Thursday, June 24, 2010

Do Belgian's have harder heads?

What makes this sign particularly Belgium other than the graffiti? The bicycle. Many people here ride bicycles as a form of transportation. Bicycles seem to be everywhere in Brussels. You can even rent a bicycle from Villo! ( According to Villo!'s website there 180 Villo! stations every 450m. You can't miss these stands with all the yellow bikes neatly locked up. These can be very convenient for tourists that would love to tour Brussels like the "locals."

My question is how many people actually wear helmets? I am guessing not many. Today was unusual as I saw about 4 or 5 cyclists actually protect their head. Many bike riders are dressed for work. No spandex a la Lance Armstrong. I have even seen some men dressed in suits ride their bicycles. While I don't stay up all night worrying about all the helmet -less cyclists, I do wonder how many Belgians have actually damaged their brains by falling off their bikes without a protective covering. Belgian drivers are not the most patient or most careful.

Another question I have is how many Belgians ride their bikes after drinking a few beers? Since drinking a beer alfresco is quite common, I would guess a good many. On the Villo! website, there is a picture of a bike rider wearing a helmet At least the company is aware that cyclists should wear a helmet. I am not sure if you can also rent a helmet but am not sure if that would make sense. Would you want to wear a helmet that a previous customer sweated in?

In any case, since the weather has been nice here in Brussels for two days in a row, riding a bike through its streets may be a nice way to see the city.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Smoking Mamas pushing their prams

(If this does not scare the F out of you to stop smoking then you are a brave soul!)

I personally don't care if people smoke. Belgium is a federal parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. Since everyone presumably pays exorbitant taxes, you get pretty decent health care. And since this is Europe, everyone seems to smoke. High school students smoke with their teachers and coworkers enjoy smoke breaks in rain. What is disturbing is that I see mums pushing their kids in their prams puffing away. An even more bizarre scene is watching two generations of women smoking as the little tyke just sits and inhales the second hand smoke. Once I saw a mother and daughter light up together as the kid was forced to inhale the fumes. There is somemething wrong with that!

In the States people would just stare at the smokers and give them a look that says, "how dare you subject this innocent child to this toxic smoke!" Here in Belgium, people don't think twice. I feel bad for these little kids that are being subjected these fumes. Second hand smoke is harmful and even though Belgium has socialized health care do you want to use the system to treat your child's asthma? What is interesting is that I have never seen someone drink a can of beer and push their child. Is drinking beer and pushing a buggy socially unacceptable? Would a stranger worry more if they saw a mum pushing their baby while chugging a can of Maes? Probably, because they may crash the carriage.

My wish is that parents would exercise restraint around their children and not smoke in front of them. Don't the little babies deserve a smoke free environment?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How not to weigh 800lbs in Belgium

Homemade chocolates at a chocolatier in Brugges

Just looking at these chocolates are making my mouth water. Anyone who has been Europe has been easily seduced by the crusty baguettes, flaky and buttery croissants and custard filled pastries. Just looking into a patisserie's window is enough to add 10 pounds to your thighs. When I was in Maastrict's Christmas Market it was hard to just eat one freshly fried warm apricot filled beignet (jelly donut) but willpower and an imaginary calorie count stopped me.

As I walk around this maze of a city called Brussels, it is hard not ogle the baked goods loving set out in the window. Fruit tarts, chocolate mousse and various custard filled treats are tempting but I just walk on by. When I go to my local bakery to buy fresh bread, my mouth always waters at the small little fruit tarts or eclairs filled with fresh vanilla custard. I sometime contemplate buying a small little pastry but I just take a deep breath and leave just with the bread. I do indulge but if indulging every day would be so unhealthy.

In Belgium, people eat pastries for breakfast. You often see people munching on pieces of a croissant or waffle from a paper bag as they wait for the bus or tram. Bacon and eggs or pancakes are not the breakfast norm. Which is healthier? Not sure. Bacon is loaded with fat and one can make the argument that if the croissant is "homemade" it could be healthier. Whatever....

Even going to the supermarket, you are tempted with cookies, freshly made packaged pastries and mousses and puddings. Again, it is easy to be tempted to fill a wagon with these goodies but the voice in my head tells me not to. Most of the time I listen. I believe everything in moderation. Depriving yourself will just make you gorge so if you want a little pastry, eat it but then eat healthy later on in the day. Life is too short to deprive yourself from freshly made Belgian waffles all the time!

How does beer fit in? Beer like other alcoholic beverages like wine and mixed cocktails has calories. I don't have numbers readily available but beer has sugar and carbohydrates. Beer is definitely a no-no when you diet unless it's lite. Like with chocolates and pastries, I drink beer in moderation. Since I live in Belgium it would be horrible if I had to give beer up so I don't drink it everyday but rather two or three times a week and never a whole bottle. This is my way of not weighing 800 pounds or about 400 kilos.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Today is the first day of summer and the weather here STILL sucks

Drizzly on our way to Brugges. This type of weather is typically Belgian!

Greetings to my fellow reader(s). After being here for more months than I care to count, I still can not get over how crappy the weather is. Today is the first day of summer and it felt like October for a good chunk of the day. I hear that the typical Belgium summer. No wonder people here drink beer like it's water. The weather is down right depressing! In the span of one day, the sky was gray and cloudy, drizzly and then sunny. I have yet to wear a tank top or a pair of shorts. I am not a fan of the heat but some sun and warmth would be nice.

Right now my husband is traveling in the Middle East, he told me the weather is a sizzling 115F. That is too damn hot. With weather like that, one needs an ice cold beer!

