Brussels: I Hear Belgium has Chocolate Now

February 24, 2007 at 6:40 pm Leave a comment

As you may have gathered from last night’s post, I have returned from this strange and wondrous land known as “Continental Europe”, which I spent much of the previous weeks talking about.

I’m sure you’re all dying to hear about my trip (by which I mean I’m going to talk about it no matter what you want), so I may as well just jump in. I’ll cover the first leg of the journey today, and the second tomorrow. Let us begin.

For those of you who don’t know, this all part of the big mid-term trip put on by my university, which you may recall is located in an castle in England. It’s pretty kickass that way. The journey began at about 4 AM, when we had to get up to eat, load luggage and hop on the coaches. That was followed by a long bus ride to the English channel, and which point the bus drove on to a train, which in turn drove through the Chunnel.

Don’t ask me to explain that one. I don’t get it either.

Our first stop of the day was a WWI museum near the city of Ypres, where we saw memorials and trudged through the trenches. Immediately afterward we went to the Tyne Cot cemetery, final resting place of nearly 12,000 soldiers who died in WWI. It also has a memorial listing over 33,000 names of soldiers who’s bodies where never found; a memorial that was only built because they ran out of space for names on the first one. And this is just for the soldiers who died at Ypres.

Imagine seeing this many graves, then turning to see an equal amount in every direction you look. It’s a somber sight.

I’m strongly considering waxing philosophic about the horrors of war right now, but I think that pretty much says everything that needs to be said. Over 50,000 names at one cemetery, and another 54,000 at the memorial down the road, all killed in pointless trench-fighting over petty nationalism. The world can be a pretty crazy place.

After that rather somber set of stops we continued on to Brussels, pulling in at about 4 PM, at which point everyone separated for free time. Much of the evening was spent trying to procure the local delicacy of Mussels and Fries, which are (as you might have guessed) delicious. I also got to walk the Grande Place, a giant town square with spectacular architecture.

This would look much better if I could have somehow got a panorama; I even managed to miss most of the cool-looking buildings. I have no idea who those people in the front-left are, either.

I also picked up a few souvenirs, a postcard to send back to my little sister, and ten Euros worth of incredibly delicious Belgian chocolate. Good god, it’s delicious. I still have some of it left.

Now, despite what some unscrupulous individuals will tell you, the rest of the night did not involve drinking games.

…Well, actually, yes it did, but that’s because my hotel roommate Mitch is something of an alcoholic and he had a lot of people over to our room. I honestly don’t know why I put up with him. It’s always awkward being the only sober person in the room.

Later, sleep.

In the morning, because I used my meaty brain to think ahead, I ran down to the Grande Place to get Belgian Waffles. We left for a field trip to the Flemish Parliament at 9:15 AM, and many people on the trip complained about how they wished they had time to stop and enjoy these sweet, delicious treats. My feelings on the scenario are basically a textbook case of Schadenfreude.

I think I’ll spare you all details about the inner workings of the Flemish Parliament, okay? Suffice to say, it is one of six parliaments operating in the city of Brussels, and that doesn’t even include the European Union parliament. Clearly the Belgians are a model of efficiency.

Immediately after, it was back on the bus to go down to the Belgian Museum of the Congo. As anyone who has read “Heart of Darkness” might recall, Belgium has a museum of the Congo because they raped the country and pillaged it’s resources. The museum itself seems to gloss over that fact, though. It also has some shockingly racist statues.

A common theme of the statues was the ‘civilized’, well-dressed and almost godly Belgians taking care of African children, who were barely clothed and looked up to the Belgians in awe.

Literally at the feet of every one of these golden statues was a statue of a grown “African” made of dark stone, portraying them as some kind of Neanderthal. These statues depict things like knocking stones together or trying to make fire with sticks.

Belgium kind of has a problem accepting responsibility for the “horrors of colonialism” thing. Our tour guide skimmed over the issue, discussing it in terms of a “war” between the Belgians and Congolese. Apparently the other group’s tour guide was even worse, justifying it by saying that every European nation was doing it and the Belgians only got in trouble because everyone else was jealous of their successes in Congo.

Between the frightening levels of racism and historical revisionism, and the fact that the cafeteria there shortchanged me five Euros, it was a pretty unhappy trip.

That’s it for Belgium. After that, we loaded onto the coaches for the long, long ride to Paris. It was a weird stay. As long as we stuck to the tourist parts (the Grande Place, dinner, chocolate, etc.) it was great. But as soon as we did educational stuff for class, it got really depressing. Every country has it’s troubled history, but it seems strange that so much of the trip here would focus on it. You just don’t expect it of the Belgians.

That’s all for tonight, folks. We’ll return later with the second and final leg of the trip, including more lovely pictures.

Tomorrow: Journey into Paris! The Louvre! The Eiffel Tower! Creepy Frenchmen in bars! All this and more on “There Shan’t be Wit”!

Editor’s Note: An important event this blog post fails to mention is that at one point I tried to strangle Mitch to death in our hotel, thus making me an (attempted) international assassin. It was all in good fun, I swear.

Telling people stories about the Belgian trip is always a little weird. There’s always this same shocked expression, as if people seriously can’t believe the Belgians did (and are doing) this. The country has a much darker past and present than generally acknowledged.


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Just got back in from Paris…. What the Deuce?

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