357. The Cutest Square in Brussels

IMG_5857 (640x480) StitchGrand Place may be the famous one, but just by the EU Parliament (possibly Rue de Luxembourg, I was a little lost) was the cutest little old-town style square. Perhaps it was the lack of people everywhere that made it seem so much nicer. It was surrounded by really nice looking cafes, bars and florists, and I can only assume they are hideously expensive but have an excellent friday afterwork drinks scene, given the great location!

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356. Grand Place

IMG_5820 (640x480)The tourist hub of Brussels, Grand Place is definitely a site worth seeing. Though only briefly and whilst holding on to all your valuables. The whole area was a pedestrian zone completely filled with cafes, bars, shops, and basically all things Belgian and touristy. Turn in any direction and you will easily spot waffles, frites, moules frites, Belgian Beer, including the very close Delirium, hosting the best beers in the world (I’m still sceptical), and a tonne of chocolate/sweet shops. Writing that wee list has made me realise how well I did at the culinary bucket list that is Belgium (how they are not all obese I’ll never know). The Mannekin Pis is also handy. Other cool things in the city are a train ride away though unfortunately.

I was lucky enough to see it both when the flower carpet was happening, and without. It seemed to me to be halfway between the buildings along the canals of Amsterdam and the rest of Brussels being more like Vienna. A good combo I thought, though the side streets were definitely more fun:

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355. St Feuillien Blonde

No opportunity to try new things spared, my last shot at another Belgian beer (whilst in Belgium anyway) was found at the airport. Definitely the most novel of airport canteen drink fridges, it was stocked full of all kinds of crazy, and boutiquey looking beers. At least in comparison to the normal airport serve-yourself type canteen things!

Airports are apparently the only places where it is internationally socially acceptable to drink on your own, so I grabbed the most funny looking, odd shaped, novel one I could. Not bad either.

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354. EU Parliament

IMG_5868 (640x480)Perhaps it is my inner nerd, but I found the EU Parliament, or the ‘Parliamentarium’ as the museum part is called absolutely fascinating. Not just a fantastic building, the museum had a really great exhibit walking you through all the relevant parts of European history that lead to the creation of the European Union. The timeline along the wall of important events in the recent histories of all of the member countries was great, as was the giant visual displays of the debating chambers displaying, in quite a cool, interactive way, how decisions are made, all of the processes, and how decisions affect people’s day to day lives.IMG_5871 (640x480)

After learning about a lot more European history than the standard WWI and WWII you get in high school (particularly eastern Europe, former Yugoslavia etc which get a bit left out IMHO), I was definitely a lot more appreciative of the whole system. Particularly after having been to many places that are still dealing with the effects of wars and regimes of a less democratic nature, I am now much more inclined to agree that the recent awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU is quite fitting. At first I thought it was a bit ridiculous and that those actual people who were awarded it before would probably be quite offended. I was initially of the opinion it was a tacky, cheap way to rally the troupes and stop people pushing the idea of pulling out of the EU in the wake of the Eurozone crisis. But when you see just how much conflict there has been in the region, all laid out on one timeline and so recent, it does change your perspective.

Seeing parts of Berlin still being rebuilt (complete with scattered bits of the wall), meeting people who remember lining up for days for rations in Krakow and visiting concentration camps, I am continually amazed at how so many countries so close together have given each other so much grief over the years and it made me realise that the EU really is quite radical.

I couldn’t help but wonder as I wandered just how much all of the fancy pants lighting and displays were costing, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Apparently it is fairly controversial (being opened in 2011, right as the Greek crisis turned into the Eurozone crisis). A cheeky google search reveals it cost around €20m. When I arrived I wasn’t sure if the audioguides were free or not, and when I asked, the girl behind the counter answered with a bitter “No, my taxes pay for it for you.”

I only wish I had longer there (I was on the way out to the airport, had my backpack and everything in the coat check) as it was really fascinating and I barely scratched the surface – you can also see the parts of the rest of the buildings. I’ll definitely have to go back.

