July 21st was the Belgian National Day – happy birthday, dear host country #2! I didn’t even say happy birthday to France, who celebrated a week before Belgium.
I did some very brief research on the history of the independence of Belgium. The day was July 21st, 1831, when Belgium declared independence from the Netherlands. That makes this year the 181st birthday of this small yet diverse country that may even be considered a little bizarre. Almost two years in Europe and I’ve spent close to half of my time here – wow.
(Completely unrelated side note: It seems like most of the countries that have held some significance to me at some point in my life has their nation days in July. Canada, July 1st. The USA, July 4th. France, July 14th. Belgium, July 21st. Coincidence?)
There were some events in Brussels for national day, and I decided that instead of staying in Louvain-la-Neuve, I’d head to the capital and spend some time around the city with two friends I met at the church in Brussels. We walked around a bit before deciding that there were way too many people and that we’d never squeeze through the crowd – the police wouldn’t even let us try. Since none of us are actually from Brussels and knew the city well, we wandered away from the parades and shows and crowds to do some exploring of our own.
Most of the events took place around Parc de Bruxelles, where the royal palace was situated. Here is one of the entrances, greeting us with two of the foody symbols of Belgium, beer and “French” fries. Yes, the Belgians invented the fries, not the French. There were other delicious goodness scattered throughout the park, including of course chocolate, mussels, and Brussels sprouts. I was surprised that I couldn’t find a waffle though 😦 For more pictures, click here to see them on Facebook.
A cheerful old man was strolling the streets with tri-coloured balloons representing the Belgian flag. One of my companions called him “patriotic”, hehe 😉 Just don’t mistaken it as a German flag…
We left the central area and headed to the Cinquantenaire, a museum-park complex near Schuman station. I’ve been here before and I’ve written about it briefly after my first visit to Brussels last year. (In retrospect, I did A LOT in one day that time.) Anyway, after a couple of rainy weeks – are you tired of me complaining about Belgian weather yet? – the blue sky returned this week! Yet, at the Cinquantenaire, there was a clear gradient of blue from clear to dark and stormy, with a layer of clouds seemingly separating two world. Uh uh, run before the storm catches up! (There was no storm after all, by the way.)
I was told that you can go up to the top of the museum – yup, the huge arc complex is a museum – for free and see a panoramic view of Brussels, but we arrived too late that day and the museum was already closed. I wonder if we would actually be able to stand around the statues of the horses. Doubtful, but that’d be pretty darn cool.
While my companions took advantage of the unusually great weather and began a series of portrait photo shoots, I hopped around the park to take pictures of nature, as I often like to do. I saw this little thing, approximately the size of a pinky fingernail, relaxing on a leaf, and couldn’t help but marvel at the impressive details of its body. I can’t emphasize this enough, but nature is really amazing! I also have absolutely no clue what this thing is called. Anyone know at all?
The incredible blue sky makes a wonderful backdrop for red and green. Yes, we did go see fireworks at night (which were mostly covered by tall trees because they took place at the Parc de Bruxelles, a horrible location, really, explaining my lack of photos) but the beauty of a mere flower outshines any extravagant artificial lighting any day 😀
For dinner, we stopped by a restaurant around the Schuman area for some good ol’ Belgian cuisine. Of course beer was involved. The Westmalle Tripel was awesome, I loved it! For the main course, I ordered the carbonade flamande, a traditional Belgian dish. I think it is a speciality of Ghent, because I remember wanting to try it when I visited Ghent but the restaurant that served it didn’t have a seat for ONE person…slightly lame. Anyway, it is beef stewed in some sort of beer-based sauce, and it was served with none other than Belgian fries, not shown above. I’ve been anticipating trying this dish for a long time, especially after the Ghent disappointment. Perhaps it doesn’t look THAT impressive in the picture, but it was oh so delicious!!! The beef was so tender and the sauce was creamy and amazing! Satisfaction!
So most of our day ended up being spent not celebrating Belgium’s birthday with her, but we certainly enjoyed our time in Brussels. Good food, good weather, good company – what more could I have asked for?