Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I am alive

Hello my one or two readers. Sorry that I have not written for a long time. I will give the cliched excuse that I have been busy. The time just flies and every time I think about writing an entry into the blog, my kid either distracts me with her impish smile or I need to change a nappy. But I am still around quietly observing Brussels in its glory.

Winter has started really early. The streets have already been dusted with quite a bit of snow. The days turn dark at around four in the afternoon and the sun rises at 8:45. Between the sun rising and setting, the days are mostly a sickly grey. It is depressing and I often crave sunlight. Now is the time of year where drinking would come in handy.

I hope to review some Christmas beers as this is the time of year to eat, drink and be merry.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Give a hoot don't pollute! Or at least keep your garbage orderly

A black cat staring down a garbage bag in Brussels

When I describe Brussels one of the adjectives I use is dirty. I often write about the Brussels garbage problem. Basically many residents use the city as their personal garbage can. In one of my last blogs, I mentioned how one brave Bruxellois told people not use the trees as garbage cans. Kudos to this person but in general people tolerate dirty streets.

When I was little, there was this public service announcement with a catchy slogan "give a hoot and don't pollute." Years later, this slogan sticks in my head and whenever, I am out and about. In major cities it is always more of challenge to keep the streets clean and tidy. However, Germany and Switzerland seem to do a good job in keeping their cities clean. In Germany, it is common to see someone scrubbing a garbage can in a train station. When my husband and I were vacaying in Switzerland two summers ago, one of the locals told us that Switzerland is very clean because cleanliness and respecting your surroundings is taught to children at a very young age. Swiss parents teach their kids at a young age not to toss their garbage on the ground but rather hold it until you find a rubbish bin. It may seem annoying to carry an empty water bottle but your surroundings should be treated with respect. I am not sure this is taught in Brussels.

A small disclaimer: I don't want readers to think that Brussels is the dirtiest city on earth because there are other places that are just as dirty. Many times, the subways in NYC smell of urine or people just spit on the Staten Island ferry. Even Paris which is known as one of the most gorgeous cities is fully of dog poo. So I guess there is more to a city than cleanliness.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Brussels gets quirky on me!

A birdhouse made of old VHS and music cassettes
A side view of these wonderful birdhouse I discovered the other day on Rue Troon in Brussels, Belgium

There are many times when I get really bored with Brussels. While Brussels is considered a city and not a town or village; it lacks the hustle and bustle of New York City or London. Others may disagree with me and they are entitled to their opinion. I also find Brussels to feel empty at times as you never really see throngs of people running to the offices or feel surrounded by tall buildings. I live right across from the European Parliament and Luxembourg Train Station and while this this the pulse of Europe, I still feel don't feel claustrophobic.

Occasionally I do find some quirky things that make me think Brussels is sort of okay. For example, my last post about someone requesting that the trees not be used as a garbage can was pretty random. Things like this break up the Brussels monotony. I actually paused and smiled. For past few days, I found stumbled upon these unique birdhouses made of VHS and audio cassette tapes. I stumbled upon this treasure on Rue Troon (Throne Street) right by my apartment. When I first saw the birdhouse, I thought it was very interesting. It seemed sort of random, like someone posting a bumper sticker with a political message and running off. Upon further inspection, I saw a web address. I jotted it down and took a snap shot.

Today as I was walking up Chaussee de Wavre, I saw another one of the birdhouses. I then thought, this can not be very random. When I returned home I went to the website and discovered that there are birdhouses like this all over Brussels. Very cool, I thought. Something fun to look at for. Check out the website
I have yet to see a bird visit these little black houses but it's definitely fun to walk around Brussels and discover the birdhouses.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Is a tree supposed to be a garbage can?

