The horrific bombings in Brussels on March 22nd shook the world. The seat of the European Union and NATO felt first-hand the ugly hand of hate and discontent. Yet in all of this mayhem, Belgians and Europeans did something extraordinary—they refused to bow to the formidable fury of terror.
Prime Minister Charles Michel declared, “This is a day of tragedy—a black day . . . I would like to call on everyone to show calmness and solidarity.” Europe and Belgians did just that.
Just before the bombings, I wrote the blog entry below about Belgium. In the wake of such events, it seemed inappropriate to publish it at that time. My colleague, Carla Pruitt wrote, “The Heartof Europe Still Beats: Brussels,” and it appeared appropriately soon after. We decided that we would go ahead with the publication of this blog entry. After all, as Carla said so well, “The Heart of Europe Still Beats.” Belgium’s virtues are no less apparent. The Belgians now hold an even warmer place in the heart of the world.
My first time in Belgium was a bit of a blur. I was on my way to Paris with my traveling companions when I realized I was on the wrong train. Because I was young (and stupid), I jumped from the train to avoid going to the wrong destination. When I hit the pavement, I rolled; a nice Belgian man ran over: “Ooh la la! Ooh la la!” He helped me up and chastised me in French for jumping from the train.
After the jumping incident, I returned to Belgium and had a wonderful lunch in Brussels. I and my traveling companions were trying to figure out the tip (tipping in Europe is a bit of a mystery to Americans) when a group of Belgians helped us to figure it out.
Again, Belgians to the rescue.
I feel I owe it to this friendly group to extol the virtues of their fine country.
Brussels is not only in the centre of Belgium, but also headquarters of the European Union and NATO. Here the intricate, detailed business of government is implemented. Also particular and a genius of capturing the intimate details of everyday life, is Bruegel, a Flemish artist whose works are on display at Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. Within this vast collection of museums are the Old Masters Museum, Musée Fin-de-Siècle, the Musée Modern, the Musée Magritte, the Musée Wiertz, and the Musée Meunier.
Not only does Brussels have great art, but also a grand plaza, La Grand-Place, which Rick Steves called, “Europe’s grandest square.” This magnificent square is home to a world-famous floral festival every two years featuring colorful begonias arranged like a carpet. This year in August La Grand-Place will again be in bloom. If your plans take you to Brussels this August to see the flowers, IVHE has a chic luxury exchange home you must see.
Though the Flemish architecture in Belgium has a decidedly Dutch flair, there is something which makes it distinctively Belgian—perhaps it is the repetitive rectangular and square forms providing a sort of sense of Gothic order.
Idyllic and a tourist destination of many, Bruges is about an hour’s train ride from Brussels. Here, aesthetic details are important not only in the architecture, but also in particulars like chocolate and lace. With fine chocolatiers all over the city, it is not uncommon for Belgians to buy their chocolates fresh daily. Lacemaking in Bruges has been a tradition for centuries; deft hands fly as intricate lace appears before the highly skilled artisans.
Canals and a few windmills dot this beautiful city; seeing this unique place is best done on foot or by bicycle.
A wonderful, unusual particularity of Bruges is its centuries-old hospital for the dying, St. John’s Hospital. There, those ailing gazed upon gorgeous paintings and tapestries during their final days. Tapestries are another intricacy for which the city is famous.
Another art, seemingly a bit more hearty, but no less difficult, is beer making. Bruges is home to numerous beers; if you’re a connoisseur, this is a must-visit destination.
Whether it’s the particularities of government, political negotiation, lacemaking, art, floral arranging, chocolate, or beer, Belgium is the master of the intricate particular. Don’t let this intimidate you, however; the Belgians are also unusually friendly and helpful.
Sona Schmidt-Harris - Follow me on Twitter @Sonag2000