Belgium is a country of contrasts!
We’ve arrived to Belgium, to Charleroi airport by Ryanair airlines, the cheapest airlines in Europe. One ticket of Bologna-Belgium destination amounted to 10 euro per person. We’ve planned to visit Antwerp and Brussels. These two cities belong to Flemish part of Belgium, which speaks Dutch and much more economically developed than French part to which Charleroi belongs to. However, Brussels is a francophone. As a result, this very difficult politically-geographical architecture of Belgium made us conclude the following.
Antwerp is a big Flemish city meaning “a torn hand” in translation. Of course, there is its own legend telling us that many centuries ago a very brave knight cut a giant’s hand off. Today Antwerp is a center of the world diamonds trade. The city is “incrusted” with bunch of enormous shops. This business is mostly run by orthodox Jews wearing traditional hats and earlocks. However, on Saturdays all the shops are closed, they have Shabbat. The law of Shabbat is strictly abided by even in Antwerp – on Saturdays it is prohibited for Jews to work, to cook, to use elevators, to write etc.
It is a pity, in Antwerp we had less than a half of the day, thus, we missed such museums of prominent artists as Piter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyke. However, one interesting situation happened on Antwerp’s railway station. In the ticket office when I asked about prices, I was told: “Belgium is a small country, it is not Germany”. I suppose, that was because of the fact that tickets don’t differentiate much within Belgium, but what is strange he treated me as a German, ok, but what surprised me more is that he believes Germany to be a big country (Russian perspective :)).
Brussels is not anymore city of globalization, that is the city of big and acute contrasts. It is almost impossible to see a Belgium on the street. City is full of immigrants coming from the Maghreb and equatorial Africa. And there is a feeling, that they are prevailing so much that tourists are in minority. It is clear that immigration policy crossed any conceivable frontiers. And if in Amsterdam you can find light drugs, here in Brussels ghettoes there are definitely heavy ones.
Well, Brussels is weird. What can I say if sculptures of a boy and a girl pissing in the street are considered as sightseeings? Historical center didn’t impress me much – a small square called in a very strange way as Gran Place is surrounded with a number of guild buildings.
However, we managed to discover a number of positive elements:
It is highly advisable to see an “Atomium”, a giant monument made of iron with the height of 102 meters and weight of 2400 tones. It is so huge that in its 9 spheres there are restaurants, exhibition halls and an observation deck. The view is awesome.
“Mini-Europe” museum is interesting in many ways. There are sightseeings of the EU 27 member-states, for example, the House of Parliament and Big Ben in London, the Eifel tower in Paris or Fat Margaret’s tower in Tallinn etc. Just opposite of each exhibit item there is a small table telling when a country entered the EU, what the capital is and how big the population is. Moreover, one can listen to any country’s hymn, for example, “God, save the Queen” or Greek Sirtaki. Museum was founded by the European Commission initiative, by the way, all the EU bodies are located in Brussels. Thus, museum welcomed high guests – the EU president Herman van Rompuy, Lech Walesa, mayors of Vilnius, Gdansk, Brussels, Tallinn, Belgium and British monarchs together with members of the European Parliament and the European Commission.
Among positive moments I’d also stress a street full of restaurants right in the center of Brussels where tourists might satisfy any gastronomic passion. You might try here waffles with syrup or cream popular around the world. Definitely, you have to order a pot full of mussels together with French fries. Belgium is of course famous for beers. There are more than 200 of beer types in Belgium, strange, but it is easy to drink it even if the alcoholic percentage is high.
One more pleasant moment which made happy is that there is a street devoted to famous Belgium singer Jacques Brel. He was born in Brussels and was popular in 1960-70ies in France. He is buried in Polynesia on Marquesas Islands next to Paul Gauguin.
We’ve also managed to visit Belgium Royal palace. The king of Belgium today is Albert II, son of Astrid, a famous Belgium Queen, who was Swedish originally but was beloved by Belgium people. Residence is gorgeous and can’t be compared to royal palaces of Norway, Sweden, Monaco. Of course, history matters here, today’s king of Belgium is an offspring of the Duke of Brabant.
That is how we discovered Belgium, a country of acute contrasts.