Cities of riches

Trip Start Feb 21, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Belgium  ,
Sunday, May 20, 2007

After the whirlwind trip through Holland, and as I'm now getting what I believe to be a stress cold, I was ready for some chill tourist time.  So yesterday myself, Monia and her boyfriend all piled into the car again to head to Bruges, a semi-coastal town which was once the main economic hub of Flanders, and still has much to show for it.  First though a quick side note: Monia works for a cell phone company and as such, gets her pick from a list of cars to choose from as she is out and about most days. Same goes for her b/f.  Therefore she drives a nice b-mer (BMW) and he a Mercedes.  Not to mention another person in her building works for Mercedes, and the rest of the buildings inhabitants just so happen to work for companies that would rather provide luxury free-of-charge-within-Belgium-at-least cars than more bonuses or raises as well, so between Monia and her fellow building-people, along with  couple ATVs in the back car park, the communal backyard parking lot looks like a multi-dealer showroom.  sweet.

Anyhow, yesterday we decided to give the b-mer a break and take the Mercedes instead (tough choices, eh?) out to Bruges.  It's a lovely town, though too touristy for its own good, and while Amsterdam reminded us both of Venice due to the canals and humidity, Bruges is unofficially recognized more or less as the Venice of northern Europe.  Though far smaller than Amsterdam (thank god), it has canals running through the city, both below foundations, and above or next to, as well.  They have a huge main plaza full of cafes with snooty waiters who sniff at you and refuse to talk in anything but Dutch/Flemish unless you are an obviously hopeless tourist... but since my friends actually look more French than Flemish, I was SOL and so they had to order for me.  The waiter claimed to know as much English as the indifferent Italians in the tourist offices just about anywhere north of Naples in Italy (I kid you not unfortunately).  It's all a front here as well: clearly they must know both French and English as well to survive on their clearly heavily relied on tourist industry.  But apparently the Flemish are still sore that the country is currently run by a Frenchy and not a Dutchy; whereas my friends and others could care less where you're from and just call it a day, and get over it and admit everybody's just Belgian or a tourist.  Seriously people, it's like the English and the French constantly bickering, and how long ago was that????  But it is the weirdest sense of dual-nationalism in one country --- or maybe the lack of?  Although granted my friends are in the gradually more common but more often than not unique position of being tri-lingual, although the majority of people are bi-lingual if that.  Sure maybe they learn the 'opposing' language in school, and then apparently try to forget that half of the country exists afterwards.  I don't know about you, but don't current events seem slightly more important since there's still a realistic possibility of changing them???

Back to Bruges.  We took a canal boat tour through the city - this one far more interesting than the one in Amsterdam.  Probably mostly because we got on the boat knowing little about the place (well me at least), and the boat driver was hilarious.  Get this, the guy is Flemish, but someone like his grandfather is Spanish or something, his mother-in-law is German, but you'd swear he was Irish with his sense of humor.... and somehow he's gotten around to knowing as many languages as Jan (and has corresponding jokes for each nationality accordingly!).  Then he assured the only Japanese family on the boat that if they came back same time next year, he'd give the whole tour in Japanese, since he's still learning it!  I think it's safe to say this guy never has to worry about finding a job, well, anywhere!

Bruges clearly had a rich commerce in its hey day (the majority of buildings are well preserved and are covered in gold!), and I want to say it was here that Hitler came just to see one building or something totally ridiculous (I'll get back to you on that one!).  However, apparently it's in Antwerp where things get ugly... Belgium colonized parts of Africa known for diamonds, and as such, most of the diamonds come in and out through Antwerp.  I was tempted to ask a local or two if the movie 'Blood Diamond' had come out here yet, but managed to resist...  The other weird thing is that Belgium's contribution to environmental probems comes in the form of them fishing for tiny shrimp (you know, the egg roll kind), then sending them to Morocco where cheap labor cleans them up, and then fly them back to Belgium to be consumed.  All for 100g of a can of tiny shrimp!  Nice to know Americans aren't the only stupidly wasteful people...

On our return to Brussles, we stopped through the coastal town (oooh la mer!) of Le Coq, referred to as Disneyworld by any self-respecting Belgian thanks to its epcot centre feel of the architecture in the area.  Some is the original and has just been cleaned up, but others are re-makes Ó la Dresden, and some just look like the ridiculous touristy Belgiany coastal fašades that they are.  No matter though, as it's a hell of a view along the beach although it apparently gets crowded in the summer.  The only problem with Belgian weather though is that its not consistent.  So when you book far in advance to score a nice sea-side view in a ritzy hotel for you and your Belgian family/friends etc, you have no idea if it'll be 58░ and rainy, or 88░ and sunny.  hmmmmmm.  Might as well play it safe and fly to Morocco to help clean shrimp.
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