Sunday, July 10, 2005


I spent Tuesday & Wednesday with the family in Belgium. We had a great time. It was my first time in a European mainland country for non-business reasons (other than my 8 days in Poland in 1987).

This trip was very different from the last one. Last month we spent two days entirely in the center of Edinburgh. This time we avoided the big city, Brussels, and split our time between the Ardennes and in and around Namur.

Obviously, you can only do so much in a 36 hour visit so we had limited objectives: see Bastogne, visit a medieval Citadel, experience something of life in a non-English speaking country. Here are a few observations from my time there:
  1. Many of the small towns/villages we drove through in Belgium (we never left the French-speaking area) looked fairly tatty. In fact, many of them reminded me of Mechanicville, NY, which is not really an endorsement. Small towns that have seen better days. One oddity was the number of homes that had steel roller blinds outside their windows. I hope these are simply a fashion and not an indication of the crime levels in these towns, many of which were very small.
  2. Many people simply don't speak English. Many Americans (& Irish, I think) believe that all Europeans can cope in English, but that's simply not true. At least not in Belgium.
  3. The beer is very tasty.
  4. I didn't notice any outrageous differences in prices, except that one 10 year old VW Golf I saw for sale had a sign indicating a sale price of €4,500, which struck me as much higher than I'd expect to see for a similar car here.
  5. Frittes – French fries – seemed to be the national food. Everywhere you go you see little stores/shacks/stalls selling Frittes.
I never learned a word of French in school, so I pressed my daughter (who took French for one year) into service. To say she was reluctant to have a go would be a serious understatement. My four-year-old son was more fluent than any of us after 12 hours. That lack of self-consciousness is a great help.