Since the last post wasn’t really a blog, here is a real post!
Don’t ever tell a French or Belgian person that the French-speaking part of Belgium basically feels like France!
The French will point out to you that you know you’ve crossed the border when your car falls into a pot hole. The Belgians similarly get offended if you accidentally call them French.
My journey started with the local train. Contrary to PB’s joking comments, it runs slightly faster than driving – certainly faster than driving, parking and walking from the lot! And I quite like the local train – here’s a photo:
Today, my 2nd class French TGV did have a charger per two seats in front (the German and Eurostar were under the seat) and the Thalys train had one per seat, even in 2nd class. The seats are comfortably sized for me, so the only advantage is normally the power outlets and the solo seat (there are 3 seats instead of 4 – I like the solo seats)!
During the days that I traveled for work, it was predictably like my other work trips – eat, work, eat with colleagues, sleep and repeat. It’s the reason that I extended my time and stayed the weekend.
I went on a tour late Friday afternoon, which was my first experience with a Sandeman’s free tour. The concept isn’t really that it’s “free,” but rather that you get to decide at the end of the tour how much you think the tour was worth to you. The guide, Simon, was great – a Brussels native with a clear passion for his city.
He really brought the history of the city to life! One of the first things we realized was it’s a Grand Place without a church! Brussels was primarily a market town, at the intersection of trade routes. Consequently, the town square is actually surrounded by old guild houses (when the guide asked if anyone knew what that was, I was the only one – thank you RPGs)! They’re basically trade unions – the guild of brewers, bakers, cloth makers, etc.
The town hall also has an interesting design because of this. They added a second side, but the building is asymmetrical because they wouldn’t block the trade road or remove guild houses – commerce first!
We then saw two things that would have had no real meaning to me without explanation – a statue where you run your hand from head to feet if you want to return with your current partner and the reverse if you want to return . . . without them.
There’s also Mannequin Pis, which is a boy peeing. This is to honor the poor children (and adults) who sold their pee to cure leather before industrial ammonia was available – hence the term “piss poor.”
We did finally see some churches – the oldest and two other different styles. Does the second one look suspiciously like a famous Cathedral in Paris?
We also saw one of the oldest stock exchanges, but there’s more to tell about that in Bruges!
We ended near the Royal Palace. Our guide told us a heartbreaking story about their King Leopold who contributed a great deal to the wealth of Belgium through the exploitation and massacre of people in the colony of Congo. When these abuses were discovered, the Belgian government (a constitutional Monarchy) took control of the Congo to stop it.
While these stories can be hard to hear, it is good to remember the terrible things, and the circumstances that allowed them to arise, so we do not repeat them.
And to close on a more upbeat note, this was one of my favorite places in Brussels – when you’re a market city, but with a lot of rain, build a covered market (Oregon, where are you at with this?)