Friday, 24 August 2012

Belgium, the World's Capital for Indulgence

Part I: Indulgence of the Tongue

We spent about a week in Belgium, splitting time between lively Antwerp, beautiful Brugge, and capital Brussels. This poor inconspicuous little country seems like the underdog for international travel destinations. But maybe they don't mind it that way. They don't need extra fanfare because their cities' narrow cobblestone streets are already swimming with locals and European tourists alike, making for a festive and joyous atmosphere.
Le Tapis de Fleurs, Brussels
Belgium has largely retained its chivalrous charm and at the same time dominated the world's gastronomic stage. On its unspoiled European-esque streets you will find the world's best food and drink. This little nation has a reputation for producing the sweetest chocolates, tastiest beers, yummiest waffles and most finger-licking fries. Your sweet tooth will thank you very much for going. Your scale might not.

I managed to lock lips with several beers including Le Chouffe, Brugse Zot, Kwok, Jupiler, De Koninck, and their national favourite Duvel. Not a bad portfolio, however, I have a ways to go to try all of Belgium's beers as there are thousands of breweries and the selection is endless. Delirium Cafe in Brussels serves 2400 different beers, a Guinness World Record, including the world famous beer named after the bar itself.
Enjoying a Kwok beer, Brugge
Amy meanwhile succumbed to her weakness. However, she wasn't too impressed with the chocolates we tried. Since she has already had Belgium chocolates in Canada, the quality wasn't much better at the source.

Part II: Meeting of Open Minds

One of the highlights of our time in Belgium was meeting some really cool people in Brussels. It was probably just a coincidence that all these meetings occurred in Brussels but the fact that it's one of the capital cities of the European Union suggests a certain kind of mindset that exists there.

The first man is Ata, an old and remarkable Persian man, whose wife passed away and children living overseas. We met him in the morning at the subway station and, by chance, again at night. We had talked a bit the first meeting and by the second meeting, he invited us up to his apartment for snacks and refreshments. He had a very touching story.
Amy and I at Ata's house, Brussels
He worked in Rwanda with his wife while raising their children for 28 years. He worked as a doctor while his wife did humanitarian work empowering women. They also worked with orphans in Bosnia-Herzegovina. His message was strong and heartfelt: everyone is equal, no matter their race or religion, and to help those in need. We ended up coming back for dinner the next day. His message became a bit repetitve but nonetheless we appreciated his passion and conviction, and he enjoyed having our attention and the chance to share his life story.

The second man, who shall remain unnamed, let us stay with him in his squat. Now we weren't even sure at the time what a squat was until we entered our accommodations and, although we were a little turned off, we were simply happy just to have beds (or mattresses on the floor) to sleep in. The squat was an unhomely experience: messy, no hot water, limited appliances and other facilities, overrun by fruit flies.  But it was also very humbling, and for that we were thankful to have stayed. After this, we can sleep anywhere!

The squat dwellers were very warm and friendly. The man who let us stay with him was very pleasant, smiling and interesting. Not only did they not pay rent, but they didn't pay for food either. They declared their squat to be a vegan squat, and regularly went to food markets upon closing and asked for their leftover unsold food which would otherwise be tossed as rubbish. Surprisingly, they are successful at this and the farmers who contribute are happy to, since it meant the extra food didn't go to waste. This is quite a good samaritan way of doing business. I plan on doing this when I come back to Calgary.

Another couple we met at the squat were travelling through Brussels as we were. They were a very interesting British couple, all "hippied out" with dreadlocks and peace signs, driving a charming converted camper van. They were invited to this place by picking up a hitchhiker - one of the squat dwellers. They attend concerts selling their specially made and very tasty ginger beer. They also hadn't bathed in 3 months! But somehow didn't emit any nasally-offensive toxins. I think both of them used to have stable office jobs, and either quit or were laid off.

But they are happier now that they are on the unpredictable open road. They don't regret a thing!

And so far, neither do I.


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