Of all the places I have been at, the country that charmed me most is Belgium. After all it IS the land of Tintin and Captain Haddock, my first loves. Also, the host country of the magical Tomorrowland which has been on my bucket list since I had discovered electronic music and long before it became mainstream. Quaint little villages, friendly people, hot waffles, even hotter accent [swoon] and surprisingly healthy nation of potato lovers. Though much of my album from this tiny country consists of landscapes and picturesque town squares, equally exhaustive is my beer list! With every region and its specialist beers I was spoilt for choice and boy did I enjoy it! While the English like to guzzle down their beer like cola, the Belgians enjoy it. Not that they swirl it in their glasses and spit it out, but if you happen to guzzle down a Belgian beer you could be counting stars sooner than you thought. With alcohol levels ranging from 6% to 11% some bars even have restrictions on the number of beers served to a single person [smart move!].
Don’t be fooled by the size of the country, it has much to offer. But they had me fooled by the size of Manneken Pis. Manneken Pis was exactly the size as drawn on the map! […And the map claimed not to be of scale] I have come to believe the Belges have great sense of humour or that they have an overenthusiastic PR mechanism in place. A national symbol that requires a microscope to spot!
The most common question anyone in Brussels is faced with I guess is, “Should I go to Bruges or Ghent?” I’d say Ghent. Ghent is quieter, smaller, prettier, classier and less Disney-fied version of Bruges. It also has a brilliant castle worthy of being in fairy tales with a hidden chamber of torture. Though I am not much of the ‘must-do-must-see’ places, I was threatened by my brother that he would disown me if I skipped Bruges while I was in Belgique. I do not know if it had to do with the fact that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site or that In Bruges was shot there – a film that had him in splits. In all probability, the latter. Bruges invariably was swarming with tourists, not all Collin Farrell fans I hope. My personal pictures were constantly bombarded with one or two unknown entities whom I had to pretend I was friends with eventually since they hogged the better sceneries. The Basilica of Holy Blood was an interesting visit. A place where you can pray to the real blood of Jesus. Yes, that’s as real as God can get!
While I would like to make this post about how ‘awesome’ the country is, my rambling about their beer is probably not going to stop. At the end of every night I found myself ‘sampling’ some more beer from the region [sometimes beyond my capacity] and as much as I remember my mother asking me not to befriend strangers in my inebriated state, “Hello Google” doesn’t quite respond well to my mumblings. So till I find my Prince Charming, I am going to be ‘Drunk in Belgium’ [sorry Beyonce].
Not everyone ventures into Amsterdam with the same enthusiasm to visit a museum as I did when I landed at Museumplein. While tourists flocked to the ‘I Amsterdam’ for a souvenir picture, I readied myself for what was museum day for me in Amsterdam. A day when drinking and smoking would take a backseat while I soaked the much needed art into my system. While Musuemplein has the famous Van Gogh Museum as well as the Rijksmuseum [houses Rembrandt], the one museum I absolutely and utterly loved was the Stedelijk. Not only do you get a staggering 50% off on flashing your student ID, everything about the museum is quirky. If modern art is your thing, forget Tate, I’ve found us a new love!
The architecture, the curation, the three stories high textile wall marking the levels, the little coffee shop outside, I loved everything about the museum. The Bad Thoughts show was excellently curated. Loved the short film by Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler called Single Wide. Quite an intriguing piece of film making.
I have to admit, I’ve always fancied signage in museums, especially the toilets. Sometimes they precede the art for me [haw!]. Though Stedelijk scores high on the art quotient, it’s not too far from the toilet quotient either [Serpentine still takes the cake on that one]. While it may come as a shock to many, Van Gogh museum is totally overhyped and under delivers. Unless the man is a God to you, roasting yourself in the blazing sun for an hour and half to find out that the ‘Sunflowers’ are on a loan to the National Gallery in London for 6 months is pure torture. Only bright side is all the yellow the museum throws at you irrespective of the color palette.
By the time I could squeeze my way out of the gift shop, my body had contracted alcohol withdrawal symptoms. So I promptly decided it was time for the Heineken experience. For starters, it is not much of an ‘experience’ to write home about, if you exclude the two beers (and half) included in the ticket (€17). The (supposedly) 4D Heineken ‘ride’ is pretty much a let down lest you enjoy a mini earthquake and water being sprayed at you while you’re a barley grain on a mission to be brewed. PS: Some bubble guns are also let loose for extra effect.
But I have nothing to complain about since with my two pennies not only did I score a free beer mug [official merchandise], I also have a cool certificate as the official Heineken pourer! [for what it’s worth]
While I could go on about how wonderful my rest of the evening was, my memory fails me. The last I remember of this day is stumbling into a ‘coffee shop’ near Spui and gobbling down some ‘space cake’. Not for the weak hearted I must warn. As helpful as the Dutch folks are [very might I add], it’s better to know when the last tram is or where your night bus is from. Unlike London, night buses in Amsterdam run once every hour and the wait unfortunately is strenuous enough to kill any joy you might have been riding on previously.
Till then here’s to some beer by my lovely wife.