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Wallonian Cock

The rooster is the Wallonian symbol (picture taken in Liege)

It may seem that I diss on Belgium a lot but the country does have wonderful redeeming qualities. Belgium has wonderful food, produce, chocolate and beer. You are almost guaranteed a good meal at the corner brasserie. The ingredients are simple. Even produce at the local supermarket is beautiful. It is wonderful to see how much is actually grown in Belgium. You can get locally grown strawberries, lettuce, cucumbers, chicons, potatoes, onions, berries, brussel sprouts and green and white asparagus. For such a small country, Belgium really wonderful produce. Of course, the rainy weather plays a major role in the country's rich and fertile soil.

About two weeks ago, we ventured into Liege. It was our first time in Wallonia and we were charmed by the city. Liege has a river which reminded me of the Siene in Paris, beautiful architecture and charming little alleyways that lead to courtyards of tiny houses that reminded me of dollhouses. Liege is also known for its food. Sirop de Liege and waffles are local foods.
What really shocked me about Liege was that, we were really in Wallonia. Unlike Brussels which is French and Dutch speaking, Liege was very French. Kids, we were not in the Brussels Capital Region but hard core Wallonia.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Who won and do people care

Antwerp's old city.
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Two days after Belgium's election, I decided to find out who won. I heard that the New Flemish Alliance led by Bart de Wever won 27 seats just one more seat than the francophone Socialist Party led by Elio di Rupo. Since I really know nothing about Belgian politics, I can not say I am all that surprised. The Flemish are sick and tired of propping up Wallonia and want to eventually separate. The results just prove how contentious the divide has become. For the average person living in Brussels, all this may not matter because if Belgium splits up, Brussels may just become like the Washington DC of Belgium. Would that be so bad?
Here is my proposal for Belgium, Flanders and Wallonia should just shake hands and go their separate ways. Maybe build a wall to keep the other out and declare Brussels a neutral zone or maybe Brussels will become its own country. Wouldn't that be cool?
My question is which side has the better beer? Flanders or Wallonia?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Elections and crazy Asse Belgium towns

Today, Sunday 13, 2010, is election day for Belgians. It is also Father's Day. Most Belgians seem pretty apathetic about voting because they do it so frequently. I hope Belgians care more about their fathers than who become Prime Minister. Since I can't vote, all I really care about is that buses run on time and the garbage gets picked up.

We spent the day in Antwerp. Antwerp is a really lovely city on the water. The Grand Place reminds me of Brussels but it seems that Antwerp had more life. People were enjoying the lovely weather and after casting their vote, went to enjoy some beer. It's Belgian, people here love their beer!

One of my favorite beers is La Chouffee. I reviewed it in a previous post and despite the hundreds of beers one can drink in Belgian, I always come back to this one. It is a fun little elf/troll always brings a smile to my face. However, with my lunch, I enjoyed a brown Leffe on tap. I am usually not a big dark beer fan but the Leffe bruin was quite enjoyable. It had a nice foam head with a slight bitter aftertaste. I also like the fact that it was not thick or heavy like some brown brews can be.

On the way home from Antwerp, my husband and I like to make fun of some of the towns we pass. One town in particular was Boom. Yes, there is a Boom, Belgium. Sounds comical? Imagine telling people you are from Boom. Would people joke and say, "do you hear big booms over there?" I decided that I would look into this little town so I can at least be a little educated about small Belgian towns and sound like an intelligent expat when someone mentions the town of Boom.

According to Wikipedia, Boom is located a municipality in Flanders with a population of 16,096 (as of 2006). The area is known for its clay open pits and brick factories. The founder of Bobbejaanland theme park hails from Boom. I wonder if this is Belgium's answer to Disneyland? Personally, Boom does not sound very exciting and it is not a town I am planning on visiting anytime soon.

One other town I would like to mention is Asse. This charming sounding town used to be spelled Assche is a Belgian province in Flemish Brabant. The municipality comprises of Asse proper, Bekkerzeel, Kobbegem, Mollem, Relegem and Zellik (all towns that ARE not mentioned in my Belgium guide book). As of 2006, Asse had a population of 29,191. Asse never really developed into anything important (take out the violin) but the town did have some brewing and local hop production.

Boom and Asse probably got more coverage in my blog than it has gotten in years. Some people yearn for the hustle and bustle of Brussels or Antwerp and others seek the calm life that Asse and Boom could offer.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Wallonian Rooster, Secession and a boozy Policewoman

The Rooster is Wallonia's mascot! Are Wallonians stubborn and proud like a rooster?

Hello loyal readers! Sorry it has been eons since I last wrote. No excuse. Life in Brussels has been pretty much the same which is a good thing considering there is no federal government. But tomorrow that is all about to change. June 13, 2010 is election day. I am not going to pretend to understand Belgian politics because it is damn confusing. There is the government in Brussels, Flanders government, Wallonian and a couple of others as well. It boggles my mind. Since I live in Brussels, I have been fortunate enough to be exposed to both Flemish and Wallonian candidates. Who would I vote for if I was able to vote? Don't know.

Last weekend, we went to Leige for the weekend. It was our first time venturing into Wallonia and it was not as scary as I thought it would be (just kidding). Liege was a beautiful charming city with quaint little alleyways that led to dead ends with charming old houses and a river that reminded me of the Paris. It was interesting to see the Wallonian campaign posters. The above poster was plastered all over Liege. Apparently there is a party that wants to return the Wallonian region to France. Funny? Will it ever happen? Probably not but maybe wishful thinking for some Belgians!
On a lighter note relating to beer, my husband told me that on his way home from work yesterday, he saw something disturbingly funny. He saw a policewoman in full uniform, gun in holster outside her police car chugging a large can of Jupiler beer. Instinct told him not to take a picture of the policewoman for fear that she would arrest him. I am not sure if drinking beer in Belgium is considered really drinking since beer is considered more of a thirst quencher than something to get sloshed on. Any thoughts???