Brussels Redeemed

Nutmeg was last in Brussels a couple decades ago (more or less).  At that time she and her friends stayed in an unrated hotel – sometimes called a “youth hostel”.  It was a rainy depressing few days, the city was uninviting, the food marginal (keep in mind a student budget) and the place was filled with beggars.

So fast forward… the accommodations are not grand this time, although certainly a big step up from the hostel.  The sun has shone for 2 out of 3 days and the beggars are gone.  That is not to say you should not watch your pockets, just do so with the same level of caution you would apply everywhere.

Brussels  fast facts:

  • population of over 1 million
  • 55,000 of which are European officials
  • over 200 different nationalities can be found (1 in 2 people have foreign roots)
  • the city covers 170 sqkm (10 times the sprawl of Paris)
  • home to NATO and the EU

Apart from being the centre of European politics, Brussels has a fascinating and old history that dates back to the 11th century when it began as a small dukedom the size of the current downtown area. In 1830 Belgium became independent and Brussels became the capital of Belgium under a new king and parliament.

Belgium became an independent state in 1830 after protests against the policies of King William of the Netherlands. Since then, Belgium has created its own Constitution and proclaimed its own sovereign – King Leopold of Saxe-Coburg was the first king of the Kingdom of Belgium.

An interesting fact is that Belgium is separated into 3 regions mainly due to differences in language – French and Dutch speakers. The regions are Flanders in the north (Dutch), Wallonia in the south (French) and Brussels in the centre (Bilingual). There is a small area called Ardennes that also speaks German but it is not an official region.

Nutmeg has warmed up to Brussels for several reasons; they speak French here and will tolerate her rusty skills (unlike the French), the chocolate is fantastic, the coffee is decent and the shopping rivals any other centre.  Ginger had never been to Brussels before, so did not share Nutmeg’s slightly jaded view.  He loves the beer selection and is really happy with the moules and frites combination.

The architecture is interesting and the Grande Place (Grote Markt) is beautiful although in Nutmeg’s opinion the city is not as esthetically pleasing as Paris or Vienna.  There are lots of museums and galleries.  The Costume and Lace Museum currently is displaying a fantastic “Sixties” exhibition.

The chocolate is definitely a highlight some vendors that Nutmeg recommends:

  • Frederic Blondeel
  • Pierre Marcolini
  • Neuhaus
  • Galler (the best packaging)
  • Corne 1932 (a few free samples)
  • Corne Port Royal (good selection and their bars are more affordable then the first three)
  • Cafe-Tasse (tons of free samples, you will be guilted into buying)

So in Nutmeg’s opinion Brussels has been redeemed!  Plan a visit.

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One Big Tree How Many Belge Firemen Does It Take

On our way back to Brussels we encountered a tree!

This was no small tree it cut off  four lanes of a highway and both directions of traffic, including our bus for over two hours.  The good news?  No one was hurt.  That tree would have flattened any of the small gas friendly cars on the road and done serious damage to any moving vehicle.  On top of stopping both directions of traffic, the other complicating factor was that the tree had pulled down, although did not snap a power line.  Traffic ground to a slow crawl as the vehicles inched forward into a “sardine can” formation (if you have ever spent any time in a French or Quebec ski line?  If so, you might have an idea what this started to look like).

Finally, a single fire truck arrived to the rescue.  This event occurred in the middle of the afternoon on a Sunday in crappy weather…so it took awhile to arouse the one truck and crew.  After accessing the pretty obvious situation these guys got to work rerouting the car traffic through a forest lane and on to a muddy farmers’ field for a couple kilometers until the next highway entrance.  The heavy weights; buses and trucks could not make the detour due to weight, so had to wait.

Over the next two hours the fire crew got to work with the single chainsaw that they had.  The chainsaw looked like a steak knife next to a dinosaur.  So it took a long time.  Nutmeg was impressed that the bus full of capable well-trained macho men offered many opinions but chose to leave the heavy work to the firemen.  This event was a big deal on an otherwise uneventful Sunday afternoon.  During the two-hour wait there was a fair amount of entertainment as there were visits from the local press, local police, electrical company and a few others like the woman driver who felt it was her “right” to drive on the road and the mini driver who felt the road was clear enough that he could get through…

So how many firemen does it take?  At least four ….and many sideline critics.

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Waterloo or Waterlogged in Belgium

What a fitting day to visit the battleground of Waterloo!

February 28, 2010: Driving rain, 4 degrees celsius, 100Km/hr winds – down right ugly – do you get the picture?  This trip was optional for Nutmeg, not so much for Ginger but they both decided to go along and learn something.  What Nutmeg figured out really quick is to get out of the bus in the driving rain was stupid and she could learn all about the battle inside the comfort of the vehicle.  Ginger felt he should support his classmates and stand outside until he totally soaked along with the camera.

Here is a short version of the long version we heard on the bus:

The Battle of Waterloo was fought on Sunday 18 June 1815 near Waterloo in present-day Belgium. An Imperial French army under the command of Emperor Napoleon was defeated by combined armies of the Seventh Coalition, one an Anglo-Allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington and the other a Prussian army (Germany before it was formed) under the command of Gebhard von Blücher. It was the culminating battle of the Waterloo Campaign and Napoleon’s last. The defeat at Waterloo put an end to Napoleon’s rule as Emperor of the French and marked the end of his Hundred Days’ return from exile.

Napoleon delayed giving battle until noon on 18 June to allow the ground to dry. Wellington’s army, positioned across the Brussels road on the Mont St Jean escarpment, withstood repeated attacks by the French, until, in the evening, the Prussians arrived in force and broke through Napoleon’s right flank. At that moment, Wellington’s Anglo-allied army counter-attacked and drove the French army in disorder from the field. Pursuing Coalition forces entered France and restored Louis XVIII to the French throne. Napoleon abdicated, surrendered to the British, and was exiled to Saint Helena, where he died in 1821.

The battlefield is in present-day Belgium, about eight miles (12 km) SSE of Brussels, and about a mile (1.6 km) from the town of Waterloo. The site of the battlefield is today dominated by a large monument, the Lion Mound. As this mound used earth from the battlefield itself, the original topography of the part of the battlefield around the mound has not been preserved.

Needless to say for battle historians there are libraries built and waiting to be read on battles such as this one.  For Nutmeg, the view of the waterlogged field of clay-based soil was enough to understand that horses and men with cannons had a really hard time getting through.  The cavalry attrition rate was over 50%!!!!  Nutmeg suggested to Ginger that might not have been a good way to get a promotion in those days…

Waterloo or Waterlogged?  Either way it was a tough battle.

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