Wednesday, July 28, 2010

...and they also speak German in Belgium!!

Above: A schizo looking building in Eupen. Reminded me of Belgium's identity crisis. Are we Flemish? Wallonian? Or German? While the street names are %100 percent German, Jupiler is %100 Belgian. FYI: Jupiler is brewed in Jupille, once a former Belgian municipality is now apart of Liege.

Government offices are all German.

Many posts on this blog discusses the Flemish-Wallonian divide. It is easy to get confused. One often wonders, do they speak French in Waterloo or Flemish? Is Antwerp in Flanders or apart of Holland (because they speak Dutch in Antwerpen). Is Brussels considered Flanders or Wallonia? These issues are enough to drive any expat to drink (or a Belgian) and luckily this country is an drinker's heaven.

Did you know that there is a sliver of an area in Belgium that are German speaking?? If you say no, I won't berate you and call you ignorant about Belgium because before I came here, I also had no idea. I first heard of Eupen in my Belgium guide book. I added Eupen to my list of towns I wanted to visit.

According to Wikipedia, Eupen is a municipality located in the province of Liege (Liege is French speaking). It is 15km from the Dutch border and German border. At the end of WWI, Eupen was transferred from Germany to Belgium as was stipulated in the Treaty of Versailles. There
are about 17,000 living there. Eupen is the seat of the German speaking community in Belgium.

On our way back from Liege in June, we stopped off in Eupen. I was fascinated that here I am in Belgium, a country that is bilingual (even if many Belgians don't speak the other official language) and there is a population that speaks German. Actually German is the third official language in Belgium but I don't think many people speak it. Eupen had all the German sensibilities like punctuality, cleanliness and politeness. Walking down the small streets a warm drizzle fell, I could not help but think how complicated politics is here. Even though Eupen is part of Belgium, do these Belgians identify with Wallonia? Eupen is in Wallonia but it is not French speaking and nothing there looked remotely French.
Again this is one of the many Belgian contradictions.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Typical Belgian? Buying Beer from a Vending Machine

A vending machine at Gare Luxembourg in Brussels, Belgium, Europe. Before boarding the train you can buy yourself a can of Cola or beer. The Jupiler beer cans are located on the far right.

While this blog is supposed to be about beer, it often veers off to other topics. So today I am returning to my roots. I am going to talk beer!

In previous posts, I have written about how ubiquitous beer is in Belgium. Every brasserie, kiosk, supermarket and fast food chain offer beer. You can order beer in the bottle or beer on tap. Supermarkets such as Delhaize and Carrefour even brew their own beer. There are private labels and the famous labels known all over the world like Stella and Left. There are the every day beers like Jupiler and Maes that are decent and are pretty local to Belgium.

As you can see beer is easily accessible wherever you go in Belgium. It should be considering that beer is one of the many food related items that the Belgians do extremely well and should be proud of. Even the Mannekin Piss will occasionally urinate beer on special occasions!! Beer drinking is even easier now that I discovered that you can buy a can of beer from some vending machines! A coke? bottled Spa water? An orange Fanta? Or a can of Jupiler? From the vending machine at Gare Luxembourg in Brussels, you can purchase all three.

I was a bit perplexed when I saw beer cans in the vending machines. How does that work? Meaning, how do you make sure that minors are not buying beer. In addition to a coin slot, there is a slot for you to put your identity card. On each identity card, there is a microchip with all your information. Problem solved! I love European innovation and convenience!

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Smoke break at the Ziekenhuis

For those readers who don't speak Flemish or Dutch, Ziekenhuis means hospital. When I think of a hospital, images of white sterile halls, IV drips and painkillers come to mind. Hospitals today are smoke free. There was a time when I think it was allowed to smoke in hospitals. I recall watching an episode of St. Elsewhere, where one of the doctors was actually smoking in the hospital. This was all before people were ostracized for smoking. Today, you would extremely hard pressed to find a doctor lighting up in a hospital. I don't even think you can smoke within a certain radius of such a place. Signs are plastered all over the place reminding you over and over again not to smoke. Do you really want to stand out and be the only one smoking?
I walked past Clinique Parc du Leopold on Rue Froissart in Brussels. The non-descript brownish looking building is ugly yet benign. I would always glance at the building and think to myself, "luckily there is a hospital near my house in case I need to go somewhere ASAP." Today, I am not so sure. What I saw outside on the steps was absolutely horrifying. I saw many people smoking. Fine, people need a place to smoke but I saw patients puffing away. How did I know they were patients? Well, the hospital gown, the wheelchair, and the tubing in the nose gave it away. Oh, I don't want to forget to mention the can on the back of the wheelchair that looked like an oxygen tank.
Shocked, disgusted and surprised were some emotions that were coursing through my mind. I believe it is some one's own personal choice to smoke. If you want nicotine, fine. Smoke, I could not care less but should a hospital let its own patients smoke out front? What kind of example does that set for the hospital? What does this say about the health care system in Belgium? Belgium is supposed to have one of the best health care systems in the world but does that mean patients should take advantage of that and smoke while under hospital care? Should my tax dollars go towards the hospital taking care of someone who smokes on its premises? Shouldn't patients at least wait until they are discharged before they rot their lungs out some more? I don't have the answers to this.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

