Belgium is boring?

cone full o' fries with mayo, Amsterdam style

cone full o’ fries with mayo, Amsterdam style

Belgium is boring. Lots of people say so. True, it has big neighbors. To the south is France, home to Paris fashions and the Cannes film festival. To the east is Germany where they make some of the world’s best cars. But Belgium boring, I don’t think so, not for a minute. Why’s that you might say. Let me tell you then.

To my mind the most important reason is food. It was in Belgium that the humble potato became the ポテトフライ, the French fry or in English English, the chip. There it was perfected. May I recommend a trip to Antoine’s, the best chip shop in the world and choose a cone of frites topped with the traditional Belgian sauce, mayonnaise.

Then there’s chocolate. Belgium is famous for chocolate. There are over 30 chocolate makers is Belgium including Godiva, Neuhaus, Leonidas, My favorites are Wittamer and Marco Piccolini. Both of them have shops and cafés on Sablon square. And I used to drive through that square everyday!

Good belgian chocolates or pralines by Boris & Co

Good belgian chocolates or pralines by Boris & Co

There is a reason Belgian chocolate is so good. It’s because chocolate is fermented like beer. And it so happens that Belgians are brilliant beer brewers. They make light beers, dark syrupy beers, beers like lemonade, beers made from cherries, made from raspberries and even from bananas.

So, whenever I went to Brussels, which you know is the capital of Belgium, I would pop into the best bar in the world. It is called Le Greenwich and it’s very special. It’s a chess pub. There is always someone there who will give you a game. Sometimes people will crowd around a particularly good one. There are even Russian grand masters who play there.

No art then? There’s oodles of art. The Surrealist painter Magritte lived and worked in the working-class district of Anderlech in north of Brussels. It amuses me to think of this famous painter and his wife chatting with his neighbors. Anderlech, like many working-class areas, has a famous football team. It is also home to a strange sculpture called Atomium. Brussels also has a cartoon/manga museum, home to the Belgian hero Tin-tin and his rocket. It has an enormous book shop full of cartoon books from many different countries.

Magritte-Museum_Brussels_20080531_1 by I say, have a cup of tea

Magritte-Museum_Brussels by I say, have a cup of tea

But the real gems of Belgium are the beautiful Art Nouveau houses. My favorites surround the fountains of Place Ambiorix. This most elegant of styles is based on designs taken from living things. The best examples were designed by Victor Horta. This style was copied in buildings in lots of other countries, for example the Chrysler skyscraper in New York or the Paris Metro.

Brussels is home to several international organizations, the European Union and NATO. This is a little odd as the country is deeply divided between the northern part where they speak a kind of Dutch and the southern part where they speak French.

Tassel House stairway By Henry Townsend, Wikimedia Commons

Tassel House stairway By Henry Townsend, Wikimedia Commons

In the northern part are the beautiful old towns of Ghent and Bruges and Antwerp. Antwerp was the home of the famous painter Rubens. It is also the diamond capital of the world. Ninety eight percent of all the diamonds in the world are traded in Antwerp. It was also where the biggest bank robbery ever happened. The thieves, who had nicknames like the Monster and the King of Keys, stole a hundred billion euros worth of diamonds. Perhaps, the mastermind who is now in jail says it was an insurance scam.

I particularly love the southern part though. I’ve spent wonderful summer holidays there. My many friends and I lived in a wooden house in Walsort sur la Meuse for a few weeks. It is sweet and slightly sad memory.

Thank you for listening to me.

Featured Image: Brugge – Bruges – Brujas by  Javier Díaz Barrera

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