Thursday, January 13, 2011

Chocolates, Beer, Architecture, White Party- Adventures at Belgium

There are many reasons why the tiny country of Belgium, ruled by the Dutch till the 19th century should be famous across the world. I witnessed some of those stated above.

Having left for the cities of Antwerp and Brussels (not Brugges, since I had never heard of it then), at a mere cost of 35 euros (I multiplied it by 60 then) on 26th June, 2010 (Saturday) few hours in the morning after the Spanish girl departed towards her home country, getting down at the station was promising with the Antwerpen Centraal qualifying as the best station witnessed by me till date. Tourism was well-planned from my side, with a list of places to see in my hand and taking a map from the Tourist Information Centre. At the exit of the station was the familiar Hotel Radisson, coupled with a unique architectural style, but disappointments started springing soon as the city famous for its diamonds had most of the diamond shops closed, due to a weekend. Furthermore, as I walked down the alley, it went more tiring as I traveled circular loops unable to locate places in my map apart from the vacated roads which didn't cheer me up. Moreover, monetary constraints compelled me to buy Fish burgers (1+ 1 free) and save one for the night, due to the high prices. Surprisingly this country had too many people from the subcontinent, especially in the retail stores. However, things weren't supposed to end on a disappointing note, and as I kept walking in search of the places I wanted to see, encountering few markets and tourist attractions as well on the way- disappointment prevailing, all was undone when a gang of street performers attracted huge crowds with entertaining dances on the road. This unique experience brought back a smile to my face, as I was to encounter few more of these jolly people along the happening road- called Meir.

To my delight, this road led me to fancier markets as I found out the world famous Belgian chocolates (which were very expensive) but I bought some. Tired, and sitting often on the way near fountains and wonderful stoppages, finally I found the first name on the list- Rubenshuis, a collection of the artistic works of Peter Paul Rubens, and this being my first tryst with European medieval art amazed me to good extents. Then I acquainted myself with the water body (I don't know its name) which makes Antwerp one of the major ports in the world. There were pleasing sights, wonderful markets but tiredness was taking hold of me, as I sat for above an hour and still couldn't walk much at a stretch after getting up. The architecture deserves a mention consistently, with almost every home and shop having a unique carving on itself. The street-entertainers caught my eyes again, keeping the mood on a high. However, a distinct loud noise led me to a nearby source of volume- a place called the White Party, where all wore white clothes, people were dancing and spectators looked from outside. Later, I came to know I was witnessing an occasion to celebrate the rights and freedom of the homosexuals, this being an annual event. As daylight fainted and despite my soaring feet, I followed the direction of sounds and crowds, I entered a huge version of what is called mela in India- rides, games, lots... Exploring this place for a whole two hours, and finally spending a few euros on the attractions, I exited roughly at 12. It was on my way back to the market where I was sitting earlier which had me paranoid as highly drunk young guys and girls, almost seemed violent and out of their minds. Needing a place to sit, toilet and a place away from the cold I couldn't stay out for long, and finally decided to spend for the first time on a beer- as I entered a bar! Belgian beer was waiting for me, but I couldn't understand how it was better than other variants (all are bad). Nevertheless, I sipped it for four hours intent on avoiding the expenses of hotel. The only way my plan for beer backfired was the fact, beer induces sleep which was the last thing I needed. Finally, after being able to sustain no more with one glass, and not willing to spend more, I exited towards the station. The wait for a train to Brussels was approximately an hour, and unable to go outside at the Brussels Centraal Station- as everything was closed- I slept at the station unconciously for two hours.

However, the Capital of Europe was to offer more disappointments, as Sunday almost each shop was closed for long distances- which I undertook despite the pain in my legs- due to Christain ritual of holidays on Sundays. Hardly any stores were selling the famous Belgian chocolates here, so all I could do was marvel at the even more wonderful architecture of this city. Uphill and downhill slopes were regular and unexpected, with statues of great warriors along the roadside glamorizing the well-renowned Belgian architecture. I never visited the tourist marvel- Atomium, due to the long distance on foot, and my unwillingness to spend on a bus (now I do repent those decisions not to spend). After long walks and some wonderful sights, thankfully many souvenir shops were open- the exact thing I was looking for- all run by Indians. Thankfully, the money-mindedness of the Indians didn't let them celebrate Christianity's holiday on arguably the most touristic day of the week. I bought some, boarded the train back to Rotterdam where I had to wait for an hour for a bus to Delft.

The adventures for the previous 40 hours had been of a completely new sort, enthralling but at that time, I criticized myself for conducting that trip- primarily as I was alone throughout the 2 days. Unable to wake any longer, after cooking I slept- for the next 14 hours.


Aayush said...

one thing is for sure, you didn't do even ONE thing in belgium that is conventionally safe. it is risky to get drunk in a place you practically know nothing about. but i do admire your guts. i wouldn't have ever ventured out alone if i were you. Belgium seems like a nice place, but your description of Indians is somewhat offensive, though i won't contradict it. it is quite close to the truth, but from the way you've written it, it's actually portrayed in a negative sense. if Indians weren't so hardworking, we would've fallen prey to the worldwide economic depression that was there just recently.

Siddharth Bhattacharya said...

safe- watching dance is safe, so is buying chocolates, going to Rubenhuis Museum. So I did do more than ONE thing which is conventionally safe. For the rest, I admit it being the riskiest and most adventurous trip undertaken.
I never said, Indians aren't hardworking. In fact, I said they are very hardworking and the lethargic Christians aren't, closing the shops on Sundays. (Sorry if I offended some Christian, but I hope no one minds such silly stuff)
I just commented on the money-mindedness of Indians, which is a crucial factor in avoiding falling prey to the global recession. It comes out in negative light, due to my personal distaste for such people.

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