Sunday, January 16, 2011

On the Road Again

In just a few hours I'll be on my way to les Pays-Bas, otherwise known as Holland or the Netherlands.  In French, les Pays-Bas means "the low-lands" -- a very appropriate name as Belgium and Holland are perhaps the flattest lands I've ever seen.  In fact, besides my family, what I missed most while living here was the evergreen mountainous skyline of the beautiful Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon. 


I'll take the train from Brussels to Nijmegen tomorrow morning, to meet up with my friend, Hadrien, whom I went to high school with in Belgium and who now studies in Nijmegen, Holland. Belgian students are obliged to take Néerlandais (Dutch) classes from 1st-12th grades.  In 5th or 6th grade they usually have the option to start English as well.  After finishing high school, it's very common to do a linguistic exchange -- either in the form of a gap year or as part of university studies.  Some francophone (French-speaking) families try to give their kids a head-start by sending them to Dutch schools, where they become completely bilingual very quickly.  You see, Belgium is split in two: Wallonia, the French-speakers, in the south; and Flanders, the Flemish-speakers, in the north (Flemish is Dutch spoken with a lighter accent).  Both French and Flemish are official national languages. The linguistic and cultural separation in the country has been a big problem for a while.  April 2010 saw the most recent collapse of the Belgian government, and we're going on month nine without any substantial progress in negotiations to erect a new government. To better understand the mess here, click here to view an short animated film that does a great job introducing the situation in a quite entertaining fashion. 



All that to say: my friend Hadrien is like many Belgian students who decide to continue their education in their second language. (In fact, Hadrien already spent a year studying in the US, so he is perfectly tri-lingual.)


I'm looking forward to visiting his university and the town of Nijmegen tomorrow.  After lunch we'll take the train to Amsterdam for some sight-seeing, where we'll spend the night with two of his friends studying there.  I'm hoping to see the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, and take a little bicycle ride in the spirit of what seems to be the national pastime in an exceptionally flat country.
Before returning to Brussels, we'll also visit The Hague, the political capital of the Netherlands.  Hadrien tells me that Holland is unique in that Amsterdam is the cultural capital, whereas the governmental capital is separate. I promise to tell you all about this little journey when I return on Wednesday.


In the meantime, here are several photos from our sunny excursion in Brussels this afternoon.  


Turkish "Snack" places are all over Brussels -- the durum is delicious!
(a sort of burrito with gyros - lamb meat - lettuce, special sauce, and french fries all wrapped up together)

A new program called "Villo" -- a play on words combining ville (city) and vélo (bicycle) -- is becoming popular in Belgium.  There are stations all over the city where you can pick up a bike, and you can leave it at any other station.  Apparently everyone's started taking the bikes into the city in the morning (downhill) and then taking the bus, tram, or metro home (uphill), so they've had to start a service overnight delivering bikes back into the neighborhoods.

The park we visited today is located in Vilvoorde, a Flemish commune (there are 19 communes in the Brussels Capital - most of them French-speaking). If you speak neither French nor Flemish, the easiest way to pick out Flemish words is to look for double vowels, i.e. "oo" and "aa" and the "ij" combination.

"Benelux" Lane.....Benelux is an economic union comprising Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. The Benelux train system is great and makes it easy and inexpensive to get around the region.

A château in the middle of the park....most parks in Brussels are built on or around the grounds of large estates, farms, museums, monuments, and other culturally significant places.

This 2-3 foot high stage area is located directly across from the path leading up to an even bigger château a few hundred yards away (shown below); I figure that it's probably where the carriages would drop people off for a visit or ball at the château.

The big one - still a very nice and expensive restaurant and cafe.  My host parents came here to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.

More Flemish signs...the "Kanaalroute" is a sort of greenway with a bike trail along the Brussels Canal, which winds its way through the city.  The trail is 39km...24.23 miles.

I'm thinking these trees would look nice in my garden.  The mossy steps, too.

The gates of the Royal Palace, where King Albert II, King of the Belgians lives. If you watched the short film I recommended above, you'll remember that he doesn't really have much power these days. 

I have completely forgotten the name of this church (not cathedral).  I think it's St. Catherine's, but at any rate it's gorgeous!  I hope to re-visit this one before I leave.  After surviving Dr. Byrne's incredibly in-depth Medieval World class, I'm excited to put my new knowledge of church architecture to work!  I can't help now but compare tympanums, count aisles and analyze vaulting.

The outside of the church is currently being cleaned -- the whole front facade is finished.  It looks gorgeous!

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