Wanna feel shackle-free, vivacious, young? Head Belgium-wards – that glimmering, glittering mecca of Western Europe : a land much smaller than Australia’s NSW region ceaselessly offering that variety-in-diversity mould which forever attracts a horde of tourists like bees to honey.
Mesmerizing all chocoholics, the savvy beer guzzlers, cycling-crazy ‘kids’, the surly Architects, the foodies as well the budget-conscious, Belgium is sheer bliss, whether one cycles down across its many vital arteries, hops on a bus or train or simply catches a friendly eye and goes around gratis.
The yummy chocolates whether they are boobs-or-frothy-beer-bottle shaped – solid, semi-solid or just sizzling hot-and-liquidy – are pure delight as are the over 1000 varieties of beer with that mouth watering effervescence typical to Belgium: smooth as silk ranging from tangy spicy, the caveman-fit strong, sweet malts with roasted nutty taste, dark fruit flavors of raisin, date, plum, the yellow-to-golden Tripels series down to the Monks’ exclusive bitter “Extra”.
Once these whet your appetite for more, go all hog on steaming hot beef stew, the Mosselen friet – you cant ignore the Belgian national dish, can you? – or the easy flowing chips and nibbles.
Entry tickets to Museums in London or Paris may incline you to tighten the purse strings but in this delightful country access to Museums is more or less free whether you sample Royal Museum of Armed Forces and Military History, City Museum or the Music Museum.
Enter the Royal Palace in July for the King isn’t there then. Even the theatre performance – the Concerts – can be watched free on massive outdoor screens, not to forget the cost of tickets which gets halved for same day performances.
Architects and painters who may not openly appreciate the charms are open-mouthed with awe and reverence at the Flemish, Renaissance, Baroque paintings as at the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture.
They wow the Abbaye Notre Dame with its golden sandstone that glows as it catches the rays of mid day sun. The Grand Place is a gripping marvel. Around a rectangular cobbled market square, its façade superimposed with statues, stands that splendid gem in the Belgian Architecture-crown which has no parallel. The monuments like the City Hall, the King’s House with the City Museum surrounded by Corporation Houses look imposing.
The 24 carat gild houses shine whenever the sun struggles through the haze, the clouds, the rain as much as when the area is ablaze with uncountable lamps. The place becomes fragrant and almost ethereal when the Belgians deck it – once annually -with multi-hued flowers.
If you are around with a precocious kid, just bundle him off into the interactive Science Museum and watch him mimic a duck or “fly” with the mirrors. For such kids and adults like Manneken Pis, that small bronze statue depicting a boy in the nude and urinating is a milestone and a must-see.
And how about a visit to some 100 m high Atomium – the symbol of Belgian-techy-pride! Designed by engineer Andre Water Keyn and architects Andre and Jean Polak, the Atomiunm is shaped on the model of 165 billion times enlarged elementary iron crystal. Get to the upper sphere for that splendid view across the skyline – stand still in awful wonder like Coleridge’s Wedding Guest as you watch the near 3000 lights lend a fairyland charm to the whole.
Once on Schengen visa you can explore Belgium any time from vantage points in Europe: hop on a bus or train, may be just hire a cycle from anywhere and everywhere, or simply catch a friendly eye and take a free lift.
Try not to miss Cats Festival when it rains cats! the toy cats that are hurled down as if evil is being bidden adieu!
One more: the grand cycle race when the tireless cyclists filled with gusto cycle down the steep hills on perilous cobbles to win and get enlisted in Belgium’s Cycling Hall of Fame. The racers need cheering for this unique event which appears as though the Pied Piper has changed tracks to draw away the many cycling enthusiasts to brave the cobbled path.
If you are as much chocoholic as shopaholic get to Belgium in May-June and find the markets flooded with bargains: branded stuff from the previous year-fashion at throw away prices!
An unpalatable advisory: don’t lose track of time as I did, mesmerised not only by melting moments of eats and visuals, but also when a hot chick waved and smiled, I just tumbled over, getting a gash in the shin. It was courtesy a Turkish taxi driver – friendly and sporting, that I could not only catch the flight in the nick of time but felt assured about the gash as the Turk smiled, his parting words lingering in my mind as I boarded the aircraft : It is nutheeng!!!!