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Travel: One Night in Brussels, Belgium

Manneken Pis
Manneken Pis (which literally means Little Man Pee in Marols, a Dutch dialect spoken in Brussels), is a famous Brussels landmark. It is a small bronze fountain sculpture depicting a naked little boy urinating into the fountain’s basin. It was designed by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy the Elder and put in place in 1618 or 1619 Source: Wikipedia

Nestled in between France on the west, Netherlands on the east and Luxembourg on the south is the Kingdom of Belgium. Known the world over for its chocolates, beer and waffles, this federal monarchy is also one of the few trilingual countries in the world. Dutch, French and German are all spoken here and this nation is also home to NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, the first openly gay man to lead a sovereign state.

Belgium was the second stop of my 14-day travel through Europe.

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The Royal Palace of Brussels. This building is actually used as offices for His Royal Majesty. The King and Queen reside in the Royal Castle of Laeken on the outskirts of Brussels.

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I didn’t meet the rest of the people that I would be traveling with until my very last day in the UK. Our instructions were to meet on the lower level of the hotel after breakfast. As I filled my plate with items from the buffet line, I nervously surveyed the breakfast area to see if I could spot any of the other Cosmonites. There were quite a lot of Americans and I assumed that those people were part of my group. However, that wasn’t the case. Of the 30 people on my tour, 90% of the group were Australians from Australia and Filipinas who lived in the US. The rest consisted of: couples from Malaysia, Singapore and Ecuador; cousins from Trinidad; a mother and daughter who were actually the only Americans in the group; and myself a Jamaican living in the United States.

There were no introductions or long speeches. We gave the requisite polite smile and boarded the bus for our two- hour drive through the picturesque country side of England to the ferry port in Dover, England.   It was during this drive that I was able to see the beautiful chalk and flint accented monoliths known the world over as the White Cliffs of Dover.

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In Dover, we entered French immigration and customs (the shores are actually swapped. English customs and immigration is in Calais) where our passports were examined and stamped.  We were then invited to board the ferry which took us across the English channel to the Port of Calais in Calais, France. There, we were finally able to meet our tour director and our driver who together guided the group of 30 through the rest of our travels through Europe.

As we drove through the coastal highway, we were able to see the fields where most of the battles for World War I and II were fought. As we drove, I felt the sadness for the families of the thousands of soldiers who lost their lives. I also felt the pain of the the farmers who are reminded annually during the iron harvest of the evil that once took place in the fields that now grow food to help sustain life.

SIDE NOTE: The iron harvest is the annual “harvest” of shrapnel, bullets and congruent trench supports collected by Belgian and French farmers after ploughing their fields. The harvest generally applies to the material from  World War I, which is still found in large quantities across the former Western Front. During World War I, an estimated one tonne of explosives was fired for every square metre of territory on the Western front. As many as one in every three shells fired did not detonate. Source: Wikipedia

After 2 hours of driving we finally arrived in Brussels where we were given a night tour by a local guide. Unlike the UK, we stayed together as a group and because of this, I  was not able to get a sense of the people and the various cultures of Belgium like I did in England.

Six Things to Do and See in Brussels

1. Grand Place

IMG_6813_GrandPlace
This entire square is an orgasm of architectural greatness. Try to see it during the day and also during the night when it’s illuminated. Be sure to check out the restaurants on the side streets where you can find Belgian specialties such as waffles, mussels, chocolates, beer and fries. (Belgians actually claim that it was they who invented the fries and not the French).

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2. Manneken Pis

Manneken Pis
Manneken Pis in the window of one of the chocolate stores

This has to be the most overrated tourist attraction in the world. It’s so tiny and it’s tucked away in a not too pretty corner where throngs of tourists congregate to snap photos. However, you can’t go to Brussels without seeing it. If you don’t get to see the actual statue, you will be able to see the various reproductions around the City like these found in the store front of a chocolatier.

3. Belgian Beer

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450 different beers, 180 Breweries!!!!!!

The Belgians are quite creative when it comes to beer. I’m really not a beer drinker but I tried the cherry. There are 180 breweries and 449 other flavors that you could try at any of the various pubs and bars if cherry is not your thing.

Belgian Cherry Beer
Of the 450 beers, I went for the girly cherry beer. This is me posing with our local guide in Belgium!

4. Parc du Cinquantenaire

Triumphal arch of Parc du Cinquantenaire in Brussels Belgium
Triumphal arch of Parc du Cinquantenaire in Brussels Belgium

We visited this park during the night in Belgium. Unfortunately, they weren’t expecting us so the u – shaped structure built for the 1880 National Exhibition was not illuminated. Like a lot of buildings in Brussels and Europe for that matter, the architectural details of this building is not to be missed.

5. Belgian Waffles

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This is right about when I started gaining weight on the trip. Sighhhh!!!

6. Belgian Chocolates

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It’s important to note that “real” Belgian chocolate, apparently, has to contain at least 30% cocoa, mixed with sugar and cocoa butter. Godiva, Neuhaus and Leonidas are some of the most famous brands of Belgian chocolatiers.

 Surprises

  • The eerie drive through the area where World War I and II were fought. If you are interested in visiting these sites, please take a look at GreatWarJourneys.com for more information.
WTF, Belgium?
Zwarte Piet
  • My WTF moment was stepping off of the bus right in front of this mannequin of Zwarte Piet.  My reaction..**Ummm…, what the {insert your chosen swear word here} ????**

According to various online sources, Zwarte Piet was the character in Jan Schenkman’s book Sint Nikolaas en zijn Knecht (“Saint Nicholas and his Servant”) who accompanied St. Nicholas. The character is commonly depicted as a a blackamoor with blackface make-up and dressed in stylized Renaissance. Like Saint Nicholas, Zwarte Piet’s character remains as part of the annual feast of St. Nicholas usually celebrated on the evening of December 5th in the Netherlands and December 6th in Belgium.

Because of the history of blackface here in America I was offended by it upon sight.  I am not condoning this, but after doing some reading on it I realized that the character has been a part of Dutch and Belgian culture and I let it be.

  • Lace!!! Yes, apparently Belgium lace is the most intricate of all laces and the artesians still practice this craft today they way it was originally done when it was at its peak in the 18th century.

XoXo, Natasha

Apparently, I hit the publish button too early last night and in my attempt to make the corrections, deleted the original post that was published late last night. )-: This is a new, corrected version of the the post that was here earlier today.

About Natasha Samuels

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