353. Jupiler Beer & Mini Keg Shenanigans

For Pukkelpop we of course had to stock up before hand on pre drinks, and few things are more cost effective than beer in Belgium. At the supermarket, all of the major breweries all sold these mini 5L kegs, which we thought was just the most novel thing! Slightly more than buying in cans, but we thought “when in rome.” Also the first time I’ve tried Jupiler before. I’m not really a beer drinker so once again my critique goes as far as ‘it was ok.’IMG_5448 (640x480) We were reunited with the campervan once again (we’d roped in Claire’s brother to be our driver by that stage, as our licenses were still not recovered nor were replacements able to be sent from NZ or any other documentation able to be provided). The van had a mini fridge in it, and much hilarity ensued when we discovered the keg fitted perfectly into the fridge! Tapping it was most definitely an exercise in logic, with only a funny shaped plastic thing and a rubber tube to work with. There were probably instructions in Flemish or something, but it took us a while without an IKEA type instructional illustration…IMG_5447 (480x640) (2) IMG_5446 (640x480) (2) We also bought one of these cheap, mini pop up tents, which, apparently, every other festival goer had too. There were just fields and fields of that same tent! Ours was the green one to the left, and when we woke up in the morning, immediately on the other side of the fence behind was an entire herd of cattle there waking us up with their mooing.IMG_5449 (640x480)

352. Belgian Waffles

The magical waffle itself

The magical waffle itself, in all its sugary glory

My first belgian waffle was just the most amazing thing ever. I didn’t realise that proper belgian waffles are actually made from a ball of dough, rather than a batter like pancakes. It makes for soft, stretchy, sugary, slightly chewy deliciousness. I was surprised in its quality, being from a festival stall, where generally the monopoly factor means all the food is crap.

Problem was, I wasn’t sure if I was being the most objective judge of taste, seeing as how it was 1:30am at a music festival. At that time/place anything could taste that amazing!

So of course I had to make another go at it. The bar had been set high, so I tried out some waffles at one of the Häagen Dazs cafes that seemed to be all over Brussels with people always sitting outside eating tasty looking waffle creations. Sadly it was really average (although the icecream was tasty) and I decided I should probably give up on my dream of ever enjoying a waffle as much. Unless I can somehow recreate the same combination of extreme hunger, slight drunkenness, the end of a great day of music and really low expecations of the food I was about to get…

Looks can be deceiving

Looks can be deceiving

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Redemption

351. Pukkelpop Festival

IMG_5489Pukkelpop most definitely was the best festival I have ever been to. From the lineup to the setup, to the food, and of course the company. Even the one organisational thing that didn’t go according to plan actually worked out really well.

That one organisational thing was parking our campervan and staying in the campsite we’d “booked” with our tickets. For a variety of reasons we ended up getting there really late. While it was a shame to miss Snoop Dogg, or Snoop Lion. I was really curious about how one changes their name, musical style and entire persona when they are already booked to do shows and festivals as their former selves. Is that misleading conduct? Would people have claims under their versions of Fair Trading Acts? I’ll never know. Unless maybe I google it. Anyway, we arrived a few hours later than the first acts and found all the main carparks were full. We circled around trying to find our campsite and decided we’d best actually park first. Almost all of the farmers/landowners in the vicinity were not only renting out their spare space for parking, but in fact many of them had even put up bathrooms, showers and water fountains so camping was possible there. Given we had a campervan, we realised it was the ideal situation as we could then camp next to it, cook food on a BBQ, drink out of glass bottles etc. Far better than the official campgrounds, I would strongly advise anyone thinking of going to Pukkelpop that has a campervan or even just a car to just plan on staying at one of theses spots instead. Perfectly walkable distance to the festival too.IMG_5340

Once there, I found the whole thing to be exceptionally well run. Plenty of space, even bar and toilet lines/conditions were totally manageable, the variety of food was great, and most importantly it seemed absolutely no effort was spared to set the place up with a great vibe. From tent roofs entirely covered in fairly lights, to multiple rows of speakers all the way through tents/ crowd areas (I counted 5 rows in the Boiler Room) so the sound quality was great no matter how far back you were, to some seriously mind blowing light shows, it was a brilliant experience.