King Albert's message: Can't we all just get along?

Picture taken in Liege on June 6, 2010. "A" with a crown on top stands for King Albert! "B" stands for Belgium.

I just found out today that King Albert, King of Belgium and I have the same birthday. Does that make me special?

I just saw on my facebook news feed, a small article from
On Belgium's National Day on July 21, the King made a speech speaking about Belgium's challenges and that the Belgians need to find ways to live together and get along. Belgian's getting along and the country staying intact, is always on the King's mind. I am guessing that he prays for his kingdom's unity. The King has a lot at stake. What would happen if the country would split up? Which side does the King take? Is he King of the Walloons or King of Flanders? Or would he be supreme ruler of Brussels? I have no idea. is a wonderful news resource. Granted it is a bit biased towards Flanders but the news is in English. I feel like sometimes, Flanders cares more about me than the Walloons. While I don't speak Dutch, the Flemish wants me to know what is going on in Belgium. I have yet to see a Walloon weekly English newspaper. I guess Wallonia does not care much about me. That's fine, I am not losing any sleep over that!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fewer prisoners manage to escape.

Are window gates necessary if you live in Brussels?

According to the article, only 8 convicts managed to escape the police. This is very exciting news for Belgium. The good news is that only 3 of the 8 jailbirds actually escaped from prison. The other three escaped while being transferred to another prison or hospital. My question is how careless could these policepeople be? Yes, the number is pretty low but even one escaped convict is one too many.

My question is how does even one jailbird manage to escape police custody? Aren't these criminals in shackles? Is the guard transporting the convict, drinking a beer? Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck, is happy with the statistics. Now lets deal with the notorious overcrowded jails.

I wonder if prisoners get some beer to accompany their meals?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

It's easy to drive to the border and get the hell out (if you want to leave)

A street sign in Liege points you in the direction of three countries

Belgium borders on France, Holland, Germany and Luxembourg. One of the redeeming qualities to Brussels is how it is so easy to hop on a train and leave the country. Hop on the Eurostar and you are in London in no time. Thalys will get you into Paris in less than two hours. Drive to Cologne, Germany also in under two hours. If you want to enjoy Amsterdam in all its glory, you can either drive or take the new high speed train. It is that easy.

Is going to Luxembourg from Brussels considered going abroad? Just some food for thought!

180 years plus 1 day

Alley way in Liege
A Belgian postbox in Liege

The bandstands are being disassembled. The white lawn chairs are being stacked. The red carpets are being rolled up. National Day is over and Belgium is back to normal. No one seems to be hung over from last night's festivities. The streets and sidewalks don't look any dirtier and the random Belgian flag is slowly waving in a summer breeze.

This is a sleepy Brussels. Many people decided to desert the city. Lucky for them. I am stuck in Brussels with the baby. My husband is in the States taking care of business and probably enjoying a bagel and lox. My baby is on vacation which really means that her daycare is closed so the minders can get a well deserved break. It is hard work being with the baby all day. Since she is only 16 months, I am limited in what activities I can do with her. For the past week, we have gone to Rue Nueve which is the shopping pedestrian area in Brussels. It is not a particularly pretty area. In fact it is quite ugly. Rumor has it that the government wants to make it even uglier by adding some sort of roof over the stores and make it into a covered walkway. It's a dumb idea because on the odd nice day, people want to shop in the sun. Don't do it!!!

As I was walking with the baby at 11 am, I saw people sitting in various brasseries drinking beer. Yes, people do drink beer that early. My brain is still foggy at 11am and a beer would just knock me out. But I guess Belgians have something to celebrate. The sun is shining, the weather is nice and warm and the country is one day into a new national year.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

HAPPY NATIONAL DAY BELGIUM. Surviving 180 years is no easy feat!

Flying the flag on top of the palace

Some random Belgian showing their patriotism

HAPPY NATIONAL DAY, BELGIUM. YOU MADE IT TO ANOTHER YEAR WITHOUT IMPLODING!! I think that could be the biggest reason to celebrate though I am guessing that die hard Wallonians and Flemish might disagree.

