Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Sun, friends, drinks and sightseeing – part one

We had a lovely long Ascension Day weekend here in Belgium. The weather was warm and sunny most of the time, with just a few light overnight showers; the kind of showers that don’t even leave a trace on the ground.

Saturday was particularly hot. Maybe it was to oblige B. and P. who flew in from Atlanta and were visiting Brussels on Saturday and Sunday. I suppose temperatures into the high 20-ties and 30-ties (Celsius, that is) are not unusual in Georgia.

I’ve known B. and P. ‘virtually’ for several months now since B. stumbled across my blog while he was looking for information about the Phalsbourg area in the French Lorraine. He lived in Phalsbourg in the fifties when his father worked on a nearby US military base. The base was closed down recently and turned into a power plant, and B. was planning to visit it, as well as some of the places where he had lived and played as a teenager.

He sent me an e-mail asking me a lot of questions about the public transport, hotels, restaurants and other places of interest in the area. I tried to help him out as much as possible, but failed to give him the information he was looking for regarding trains and buses as, although I’ve visited the area on multiple occasions with my friend, I’ve always enjoyed the comfort of travelling by car.

Over the months we exchanged several e-mails and little by little B. and P. developed a keen interest in Belgium. And then, one day, B. sent me an e-mail announcing that they would spend a few days in Brussels on their way to France. His exact words were: “… and don’t faint, we will be visiting Brussels too!” Well, I didn’t faint, but was nevertheless surprised that my blog had ‘lured’ people into visiting Brussels. Maybe I should tell the Belgian tourist board about it and ask them to pay me a small fee for my contribution to the Belgian tourist industry?!

One of the gilded statues
adorning the historic buildings of the Grand'Place.

So, last Friday night, B. and P. arrived in Brussels, after a long and eventful journey. However, when we met on Saturday afternoon at the Grand’ Place they looked very well rested and keen to discover Brussels. I arrived well before the agreed time of 3 p.m. to take a few photos for the blog and to buy my friends a little welcome present. My first idea was to get them real Belgian chocolates by THE best Belgian chocolatier ‘Corné’, but quickly decided against, as it was far too hot. I’m sure the chocolates would have turned into one sticky mess by the time my visitors got back to their hotel in the evening. I therefore bought a batch of 'macarons'.

The chocolates I didn't buy.
Sorry B. and P.!! Just blame it on the weather.

The Grand’ Place was very, very busy. With tourists from all over the world wandering around, admiring the gilded facades, shooting photos having lunch or simply sipping drinks on the many sidewalk terraces. It was funny to see how everybody was mostly walking with their heads in the air to take in the beauty of the historic buildings. I heard all kinds of languages being spoken around me: English, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, German, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, … It was amazing. I almost felt like a foreigner in my own country.

A few cars were parked in square, which is a 100% pedestrian zone. Judging by the little flags that were floating from the car’s antennae reading ‘Vivent les mariés’ (Long live the bride and groom) they belonged to a wedding party. I hung around for a while hoping the happy couple would soon emerge from the city hall. Imagine my surprise when all of a sudden they appeared on the balcony on the first floor of the building. This privilege is normally reserved for royalty. The last royal couple to appear there were Prince Laurent and his wife Claire. Prince Laurent is our king’s second son and somewhat of an ‘enfant terrible’, who always seems to find himself in rather controversial situations due to the political stands he takes, while he is supposed to keep a low and neutral profile.

The young couple enjoying a rare royal privilege.

I guess the couple that appeared on the balcony last Saturday were personal friends of the mayor’s, whom were therefore given this ‘royal privilege’. But, whatever the reason, the crowd in the square loved it and the bride was clearly very pleased with the attention she got.

(more to come)


Craig said...

What fun! Brussels is indeed one of the great cities, often under estimated in my opinion but none the less great. I also like the fact that it's so international, even without the tourists, due to it's diverse employment (NATO etc). Now if only you could organize a government, you'd be all set!

Carolyn said...

The Grand Place is one of the most gorgeous squares I can remember seeing. Maybe you've been underestimating Brussels. Sometimes seeing your home through visitors' eyes gives you a new way to look at a familiar place.

Patricia Steele said...

Sun,friends,drinks and a beautiful city to wander around, sounds like a great time. Belgium is definitely a cosmopolitan city with fine architecture, well done for showing off your city.

Leon and Sue Sims said...

Martine - I agree with the part about being a foreigner in your own country or maybe a tourist. We learn more about our own "village" by blogging, don't we?
I have a young cyclist friend currently in Belgium trying to make his way in the hard cycling world of your country. His blog is on my side bar and its interesting to read of his struggles there in a hard sport.

PS - I'm looking forward to our travels today with Ken but I think I'll ask CHM to sit in the back with you and Nadege today. LOL

ladybird said...

Craig, Yes, the no-government issue! Many people start to wonder whether we really need one, because things seem to be running smoothly since we no longer have a government (almost 1 year now)! :)

Carolyn, In the past I often visited the Grand Place simply because I was on my way to a nice nearby restaurant. Last Saturday I really took it in like a tourist would do. And it was overwhelming, believe me.

Patricia, I was happy and proud to show my friends this beautiful city square. And we had fun too ...

Leon, I've read your friend's blog and am impressed. Although he is having a hard time, he seems to be enjoying every minute of it. I hope he will become a great cyclist! Do you know him personally?
P.S. Okay about the back seat ... on one condition though: that I get to ride up front tomorrow :)

Mark said...

That all sounds so wonderful. One day, I really do plan to come and meet you in real life. Perhaps when the chocolates won't melt away in my hands but rather in my mouth. And while I'm there, maybe I'll get married and wave to the crowd below us.
Your Friend, m.

ladybird said...

Mark, I'll buy the chocolates, on one condition ... that I can stand on that balcony with you and Fred! :)