qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

"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?"
Tags: exhibitions, food, travel
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