Our trees are not your garbage cans. Please respect.
A sign pointing out that this is not a garbage depot and will you put your garbage with you (a rough translation but you get the point). Thanks

Brussels is not the cleanest of cities. It's not full of dog poopy like Paris but it's far from immaculate like Zurich. On any given day, you can find garbage bags on the curbs tossed on the curb haphazardly waiting for a pickup. Crushed beer cans are often found on window sills or carelessly thrown on the ground. Even some cleaning people do half assed jobs (like not picking up the baby's ball and leaving it under the table). Is it laziness? Not sure and I don't want to make any stereotypes (I am just speaking from experience). Welcome to Brussels. This might also explain why one of the country's most famous symbol is a pissing boy.I think the Belgian mentality is that it's our country and we can treat it how we please. I am not going to argue with this because frankly I don't care. I am not Belgian and I was not raised to through Jupiler beer cans in some one's doorway.

The walk to my daughter's creche (aka daycare) is one of those walks that I detest. It feels long and even in broad daylight, the street feel deserted. When it is cloudy or rainy, the walk is so depressing, I feel like drowning my sorrows with some alcohol. But I hold back because I am a mum. The walk is far from exciting and all I can think about is my little girl. On one lonely corner, there are the typical city trees. You know those trees, a skinny little thing on a small patch of dirt usually surround by stones or some wire to make it clear, this is nature, respect it and don't throw your crap here. This all seems so elementary and logical. Keep your city clean. But guess what? Apparently in Brussels, tossing trash at a tree and using public spaces as garbage receptacles is common.

How bad does the garbage situation have to be before someone from the neighborhood puts up signs? He leaves a note on the tree trunk. I wonder who this person and how dirty did the tree have to get before posting these two messages. Do people walk by and take notice like I do? Do they chuckle and think, this person is on crack?Why would he care about a tree so much? I give this person credit for trying to clean up Brussels. Bonne Chance!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Do you really want to see the Mannekin Pis's sister?

One of my favorite pictures of a tourist. She is trying to get a close of the statue while smoking a cigarette. Hope she does not burn this landmark down. Hehe
Gender equality is alive and well in Belgium with the Anneke-Pis
And the squatting pissing girl. Not sure why she is under lock and key. Could someone really want to steal this statue?

Anyone who reads my blog, knows that I mention the Mannekin Pis quite often. In a lot of ways it is Belgium's symbol. I am not sure why a country would want to adopt a little boy pissing as their "national symbol." If anything Belgians should try and find some other "tourist" landmark that draws flocks tourists. It is quite a sight to see tourists snapping away at the pee pee boy. You almost get the feeling that these tourists are snap happy papparrazi. I admit that when I visited Brussels years ago, the Mannekin Pis was our first stop. Then the chocolate museum and after the beer museum. Classy and cultural destinations. Since these were all at Grand Place, it made sense. Pretty much that was my first exposure to Brussels.

I never tire of the Mannekin Pis because he is so absurd. It really says something about a country when this little bronze statue is everyone's first stop (me included). If you visit any touristy shop you will see souvenirs modeled after the Mannekin. My favorites are a life sized version of the statute that would look so classy on your desk at work. Imagine talking to some really important clients and offering them some water from your own Mannekin Pis's peepee. A class act. If that is not a deal break don't know what is. Also there are these cork openers where the spiral thing used to open corks is actually the Mannekin's penis. Very phallic and a great souvenir for your mother-in-law.

This past Sunday, I sunk to an all new low. We went to Grand Place to see the flower carpet (which was not up as of this past Sunday). On a whim, I decided that I wanted to pay homage to the Mannekin Pis's counterpart- The Anneke Pis. Trust me, I am not that creative to make this up. There is actually a female version to the Mannekin Pis. Something to do with gender equality.