US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, sent her best and other dignitaries are also probably sending their obligatory congratulations as well. Belgium's special national symbol, the Mannekin Pis will be dressed up as an accordionist (not sure why). Beer, frites and Belgian waffles will inevitably be flowing all over the place.

The Royal Family, will do their ceremonial and probably give speeches on how wonderful the country is, how Belgium despite its linguistics and cultural divides has managed to stay intact and not to forget that Belgium has the EU presidency for the next six months. So Belgians better be on their best behavior!
I wonder if celebrating National Day has the same feeling as celebrating Independence Day. If any my Belgian readers can comment on this, I would be very thankful. As an American, the 4th of July is a chance to party but its essence is American celebrating their physical, emotional and religious freedoms. Is Belgian National Day just a celebration of the country or do Belgians celebrate what it means to be Belgian?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rantings and Musings on the the eve of Belgium's national day

Tomorrow is Belgium's National Day. On this auspicious day in 1831, Leopold Saxe-Coburg Saalfeld takes the oath as Belgium's first king. Since this is my first national day here, I am not sure how people celebrate. Do people become patriotic and wear Belgium's national colors- black, yellow and red? Do people BBQ hot dogs and hamburgers? Do Belgians give thanks for another year the country is still intact albeit with just a band aid? I am not sure.

The royal family, I believe comes out in full force paying homage to their subjects. Several times in the past week, I passed by one of the ugly palaces and saw a band stand set up with white plastic lawn chairs. There is most likely some sort of ceremony taking place.

As an American, the fourth of July is a special day. Aside from the annoying fire crackers that get fired off and ant infested picnics, Americans in their own way celebrate gaining their independence from the British monarchy. It's an extremely patriotic day. There is lots to celebrate as an American. What do the Belgians celebrate? I am really curious.

Never in a thousand years did I think I would end up in Belgium. I remember the first time I visited Brussels. My husband and I were living in Fontainebleau, France, and we always passed through Brussels when we took the Thalys to Amsterdam. There was the joke that we knew when we left France, because the weather felt gray, the land looked dull and the city outskirts looks ratty. We knew when we entered The Netherlands because the land looked greener and cleaner. Is this a fair observation? Probably not but these were my amateurish first impressions. So on one summer day, my husband and I hopped on the Thalys and took it straight to Brussels.
We went immediately to Grand Place and did the typical touristy things. We went to the beer and chocolate museum, had a waffle, drank beer and saw the Mannequin Piss. Then it got cloudy and rained. We ran for cover in one of those double decker tourist buses that drives all around Brussels. I think I fell asleep. That was my first time in Brussels. I think I said, I came, I saw and never again. LOL LOL LOL.
On the eve of these celebrations, I am neither excited or jubilant. I am just here and will most likely take in some of the festivities and observe the Belgians. Are they happy or dour faced today? Do they even care? After that, I will drink some of the national brew.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Brussels isn't in Switzerland (yet)

Picture this conversation:

My husband: I am living in Brussels right now (assumption was that people know that Brussels is a city in Belgium)

Person my husband was talking to: have fun in Switzerland. I have cousins that live in Zurich.

This little conversation was similar to one I had several months ago when some American thought Brussels was its own country. I can not make this stuff up no matter how drunk I get on Belgian beer. There are actually people that do not know Brussels is in Belgium or that it is the capital of the European Union. I also remember that years ago, my husband and I were on line waiting to visit the Anne Frank House and I heard someone behind us say, I thought Anne Frank hid in Copenhagen. Well, she hid in Amsterdam (the city), The Netherlands not Copenhagen, Denmark (in Scandanavia). I bet there are people that think Brussels, the country or city is paved in chocolate and diamonds.

Trust me, I have wished more than anything that Brussels was not in Belgium but in some sunny country like Spain or Florida. But every time I open my eyes, I am still in this rainy place. Though the weather for the past couple of days has been REALLY nice. And that is something to be thankful for.

