THE KAERU KID: If it’s Tuesday, this must be…

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series.

Belgium. Older readers will be able to easily complete the above title because of a 1969 romantic comedy with that name. It was about a group on a whirlwind tour rushing through Europe.  If you haven’t seen the movie, I recommend it.

Belgium is a small country located between Holland and France and close to Germany and Luxembourg. Many people (59 percent) in the northern portion next to Holland speak Dutch. Its southern dialect is known as Flemish. About 40 percent of those in the southern portion adjoining France speak French, and some speak German.  These three are the official languages, but like many Europeans, Belgians are multilingual and English is very common.

I had taken one of these two tours of European cities on my first visit to Europe long ago. We had stopped overnight in Brussels, so I naively thought I’d seen Belgium. Older and wiser, I decided to return for a longer time. I rode a train to Midi station in Brussels, but did not know what train to take from there to my couch surfing host who lived in the suburb of Linkebeek. I queried a police officer who haughtily answered she was police and not a train attendant.

Fortunately, I found the correct train without help and followed directions to a certain stop and then caught a bus for three and a half Euros (less than $5) .  It was about a 50-meter (164-foot) walk to my host’s apartment when I got off at the directed street. He greeted me warmly and said he was going to take me to his favorite pub for drinks and pool. He is a Harley enthusiast, so I rode on the back to the pub.  Everyone there was a regular and knew each other well. I had a glass of a popular Belgian beer and we returned to the apartment where he made dinner for us. On another night I treated him to dinner at a place of his choice. The place was several hundred years old, an inn called De Boef. Its pleasant environment added to the delicious meal.

I had a list of things to see in Brussels, so early the next morning headed out to the famous UNESCO World Heritage site called the Grand Place. This is the city hall location.

Originally, the square was the site of the market place and many of the adjoining streets are named after foods such as chicken, herbs, cheese, etc in the French language. The tourist office is located here and provides a free two-hour walking tour of the area. The architectural styles include Baroque, Gothic and Louis XIV, but they were quite harmonious. My guide was from Buenos Aires, but must have studied extensively because he was very knowledgeable and explained the history about each building.  He earned a well-deserved large tip from me.

Every two years, the famed flower carpet spectacle is held in the Grand Place. The entire square is covered with begonias. It will next be held from Aug. 15-17, and should not be missed if you are anywhere nearby or a fan of flower shows (http://www.flowercarpet.be).

Following my usual pattern, I found a hop-on hop-off bus at the Central Station costing 20 Euros ($27.53) that included two different tour routes and took about three hours. Among the more interesting places we passed on the tour was the Atomium, a huge futuristic building of several globes connecting to each other to resemble an enlarged iron atom.  It was built in 1958 for the World’s Fair. Today it houses a restaurant, museum and pictures of the world fair. The structure is more impressive to view from a distance.  I paid an entrance fee to visit each room.  My advice is to save your time and money.  The European Parliament building that is so often in the news as the European Union, was another interesting building.

Brussels originally was lowland and therefore swampy; sewage drifted to the area. Water was contaminated and people would get sick. Beer was produced as a safe liquid, but the hops were quite bitter. Cherries and sugar were added, but when natural yeast fell into the vats, transformation was completed by cold fermentation. Trappist monks discovered having yeast on top was more efficient and did not require a cold temperature. It’s been said that Belgian beer companies have 40 percent of the world market and include Budweiser, but in their quest for higher profits by using faster production methods and cheaper ingredients, quality has suffered. Local beers such as dark Chimay have maintained their quality and are often served in their own distinct mugs.

Besides beer, Belgium is noted for their chocolates.  Being a chocoholic, I visited one of the more expensive shops, Pierre Marcolini, which imports chocolates from around the world.  They were delicious, but my taste buds have grown accustomed to See’s Candy, even though they are not listed among the top chocolatiers of the world. I have also had chocolates from Sprungli in Switzerland, but was disappointed there, too.  I was later told I should have tried Mary’s Chocolatiers in Brussels as my first choice. Each of these establishments provide a free sample.

Another food item to try is Belgian fries, which are similar to French fries. They are cooked first at a lower temperature and the second time at a higher temperature when ordered.  They are served in a paper plate or cone with a choice of sauces, including mayonnaise. I was not impressed.  Brussels sprouts originated in Belgium and are very popular, but more are now grown in the Netherlands. There are other Belgian foods that I will mention later.

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The historical Manneken Pis statue. photo by The Kaeru Kid

Everyone recognizes the famous Manneken Pis (the small boy urinating). He is so popular that people have made hundreds of costumes for him that can be viewed inside the Museum of the City of Brussels. There are many legends about the statue that may differ depending on which guide is narrating.  In 1987, as either a way to lure tourists to their area or for female equal rights, a female version of the statue called Jeanneke Pis is on display a few blocks away.  It is as popular as the original statue.

There are so many unique museums in Brussels that I would suggest looking at this list: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_museums_in_Brussels) and visiting the ones that interest you the most in the time you have available. I was a great admirer of the Belgium surrealist artist, Rene Magritte, who has a whole museum dedicated to him. Strangely, after visiting, reading and seeing his many works, he declined in stature to my eyes.  I did purchase a poster of one of his works titled “The Empire of Light.”  He supported himself after World War II by forging other famous artists such as Picasso. He even went so far as forging banknotes.

Belgians love cartoons and one of their native cartoons is the famed Tintin. Musée Hergé is dedicated to the creator, but requires an hour train ride from Brussels. Another popular cartoon story involves a fictional Japanese girl electrical engineer called Yoko Tsuno (http://www.writeups.org/fiche.php?id=5641) created by Belgian Roger Leloup. Her adventures are so popular that the famous Royal Mall near the Grand Place has been unofficially renamed Yoko Tsuno Street.

I read about a large flea market in Central Brussels, but it turned out to be a major disappointment, unless one was looking for fleas.  There are casinos in Belgium, but the one I visited in Brussels did not have any video poker and blackjack used continuous shuffling machines to thwart card counters. The most popular game seemed to be roulette that had only one zero. I saw a diverse group of people, including Africans, especially from the Belgian Congo, many Muslims from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt. The minority of Asians were of Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese descent.

I am interested in World War history. A Google search revealed that the fairly close town of Lille, France had a tourist office offering World War I famous site tour starting at 1 p.m. I made train reservations for 10:30 a.m. to arrive by 11. I then called the tourist office to make reservations, but was told a minimum of six people was needed, so there would not be any tour. They referred me to a private guide whose tour started at 10 a.m. I found a train leaving at 8:30 arriving by 9 and booked it. I patted myself on my back for being so resourceful as I settled into my seat. Shortly after departure the train stops due to an electric supply problem.  After 10-minute delay, train starts again but then stops. To make a long story short, the delay resulted in my arrival shortly after 10, so the tour had already started and was missed.

The Kaeru Kid lives in Las Vegas and hopes readers will send him comments at KaeruKid@yahoo.com. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

Las Vegas Tidbits
For many years, several casinos would issue $8 chips featuring the Chinese zodiac animal for that year.  The Nevada gaming control board this year banned this practice because supposedly the chips were never used for actual play.  Wynn Casino made 5000 $1 chips with the 2014 year of the horse.  You may go to the cashier cage to find out if there are any left.  Rumor has it that Ballys has some $8 chips from past years.  Good luck.

Comments

  1. Typo: Jeanneke Pis is NOT as popular. Crowds are light.

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