In the Land of Beers

Trip Start Mar 23, 2010
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Trip End Aug 10, 2010


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Flag of Belgium  ,
Wednesday, July 7, 2010

As I took that 4 hour train ride from Luxembourg, I had a lot of thoughts running through my head, as seems to be the case with every solo ride. I started thinking that it has been quite a while since I've had some random adventurous story to tell my (future..) grandkids about. Since I was travelling to Belgium solo (Sylvia had to stay in France and work), I thought it would be the perfect time to take some risks. One train of thought led to another, and so it became decided that my adventure in Belgium would start at a random bar, sitting solo at the bar table, drinking some fine Belgian beers until something interesting happened to me.

My first destination was the picturesque city of Bruge. I only had one night here, so I didn’t waste any time and immediately went on with some sight-seeing. I went to check out the Grand Palace, the main Square, and took a "Choco-story" tour on the history of chocolate (all chocolate inclusive in the ticket price!).

I went back to my hostel dorm to take a quick break before finding an interesting bar to go to for the night. I saw that our hostel also had a fine bar downstairs, which is always a great place to meet sociable people from all over the world, but I decided that would just be too easy. Upon entering my dorm room, I was caught off guard by friendly looking guy chilling on the bunk above mine. He introduced himself to me and we engaged in some really great conversation. Long story short, I ended up drinking at the hostel bar that night with him and his buddies who were biking across Europe, and never actually made it out on my own. Yes I know, not exactly the adventure of my life.

So begins Day 2 in Belgium. I woke up at 9:00am slightly hungover from the previous night, packed up my bags and headed off for the European capital of Brussels. I arrived at 2pm, and after finding a bite to eat, decided that I was too tired to do anything but to take a nap. I slept until 8pm, got up and started my tour of Brussels as night fell. I visited the outside of a grand cathedral, then the epic main square of the Grand Place, and finally, to the underwhelming Mannekin Pis. Mannekin Pis is a small statue of a little boy taking a piss. I didn’t know anything about this statue except following signs that pointed you towards its direction. I knew I was getting closer because chocolate stores started to display giant chocolate Mannekin Pis’ in their windows. Then I got to an intersection where there were no more signs directing me. I looked and looked around for a sign… and then I saw it. In the corner of this intersection behind a tiny gate lied a stone platform with a bronze statue of a boy pissing, no larger than 8 inches tall. “That’s it?” I thought to myself, and as I later learned, nearly all tourists say the exact same thing upon seeing the site.

After such a disappointing ordeal, I went to find a bar to drink my sorrows away… Well not exactly, as I heard the cheering roars on the streets, I went to find a bar where I could watch the Germany vs. Spain match. I struggled to find a bar that wasn’t already packed, but eventually stumbled across one with what seemed to have the right atmosphere.

After Germany’s upsetting defeat, I took a seat at the bar and ordered my second beer of the night. What follows is a detailed reconstruction of my night from my diligently filled in notebook that becomes increasingly unreadable as the night (and drinks) goes on.

After that second drink, I had caught the attention of the Chinese bartender lady who asked me “something something Chinois.” Knowing Chinois was French for Chinese, I nodded. And just like that, we started to converse in Chinese. She explained she was from Shanghai but is now in Brussels because her brother had some kind of business here. She then went on to tell me how she finds the European greeting of kissing on the cheek to be very disgusting… especially from Black people (I apologize if that makes anyone feel uncomfortable, but I’m just being a diligent reporter here). When I explained to her that I taught martial arts, she came around the other side of the bar, checked out my body, and gave me a confused look.

She pours me another beer on the house. She then proudly explains that Belgium has over 2000 kinds of beers. I ask her if she likes beer, and she responds by saying she likes the harder stuff, but doesn’t drink too often. I then proceeded to write a mental note in my book: “What a closet alcoholic.”

I take a glance around and realize I am the only lone person in the bar. In my solitude, I light up a cigarette and inhaled deeply. Kids, I know they teach you in school that smoking does not make you cool, but the truth is, it increases your coolness factor by at least a multiple of 100. Shortly thereafter, some local sees my tourist map and engages in some friendly conversation. Then James Brown’s “I Feel Good” plays in the background. Another local comes up and starts talking to me. His name was Simon, he was half Hong Kongnese, and half British, and he was in Brussels working for the European council. He invited me to join his table. I tell him I’ll come in a bit, I kinda enjoyed just sitting at the bar alone.

I sit there for another 5 minutes finishing off my beer. The other bartender takes a wet glass and flicks the water into my face and laughs. I awkwardly smile and go join Simon’s table. I meet everyone at the table – a British girl here working for the EU, a local Brussels lawyer, 2 other girls, and a Jewish guy who was too drunk to explain where he was from. After I explained what I was up to that evening, the British girl lit up and said “YAH! I was going to talk to you too!”

“Aha!” I thought to myself, the plan worked brilliantly.

For the next few hours, I spent my time drinking and talking with the crowd. The topic of Brussels culture came up numerous times. All the locals agreed that Brussels is a super ugly city, and all the eurocrats hate it when they first come, but just like the locals, they fall in love with it shortly after. Apparently, they like the fact that Mannekin Pis is incredibly underwhelming because it’s a testament a to how absurd and ridiculously small the country of Belgium is itself.

At one point, drunk Jewish guy asks me, “Where are you originally from?”

“Canada,” I replied.

“Originally.”

“Canada.”

“Your parents?”

“Canada” (By this point I was irritated that he wouldn’t accept my answer, so I decided to keep him amused)

“Ok. Your parents’ parents.”

“You got me. China.”

After that, the lawyer offered to give me a quick tour of Brussels by night, and then give me a ride back to my hostel. I reluctantly agreed! So we stumbled out of the bar, walked around the town, and found our way to Mannekin Pis, where the lawyer explained that it is local tradition to take a piss on Mannekin Pis. There are few times in my life that I will be able to take a piss of irony on a national monument statue of a boy taking a piss. To say the least, it was one of the most glorious leaks of my life.

And so concluded my night, nothing too crazy, but I got exactly what I was looking for. Interestingly, I left Brussels with seeing so few of its many tourist attractions, but yet felt incredibly satisfied with my short time there. Just as the train was speeding out of the city, I caught a 2 second glimpse of the glorious Atomium towering in the distance, a large monument of an atom built for the 58’ expo that I had really wanted to see, but never got around to it. I smiled because those 2 seconds were enough for me, and I would never trade it for MY unique experience of the city of Brussels.
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Comments

AA on

Lol Lawrence your frame is way too small to teach martial arts ;)

Richard on

Smoking is cool!

Suzy on

This post could do with less ........pissin...........and more chocolate!!!
CHOCO-STORY TOUR??!! I have never been more jealous of your travels.

bryson on

that's an awesome story!

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