But back to the geography topic. It is amazing how people don't know which country major European cities are. I don't expect many people to know where Eupen is (Belgium) or Oerlikon is (Switzerland). But Brussels? The capital of the European Union? How could you not know where that is? Are you drunk on Belgian beer?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Chi Chi's, Mullets and Winos can be found in Brussels

In previous posts I mentioned that sometimes I feel like Belgium is stuck in the 1980's. You can hear '80's music being piped into the metro stations, the random person wearing acid washed jeans and Rick Astley concerts.
Today, I went to De Brouckere, a shopping district in "downtown" Brussels. There is a variety of stores such as H & M, Benetton, Zara and various other clothing stores and speciality shops. When I get homesick I can walk down De Brouckere and pass at least 4 Pizza Huts within a street of each other. At the corner is the Chi-Chi's, the bastion of tex-mex food. Every time my husband and I pass the restaurant, we chuckle because out of all the American chain restaurants imaginable, Brussels has to have a Chi-Chi's. What about the Olive Garden? I think everyone loves Italian food. I am not sure how popular re fried beans and margaritas are here but whenever I see the place, the commercial's jingle- Chi-Chi's, it's a celebration of food plays in my head.

A few months ago, my husband and I were in the car right near the Chi-Chi's when we passed a driver with a wonderful 80's style mullet. I am not sure how stylish mullets are in Belgium or if there are any trailer parks in the area but I always get a kick out of a European sporting a mullet or rat tail. It makes me homesick. For some reason these hairstyles are so American and seeing a European sport when makes me think of greasy fast food, Miller Lite beer and pork rings.

Lastly, I mentioned that the alcohol of choice for most Belgians is beer. Beer is the occasional thirst quencher of police officer, a midday tipple for the bored office worker and choice for vagrants hanging out on the street with the sign, "j'ai faim," (I am hungry) but never I am thirsty "j'ai soif." No one is thirsty because a small can of Jupiler is cheap and has some carbs. However, on Friday, I saw some raggy looking person on the street swigging a bottle of red wine. He must of been French, I thought to myself.

These are just some Brussels' charm.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Happy Belated Bastille Day.

Traffic passing through Paris' famous Arc de Triumph
Belgians decide to have three arches in their look alike Arc de Triumph in Brussels' Parc Cinquantenaire.
Happy belated Bastille Day!! I had no idea that yesterday was a major celebration in France. I guess I am in my own little world called BELGIUM. However, coincidentally yesterday I went to Parc Cinquantaire (Park of the Fiftieth) or Jubelpark (Jubilee Park in Dutch). As soon I entered the park, I thought Paris. I am sure the Parisians would be pissed that I would compare anything in Brussels to their beloved Paris but it is a compliment. The arches reminded me of the Arch de Triumph times three. In 1880 the park was built to commemorate Belgium's fifty years of independence. The actual arches were built in 1905.
I was pretty impressed with the park. It was vast, green and clean. Of course there was the occasional crushed beer can on the ground but it's Belgium. There needs to be beer everywhere.
I would like to wish France a happy belated Bastille Day. I will have some french pastries in honor of this momentous occasion.

My kid is a Belgian until December 2010

As I always say to my baby "hip hip hoorah!!" Finally after almost a year, my little baby finally has her certificat d'identite. I should probably pop open a can of beer and celebrate. It only took almost a year, four hundred copies of her birth certificate and countless visits to our local commune. The ironic part is that the card expires in December. What does that mean? Do we need to go back and file more paperwork? To be honest, I am too hot and tired to even think about revisiting my local commune to find out. Belgians are notorious for their lengthy paper trail. Why create more paperwork by having me go back to the commune to renew my daughter's identity card. I know this all probably has to do with my husband's work visa.

I honestly shirk from anything bureaucratically Belgian. But to be fair, there is a lot of bureaucracy in the United States. Going to the Department of Motor Vehicles, getting a passport, a social security card or official copy of a birth certificate is no walk in the park. People who need visas to come to the States also have hellish stories.
To celebrate Lorelei's little identity card, I am treating myself to a glass of Tokaji, a Hungarian sweet dessert wine. As I conclude this short entry, I am sipping this delicious sweet wine in a plastic cup! Very lazy of me!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Pop open a beer can, it's finally summer

People milling around Grand Place, Brussels

Finally, summer has hit Belgium. June was touch and go but finally the weather has really warmed up. It is amazing how different summer is here in Belgium. The biggest difference is the lack of air conditioning. Last Thursday was extremely warm and we went to the Carrefour (Europe's version of Wal-Mart) and it was hot in there. This big warehouse had no central air. The cashier was fanning herself as if she was having hot flashes. Most people here don't have central air because it is really only maybe ten days during the summer that feel like you're burning in hell. For me that is ten days too many. I hate the heat. I hate to sweat. I also hate the humid heat. Luckily we have air. Someone told me that Europeans are more energy conscious. Maybe that is the case but I have to tell you when it is 40 degrees outdoors, I am glad to have the central air.