Believe it or not but there were some tourists there snapping away. I was pretty revolted as I watched the bronze statue of a little girl squatting and pissing. Pretty classy. At least, she was semi- modest as she was found down some random alleyway. What amazed me was that this statue was literally under lock and key. I can not even imagine who would want to steal a squatting girl! Any way I took my obligatory picture for this blog and decided never to visit this landmark again.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Wine =France and Beer =Belgium

Moet is the bubbly of choice of the Belgian Royal Family

Two weeks ago, we ventured into French Wine Country. It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is to drive over the border, into another country. The equivalent would be driving from New York into Connecticut or Pennsylvania into Delaware. There are cultural and regional differences in the States but driving from Belgium into Holland or France is really going "international." Luckily for me, Brussels is so central and it is easy to hightail it out of here.

During our excursion into France, we went to visit THE CHAMPAGNE MECCA, Moet. We chose Moet because we were in Epernay and decided to do the really touristy tour. I am not a bubbly drinker. If I indulge in wine, I enjoy the sweet dessert wines like Hungarian Tokaj or red wines. Also I am NO wine expert. Whenever, we order wine in a restaurant, I defer to my husband. He acts like he knows a little more than I do. He swirls the glass and swishes the wine in his mouth. I am more uncouth as I guzzle it down.

So as we were paying for our tickets to tour the Champagne Temple known as Moet, my husband pointed out the picture featured above. Apparently, King Albert, Queen Paola and their family enjoy this particular French Champagne. I was sort of surprised. Of course I figured that the Belgian royal family are going to drink other beverages other than beer. When they toast Kingdom of Belgium are they going to do it on some Jupiler or Maes beer? The drink of their subjects? Probably not. No, they are going to drink the best money has to offer even if that means drinking something that comes from France.

What did I think of the Moet Champagne? Dare I say it was okay. Like I mentioned before I am not really a Champagne drinker. I would have liked to have tasted the rose Champagne but since we only bought the ticket with one free sample, we only got to sample the standard white tipple.

In Belgium, people drink wine but I sometimes feel that beer is the standard drink of choice. I also enjoy beer more than wine. To me, beer has a depth that you can not find in wine (or maybe I am just clueless about wine). I can never detect the tannins or woody and fruity aftertastes. But in beer, I can now tell if it is a winter brew or bitter or blond brew. That is one of the benefits of living in the beer capital of the world!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Hightailing it out of Brussels

Check Spelling In 1000 meters, you are in Belgium

Everything in Belgium (and all over Europe for that matter) seem to stop during the summer. Many people decide to hightail it out of Brussels for warmer weather, cleaner surroundings and quieter times. The Brussels' hustle and bustle quiets down as the city becomes more and more deserted with each passing day.

The local baker, the baby's pediatrician or the dry cleaner may decide to take a month long holiday and leave you in the lurch. As life would have it, that could be the time your baby gets really sick or you need fresh baguettes and clean shirts. It is common to see scribbled on a piece of paper the words Ferme (closed). With each passing day, store fronts are closing and owners and workers are taking a well deserved break. My favorite coffee shop, Karsmakers is closed for TWO WEEKS! Where am I going to get my latte to go for the next two weeks?

I am one of the few that are stuck in the city. Due to various circumstances like moving and work, we are spending the summer in Brussels. Does it sound like a horror film? Summertime in Brussels? That is just me being cynical. I like to think of myself as guarding the Mannekin Pis. We were lucky to take a long weekend and get out of Brussels. We decided to go into France and visit the Champagne region. It was lovely but like everything in life, eventually it was time to get back to reality. As we were driving over the border into Belgium, we saw many cars driving in to the country with us. While many people staging an exodus to get out of Belgium, many French, Dutch and Germans are driving into to the country to spend some time. I personally want to welcome all the people that are coming to spend some holiday in Belgium. You will be charmed by Brugges, Liege, Ghent, Antwerp and even Brussels.

Where am I during all this time? I am the girl who is in Brussels. I am dedicated to the city. Why would I want to desert the city in the summer? Someone needs to stay and watch the Mannekin Pis! This is me being sarcastic of course. I was fortunate to enjoy a long weekend in
the Champagne area of France. It was beautiful and nice little interlude. More on that trip in tomorrow's entry.