subject of drivers, let's not even talk about the cars, or the trams, beyond saying I feel quite enough understanding of uitlander's phrase, vous conduisez comme un belge. I doubt they have Michael Winner advertising insurance for people with 4 years no-claims. I've never had to hunt overseas for a cash machine that would accept a Visa card before, but oh no, neither Mister Cash nor his evil assistant Proton will be dirtying their hands with that. The people were not unpleasant but they were indifferent, in a way they weren't in Flanders. As the Eurostar was delayed outside Lille on our return, and further held up due to connections for a defective TGV service, Mrs Q tactfully observed, "so we won't be doing Paris any time soon, then?"

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16 comments or Leave a comment
pm215 From: pm215 Date: September 2nd, 2010 08:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
The Horta Museum was crowded and didn't really gain my attention
Well, if you've seen one silicon-based lifeform you've seen them all...
lamentables From: lamentables Date: September 2nd, 2010 08:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's where my forebears came from. Three of them, anyway.
"Who's been sleeping in my porridge?"

Edited at 2010-09-02 08:53 pm (UTC)
qatsi From: qatsi Date: September 4th, 2010 07:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
Quite so. People sometimes give me odd looks when I quote this stuff; I don't know why.
uitlander From: uitlander Date: September 2nd, 2010 09:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
Tch! écoutez et repettez: vous conduirez comme un Belge! - "CONDUIREZ"

Mind you, it remains an absolutely safe thing to yell at someone there. They just look very puzzled and agree with you.

Brussels is a mish-mash. I'm saddened you didn't visit the Institut on Rue Vautier and see the Iguanadons, but at least you had the pleasure of the tram ride out to Teveuren.

You have, of course, missed Leuven. And I shall have to take you both to Namur, so you can have some proper gauffres and observe the most important archaeological site in all of Belgium (with en suite electric fence</i> which if you are very lucky I shall fall into, again).

Edited at 2010-09-02 09:13 pm (UTC)
From: rosaguestlist Date: September 4th, 2010 12:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
We did go to Rue Vautier but not into the museum. There was an Iguanadon model outside though.
uitlander From: uitlander Date: September 4th, 2010 04:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, that sounds very familiar. I shall just hope the arab shops still had the amazing flat breads and incredibly cheap pistachio nuts that kept me going while I was there.
qatsi From: qatsi Date: September 4th, 2010 07:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Is that where you got the habit that turned out to be rather more expensive at the Rose and Crown?
uitlander From: uitlander Date: September 4th, 2010 07:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
At this distance of time I am unclear which came first. However, the return journey backpack was always overladen with pistachios, horse meat, gueze, and chocolates, the research notes having been posted home a few days earlier :-)
qatsi From: qatsi Date: September 4th, 2010 07:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm afraid the Minister didn't get as far as the second declension, so he used Google Translate to validate what he was posting.
rosamicula From: rosamicula Date: September 3rd, 2010 11:08 am (UTC) (Link)
I do not like Brussels either. I went there for a long weekend when I lived in Wales and it was like Cardiff with uglier men and better food.
qatsi From: qatsi Date: September 4th, 2010 07:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
It certainly did seem to have enough dysfunctional people and machines, one way or another, for a whole series of Torchwood.
rosamicula From: rosamicula Date: September 5th, 2010 01:38 am (UTC) (Link)
brixtonbrood From: brixtonbrood Date: September 4th, 2010 12:10 am (UTC) (Link)
I agree that french-speaking Belgium is looking a bit run down at the moment but I think it's a bit unfair to castigate the Bruxellois for being off-hand though - aren't all capital cities like that?

Jonathan Meades' programme on Belgium is brilliant and well worth seeing if you can find it - he describes the Palais de Justice as putting him in mind of a dwarf with a penis extension.
qatsi From: qatsi Date: September 4th, 2010 07:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Maybe you're right; though I seem to remember that people in Prague, Berlin and Amsterdam were distinctly more friendly. It could just be Francophobia on my part.

We watched Meades the evening before setting off. I think we will have to re-watch again. Though there was, fortunately, a complete absence of penguins on our holiday.
itsjustaname From: itsjustaname Date: September 6th, 2010 11:58 am (UTC) (Link)
I have F&S on my iPod shuffle and find it very difficult to not laugh out loud at unexpected interjections from Mick Flan from the live tracks.

we found the Groeninge Museum had closed its doors in preparation for an exhibition

Was this a short term closing or a major re-furb? It's on my list of potential places to go and see next time Tex and I are in Amsterdam after learning, during the volcano hassle, how quick the train from Amsterdam to Brussels is.
qatsi From: qatsi Date: September 7th, 2010 07:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
Full details of closures/openings here. Looks a bit iffy for the next few months.

Brugge is about 1 hour by train (quite frequent) from Brussels.
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