Tag Archives: Belgium

In Belgium: the Ever-alluring Town called Bruges

bruges
By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Andrew Hickey, a.k.a The Brooklyn Nomad, is into “Movies That Make You Want To Travel,” and he finds that In Bruges is one such movie. Along with the Matador site, where we found this, Hickey’s travel writing has been published by USA Today and The New York Times, among many others. Here, he unleashes his inner Siskel&Ebert, with an appreciation of a number of movies, based on their alluring backdrops. He names the feature films that made him want to visit Barcelona, Las Vegas, Tuscany, Provence, London, Dublin, Tokyo, and more. So anyway, back to Bruges. Hickey says:

If you can not have a good time in Belgium then something is seriously wrong with you. A place that is known for some of the best chocolate and beer on the planet? Perfect!

Ah yes, the chocolate. It’s said that one of the best places to find it is in the city’s famous Christmas Markets. The staff of Travelbite gives us the locations of Belgium’s four chocolate museums — one in Bruges, of course — along with some fascinating history. Examiner Susan Fogwell delineates the attractions of Belgian confections in what amounts to a lyrical piece of choco-porn. (You must be over 18 to view the page.) The author is a flight attendant and, naturally, a farflung traveler.

In The Third Tower Up From the Road, Kevin Dolgin calls this one of the most beautiful little cities in northern Europe, and recommends taking a carriage ride. We hear that the canal boat rides aren’t bad, either. Legend says a German general who was ordered to destroy Bruges in WWII refused to. Now there’s a war hero. Anyway, it’s one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites and, some say, a little too well supplied with tourists. Well, how would they know, unless they were tourists, too? Hmmmm?

Kevin’s memoir of Bruges is titled “Les frites de la liberté,” which means Freedom Fries, and that’s what it’s mainly about. In this neck of the woods, the claim to fame made by frites is that they are served with more condiments than you’ve ever heard of.

But wait, there’s more, and no, we’re not talking about beer, although the brews of Belgium are well worth talking about. A traveler known as Velo Swiss says, “Bruges is also known for a soothing tonic called Leffe, which did take the edge off a long day.”

Bonus question: On your desert island, if you could have only one Belgian treat, would it be chocolate, beer, or fried potatoes?

photo courtesy of by Wolfgang Staudt, used under this Creative Commons license

Brussels Celebrities: Boxer Shorts and Peeing Boy

mannekin pisBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Brussels, says Rick Steves in the pages of The Seattle Times, is one of the great travel secrets of Europe. He goes on to illustrate why, with such examples as:

Belgian fries (“frites”) taste so good because they’re deep-fried twice – once to cook, and once to brown. The locals dunk them in mayonnaise, especially delicious if the mayo is flavored with garlic. My favorite budget meal in Brussels is having simple pub grub in an atmospheric old pub with a gaggle of “beer pilgrims,” who’ve flocked here from around the world…

Which is all very nice, but what made our ears prick up was a mention of the stone mascot of Brussels, the Mannekin Pis statue, located near the Town Hall. Steves informs us that its extensive wardrobe comes from all over the world, as various cities send costumes as gifts, which are displayed in the City Museum. How do they get the right measurements? But that’s neither here nor there.

The astute reader has noticed that certain themes run through the work of Kevin Dolgin and thus, through this column. Statues are one of those themes, and he has written about this archetypal piece of functional sculpture. In The Third Tower Up From the Road, he advises:

Plan on spending a good 12 minutes at the statue of Manneken Pis, a minuscule bronze of a small boy peeing into a fountain … if you’re lucky he’ll be dressed up as anything from a medieval pikeman to Elvis Presley. The residents of Brussels get their kicks as best they can.

When they’re not dressing the thing up in goofy costumes, they’re stealing it. Over the centuries, seven Mannekin Pis thefts have stained the city’s honor. Like any urban hero worthy of the name, the peeing boy is the subject of much folklore. It seems there once was an aristocratic toddler, protected from battle by soldiers who stashed him in a tree, from which he peed on the enemy troops. Or, not from a tree, peed on the fuse of the dynamite planted by the enemy at the city wall. Or merely got lost, and everybody in town helped look for the kid, and he was found doing you-know-what, and his rich dad commissioned the statue in honor of the boy’s safe return. Please, feel free to make up your own Mannekin Pis legend and send it to us.

The locals really get into the spirit of things, with ceremonies where beer is pumped through you-know-where and handed out to passers-by (there’s a joke in there somewhere) to the accompaniment of live brass band music. This is definitely worth the trip. You might think that one Mannekin Pis would be enough, but no, the darn things are all over the place. Several other Belgian towns have their own, and in one of them he’s known as Il Gamin Quipiche. In France, they call him Le Petit Julien. The town of Tokushima, Japan, has a peeing boy statue that was presented to it by the thoughtful folks at the Belgian embassy. Even Rio de Janeiro has one. And that’s not even counting the millions of Mannekin Pis lawn ornaments all over the globe, perhaps even more numerous than garden trolls.

While Kevin implies that the peeing boy is one of only three tourist attractions in Brussels, this is clearly an underestimation. The city boasts many fine cultural destinations, including the Celebrity Underwear Museum, as we learn from SpiegelOnline, in an article that must be read to be believed. The museum was founded by a manic and rather infamous artist named Jan Bucquoy. Apparently the collection’s piece de resistance is… a pair of boxer shorts once worn by a finance minister. Like Kevin says, “The residents of Brussels get their kicks as best they can.”

photo courtesy of fiona bradley, used under this Creative Commons license