Another notable factor that made for an amazing few days were the festival goers themselves. At many a music festival in Australia/NZ you come away with really mixed feelings on the crowds. I mean for one thing going to a massive party is fun, but you get so sick of drunk, obnoxious people, huge lines, not being able to get close to the front without fear of being constantly elbowed in the face. At Pukkelpop everyone seemed to be a lot more respectful, crowds seemed noticeably more sparse – there was barely any “mosh pit” factor where everyone desperately wants to be up the front, more just an attitude of ‘so long as I can hear the music and have some space to dance I’m all good.’ Perhaps having really visible stages and speakers spread throughout the crowd is the cause of that. One of the tents was actually two massive marquee’s joined together by a roof made of fairy lights, with screens and speakers throughout and that one especially felt more like a big party than actually being at a show. We also met a fantastic selection of crazy Dutchmen.

Finally though, and the main reason I loved it, was the lineup. And more than just great acts, they played decently long sets (The Foo Fighters for example went for 2.5 hours), and often artists like Dizzee Rascal who has a number of songs featuring a number of artists would actually whip out that extra singer, even just for once song. I would say location probably has more to do with that!

My only qualm was the use of scheduling as a form of crowd control. Putting two really great acts on at the same time is really heartbreaking, especially when it is the main two you are excited to see! I have no doubt that Snoop Dogg/Lion was on at 2pm on the first day to encourage people to get there early, but it was still annoying. I could understand it to some degree though, when I showed up late to The Black Keys and the crowd was so huge I could barely see the stage. And the main stage is huge. Or the Foo Fighters where people were climbing all over the roofs of the food stalls down the back. I could also understand why at the end of Miike Snow’s set (who were scheduled for the same time as the Black Keys and played to almost no-one) the lead singer looked like he was going to throw the microphone down on the ground in disgust as they all sulked off at the end without even really addressing the crowd.

Some of my favourites were Hot Chip, Nero, Dada Life (I think, one of those “who is this, they’re great” acts), Eagles of Death Metal, Magnetic Man (who had these three synchronised Djs going on which were really awesome, and right at the end informed the crowd that two of them were actually Skream and Benga), Miike Snow (minus the tantrum). Sub Focus, A Trak, Sleigh Bells and Django Django were also great. As for the not so great, Netsky and Chase and Status were a real let down, even though I’ve seen Netsky before and really enjoyed the show. And while her dancers, the costumes and the background screens were intriguing, I just don’t think I’ll ever get into Bjork.

There were also tonnes of other acts I really wanted to see but didn’t make it to. To see just how ridiculously long the list of acts was, click here.

One of the reasons I didn’t see so many of them, was that Pukkelpop seems to be the festival of extreme weather (a statement I’m really only basing on 2011 and 2012). The year before was a sudden, freak storm which stopped the festival, injured many and killed five people (wind speeds got up to 170 km/hr). This year there was a heat wave sweeping through Europe, and Hasselt was not spared. On the third day we kept getting up to go but the minute we would step out of the shade (which was very limited) we would start to feel faint and make excuses to wait another hour. I think I had heat stroke for a while there, and no amount of water seemed enough! Couldn’t bring ourselves to turn the engine on and wind up the windows sheltering in the air conditioning like many other cars around us though.

Also, it seemed none of the bands could pronounce the name either.

 

350. The Atomium

IMG_5717 (480x640)Built for the World Exhibition in 1958, the Atomium is a giant building housing various exhibits and most importantly, shaped like a giant silver atom, with internal escalators linking them all.

I was actually surprised that it wasn’t as big as I was anticipating, but it is still a pretty cool building to see. When I was there there was an enormous heat wave. So much so that they had to give out water to all the visitors!

The views out over Belgium were great (apparently on a good day, and I guess for people with good vision, you can see out to Antwerp. I also thought it was hilarious that so much still reflects the 1950s view of the future. E.g. the “Decatron.”
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349. Brusselicious 2012 in the Brussels Park

As part of the Brusselicious Food festical, a bunch of artists had made huge displays on a number of fixed, food related shapes in the Brussels park. For example there were mussels, chocolates, chips etc, with different artist’s creative impressions. It was quite cool, but a shame I went there as it was getting dark as the photos don’t quite do it justice!

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