When it is so hot, it is important to drink a lot of fluid. You don't want to dehydrate. Does beer count as a fluid? Well, water is a key ingredient to beer and there is nothing nicer than an ice cold Hoegaarden beer served fresh from the top with a lemon wedge. That hits the spot. But my advice, enjoy an ice cold Belgian beer but always chase it down with water. It will keep you hydrated.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hungarian Beer

I was fortunate enough to get out of Brussels and visit Budapest. It was my first time visiting that part of Europe and I am enthralled. I will write more about Budapest/Brussels later but since this is supposed to be a beer blog, I am going to give a review for one of the local brews.

Dreher is one of the Hungarian beers that I drank while over there. It is a light beer with a bitter finish. I was able to taste the yeast and the aftertaste reminded me of the smell of kneaded dough. Dreher is a wonderful beer and I enjoyed it with hungarian noodles, paprika mushrooms and sour cream. My meal was so filling that I barely had room for dessert!

I found this cute t-shirt (picture above) at one of the many stalls in Buda's old city. While I think it is a noble thought to save water by drinking beer, you can not forget that you need water to drink beer so in the end you are not saving any water but it's the thought that counts!

Monday, July 5, 2010

City of Brussels - Belgian EU Presidency. Opening concert I love EU

Proud to be Belgian!

Imagine Lionel Ritchie's song "Celebrate good times, come on" is playing in the backround and confetti is being thrown all over the place. These images are going through my head as Belgium celebrated its six month stint as President of the EU. It is a big deal, I guess. On Saturday night, a celebretory concert and fireworks show took place in front of the EU Parliment. Signs were plastered all over the place inviting the public to come and party like its 2010 and Belgium can actually make a difference for the EU. I am a little skeptical but I think the country will keep it together.
It was interesting that the theme of the concert is loving the EU. Sounds to me like the saying "I love NY." People truly love New York. Do people love the EU? I am not so sure. I know that all the member countries are not cozy or kissy kiss with each other.

I did not attend the concert because I needed to be responsible and stay home with my baby. My main concern was her sleeping through the music and fireworks which she did. She is such a trooper. I was so proud of her. Believe it or not but I also fell asleep during the fireworks. Call me a bore but I can not stand fireworks. They are loud and usually I am in bed when they happen trying to sleep.

My assumption is that Belgian taking the seat of the rotating EU presidency is a big deal. Maybe it will force the Wallonians and Flemish to put on some sort of appearance and get along. I am hoping that this stint will also give Belgians a renewed sense of joy at being Belgian.

No concert or gathering here is complete without beer. Now beer is something the Belgians have a lot to be proud of. From past experiences, I am sure Place Luxembourg was littered with crushed Jupiler beer cans, plastic cups with the Maes logo and dark brown beer bottles.
PS Isn't it amazing that I can link beer with anything having to do with Belgium?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Beautiful Budapest trumps Brussels. Also I drank Tokaj wine

These are just two of the many pictures I took during my little Budapest interlude. I was fortunate enough to get out the drab Brussels and a new place. While I complain and moan about Brussels, I am the first to admit that it is so centrally located that within hours, I can find myself in a new country. The flight to Budapest was so short that I barely had time to freak out about turbulence or plane crashes. My baby and I met accompanied husband for a conference so we were fortunate enough to stay at a prime location. Our hotel was directly across from the famous Chain Bridge. Every time, I left the hotel, my eyes feasted on this majestic bridge.

Budapest, is one of those cities that is still being discovered by tourists. People flocked to Paris or London for decades but it is only in the past couple of years, people are discovering the countries that for so long lived under communism's dark veil. I believe Budapest is one of those cities. The city felt so regal and its buildings especially the bridges were befitting of a city that was once the capital of an empire. The bridges spanning across the Danube connecting Pest to Buda reminded me of Paris. Paris has many small bridges connecting the Left and Right banks. However, unlike Paris, Budapest's bridges were massive, with traffic flowing from one side to the other. All hours of the day, tourists and locals alike walk from one end to the other. What a lovely way to get around the city, especially when the sun is shining and a soft breeze is coming from the Danube.

While there is no more Austrian Hungarian Empire, Budapest proudly shows off its vestiges of an era ruled by kings and emperors. I mentioned in a previous blog that I sampled some Hungarian beer which was delicious. During this trip, I learned that Hungarian wine is also pretty damn good. Apparently, there is a rich and fertile wine region. Many people are not familiar with Hungarian wine but I think that will change in the near future as more and more visit the country and request their spirit shops to carry the wines. Tokaj is a famous wine region in Hungary. The wines are wonderful. I enjoyed a wonderful Tokaj sweet white wine. It was delicious. Highly recommend a nice glass of Tokaj.

As the French say, Chink chink.