Friday, October 4, 2013

Brussels, No Sprouts

Before I get into this post, I have to say that I left a couple of things out of the last post about Gent. I tend to use my photos as a way to remember what we did, so when we go places that don't allow photos, I promptly forget about them. But I do want to mention that we saw Van Eyck's Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, which is a big altarpiece whose home is Sint-Baafs cathedral here in Gent. We saw most of it in the cathedral itself, but part of it was at the STAM museum being restored, so we viewed those panels there.

This is just one panel of it, but it's the part with the mystic lamb.
It's interesting to see, and worth the 6 Euros admission, standing in a crowded room with a bunch of other people, and the requirement of absolute silence while you view it.

Okay, on to Brussels. This was, sadly, Emily's last day with us. We'd planned to spend this day in Brussels so that we could just wake up and head to the airport from there instead of having to get up even earlier to accommodate the train ride from Gent. It was a good plan, because 6:45 was plenty early enough to be getting up.

The first spot we visited was the Grand Place. When you look around, it seems that "ornate" was the guiding principle for its design. It was full to overflowing with tourists, which made it difficult to get good photos, but easy to find someone to ask to take a photo of the three of us together. As it turns out, though, not everyone knows how to operate a camera all that well, so that photo will remain unseen. Never fear, though, other photos were taken.

Hello, Kitty.
We wandered in the direction of what is probably Brussels' best-known attraction, which is Mannekin Pis. I'm not sure how I'd feel if my city was known for a statue of a little boy peeing, but Brussels seems to have embraced it fully. Replicas of it fill the souvenir shops; variations on the theme abound everywhere you turn in the city.
How ... appetizing?
And as tacky and/or weird as the statue itself may be, we stumbled upon it at a most fortuitous moment which made it even tackier and weirder, but simultaneously more awesome. Some background: the statue gets periodically dressed up in a variety of costumes. There's a schedule, but we didn't bother to consult it because really, who cares? However, I had read that the statue has an extra-special costume that involves an extra-special ceremony, and as we approached the statue, I realized we had arrived at exactly the right moment.

Here is the statue, urinating normally. (I cannot
believe I just typed that sentence.)
He was wearing the colors and pink elephant logo of Delirium Tremens brewery. Delirium Tremens beer was at some point voted the best beer in the world. (And they don't intend to let you forget it.) Anyhow, there was a group of people dressed in the same outfit as the statue, holding forth about something (I don't speak French), and singing.

After that was done, they sprayed the crowd with water.

Yes, seriously.
Then it was time to really get down to business. They disconnected Manneken Pis from his water supply ... and hooked him up to a keg.

Again, seriously.
The cups they filled from the statue were only for the costumed folks involved in the ceremony, but once they'd hooked him back up to the regular water, they filled cups from the keg and passed out free beer.
Now you're talking.
We were pretty sure we weren't going to top that as far as being equal parts strange and cool, but we ventured on anyway.

Arcade of the Galeries Saint-Hubert
We did some chocolate shopping at Corné in the Galeries Saint-Hubert. It was a brand we hadn't seen in Gent, and we enjoyed their offerings very much.

Dinner was at a restaurant near our hotel, and it was an interesting experience. Although Brussels is in theory the only bilingual city in Belgium, in practice this doesn't mean quite what you'd expect. Signs and other notices are in both French and Dutch, in contrast to the rest of the country where only one language is used. However, French is overwhelmingly the language you'll hear in Brussels. So, back to the restaurant: we were greeted by the hostess with "Bon soir, goedenavond." The menu was in Dutch and French. Since we are considerably more comfortable with Dutch than French (which may tell you something about the state of our French!), we attempted to order in Dutch. What we got was a confused look from the waiter, so we attempted English. More baffled expressions. The absolute confusion on his part continued until we mangled our way through the French versions of what we wanted.

One might think, well, perhaps he doesn't speak Dutch very well. Or English. Maybe, but when a group of Chinese tourists came in to be seated, he spoke English to them. With us, however, it was the all-French hour. We made our way awkwardly through ordering, and were feeling a little unwelcome as he continued to speak English to the Chinese people and French to us, and shortly before our dinners arrived, I realized Emily's place setting didn't have a napkin. So I mustered up my courage and my tiny French vocabulary, and when the waiter returned, I said, "S'il vous plait ... une serviette?" After that, the mood seemed to change. He brought the napkin, and when he brought our meals, he also had a dish of potato croquettes we hadn't asked for. We joked that it seemed to be a "sorry I was being a jerk" offering, and indeed, he was much more friendly the rest of our time there. Go figure.

Unfortunately, the night ended all too soon and the next morning we went to the airport and had to say goodbye to Emily. Like all good vacations, it hadn't felt too hurried while we were seeing everything, but all of a sudden, it was over.
Good times, good times.
Next up: probably more Brussels (Morgan and I spent the rest of the day there after Emily headed home), and then hot air balloons in Sint-Niklaas.

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