Belgium / Czech 2002 Home :: :: Geoff's Travel Home :: 2002 :: Best-Of Photography

Endless good beer, a rich history and scrumptuous waffles: these three images came to our minds before we stepped off the plane. Isn't it amazing how much product marketing, travel shows on OPB and ignorance can "define" a country in our minds? The good news is that Belgium did deliver on these promises, and much more — thanks to our own custom tour guides, Herman and Maria. 

Leffe & cobblestone
City Street in Leuven

As we stepped into the streets we were determined to envelop ourselves into as much true Belgium as we could possibly get in four hear the Belgian past echoing through the cobblestone streets, while savoring the country's energy in the present.  

One of the fascinating aspects of historical architecture is how much attention to detail the craftspeople, architects and builders of the time paid to their craft. Walking around this Leuven City Hall, we were astonished by the ornamentation around every window, every nook, every spire. And this is just one of the many painstakingly crafted artifacts of the past that adorns this world. Why is it that today our civilization does not build such wonders? Is it a matter of style? Money? Lack of patience? 

Leuven City Hall
Brussels square

Now about 5 hours after we landed, our next stop was Brussels. Prodded by our ever cheerful guides and fueled by the secret Belgian potion against jet lag (food) we loaded new film* into our cameras and hit the streets.

(* we learned later that some of the film was virtual :)  

Brussels town hall

Quaint streets. Cafes. Tablecloths on every table. Polished silverware. People watching. Aroma of fresh mussels lingering in the air. Anticipation of nighttime, when streets are filled to the seams, and families and friends linger over food and conversation:

This scene is so familiar and typical of many European cities. Can anyone who has lived in or visited Europe look at this photograph without being filled by memories of such places, filled with comfort, laughter or intense conversation?

Even now looking at this photograph we long for a Friday night out at such a place, with the comfort and energy of it!  

City Street in Brussels
Reflection on Brussels
Mannekenpis (sp?)

Ok, so maybe there are four images that came to mind with the word Belgium. Mannekenpis: a statue of a little boy doing his bodily duty. Sometimes inspiration for art comes from the most basic of places. I can imagine the sculptor, still half asleep early in the morning, thinking "What should be my next sculpting topic?" Perhaps he drank too much Belgian beer the night before, an was struck with a sudden inspiration.

By the way — he sure looks bigger in the postcards...

As we were walking down the street, we saw a huge crowd of people gathered around an obvious object of interest, cameras in hand. Herman whispered: "Now you will get to see one of the most famous pieces of art in Brussels". Our anticipation grew as we walked closer, drawn by the crowds. We squinted our eyes to make out what that object of attention was. Finally, we rounded a corner and alas, there he was. We looked at one another in shock, whispering "Didn't you think he was bigger?"

Indeed, size does not matter. This little boy drew the largest crowds in Brussels. 

After drinking the night away with Herman & Maria's moms & family (see special people & beer section) we headed out for a little reconciliation. We gave many thanks, one of which was for the miracle of Belgian beer that did not give hangovers. This picture is taken in one of the many churches of the city Leper. 

Church light in Leper
Church in Leper

Language can unify, but it can also divide. The closer we went south, the more apparent became the mix of Dutch & French languages and cultures. Church services alternated every mass between French and Dutch, even if some of the tiny village communities meant only a handful of attendees at each mass. 

What did they put in that beer? I think we like each other. 

Leper street bum

Every trip is filled with meeting all kinds of people. Even Belgium has its set of interesting characters. Geoff was quite 'taken back by this enigmatic guy, mumbling something about us giving him "just a few dollars for a waffle".

Leper is a beautiful city with a mixture of Venice and San Antonio, Texas. (Notice to all native Dutch and Texans: I am referring to the waterways, only). The city is filled with many nooks-n-crannies, and many stories to be told. 

Leper idylic waterway shot

There is more than one aspect of this little part of Leper shown to the left that is a bit different. First, these buildings are all filled with women, of all ages, that are not nuns, yet want to live a few years of their lives dedicated to art, science and introspection. For a few years these women, who on their own choose to come here, give up all material possessions and focus strictly on the beauty that does not stem from material things. As Herman explained to us, this "convent for married women" started couple of centuries ago by women who's husbands had died in war. They wanted a place to live that was communal, dedicated to art & religion, without giving up their maritial vows.

Spotting the second unusual aspect of this part of Leper is left as an exercise to the viewer. 

Leaning trees
Sun over Gent waterway

The city of Gent hustles and bustles with college life. Its university, that has been around for centuries (we know because Herman attended it :)... 


Somehow when put into this context, the "Coca-cola, the American tradition" slogan just seems so laughable... 

Gent square
Gent view from top

Herman gazing over his good old collage stomping grounds 

Some university traditions haven't changed (since Herman's time) 

Gent University
Gent castle

Beautiful castle and one small duck — it's funny how quickly a majestic, historical monument to mankind's achievements can be overshadowed by a tiny bit of life. 

No visit to Belgium would be complete without a windmill sighting. This is an old windmill being made new again at the town of "Onze Lieve Vrouw Lombeek". With names like that, is it suprise that Belgians consume so much beer?

...or was that "Vrouw Onze Lombeek Lieve". Hmmm, perhaps "Lombeek Lieve Vrouw Onze" ?!? 

Windmill in Onze Lieve Vrouw Lombeek
Onze Lieve Vrouw Lombeek

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