I arrived in Belgium on Friday night, 4 July. Was headed to Hasselt, where Harm, who I met in Japan in March 2006 lives. It's a small city, quiet, and really beautiful...
On Saturday morning I awoke at 6.15 because I wanted to help (? - am I capable of this?) Harm's dad - he sells fresh waffles at markets all over Belgium. Unfortunately for me, he had started at around 5am so he was nearly finished when I arrived, but it was good to see the process and learn a bit about what he does and the markets in Belgium. So many different types of waffles! He makes Luikse Waffles, which means that there are sugar pearls in them and no fruits or toppings - there's vanilla extract in the dough. Others include the Brussels waffles which are the ones that are common in North America, with cream and fruit and chocolate or syrup. Yum.
After helping/watching him, I went back to bed until Harm woke me up so that we could go to the market and have a fresh waffle. As in every country, I love fresh fruit and vegetable markets. Belgium is no exception. We were in a small town but the market was crowded. After having some waffles and buying veggies, we headed to Maastricht.
Although I've now been in Holland 6 times, I've never been to Maastricht, and it is a really beautiful, clean, organized city (like everywhere in Holland) that's got a unique, relaxed vibe. We wandered around and satisfied my craving for Bitterballen (delicious deep fried croquette like things) before heading back to Hasselt.
In the afternoon we rode Harm's parents' folding bikes from Kuringen into Hasselt, a lovely ride along the river and wandered around the very compact city center in the drizzling rain.
Back home, and over to Leopoldsburg, where Harm's parents have a small boat that they go to on weekends, and they have people celebrate birthdays and weddings on board as a side business. It's a small canal, but it has a really calm, tranquil feel - the speed limit is, I think, about 10km/hr...ducks are relaxing, a few people walking dogs, a few families on bicycles...peace...and quiet.
We had dinner on the boat and then went for a small sail down the canal, again the brilliant light playing with the shadows made by the leaves...gorgeous.
After this, we got Tinne, Harm's girlfriend, from her house in Beringen and went to a bar. I'm thoroughly impressed by the Belgian beer varieties and had Barbar, a fruity honey beer that didn't disappoint. Long day, very enjoyable.
Sunday started slowly and basically we just had some food (in Belgium you can buy goat cheese wrapped in bacon, that you fry up...umm...dangerous?!) and then Harm took me to the intersection with the road headed for Brussels, since I wanted to hitch to Charleroi. I didn't have much luck on the entrance ramp, so I decided to just walk down to the actual road - I could see that there was a wide shoulder.
Sure enough, within 5 minutes a small white car with 2 guys, one who spoke Flemish, one who spoke French, pulled over. The fact that they could communicate despite the Flemish/French discrepancy made me realize they were foreigners from the same country, and I jumped in. They were 2 Greek guys who lived in Brussels, and the next 45 minutes was Greek music complete with snapping and clapping and it was great. They likened Japanese food to Greek food (many fish! many many fish! Good!) and dropped me off at the exit for the road to Charleroi.
Once I was on the right road, help up the Charleroi sign, and 5 minutes later a French guy got me and drove me to my door in Mt Sur Marchienne, where Stuart and Remo live. What a great time with them - upon arrival I was presented a bread, cheese, and salad array, and soon afterwards we went to Seneffe and the big big dam-like thing that is a container that takes entire boats in, then elevates them 70 meters - largest in the world - to take it to the next river. Remo finally got to cook for me :) - delicious chicken and potatoes - the potatoes with rosemary, oregano, parmesan cheese and other goodies - really delicious...
Monday we did a long day out, visiting Namur, with a beautiful chateau on top of the hill, followed by the Jardins d'Annevoie, a really impressive garden complex with perfect blooming flowers, and I saw black swans for the first time! We then went to Dinant, which is the home of Adolf Sax, who invented the saxophone...we also made a pit stop at Leonidas chocolate, and no one complained. We somehow got the idea to go to Brussels since I'd never actually visited the city, so off we went - to the Atomium, which was built for the 1958 World Fair in Brussels, and then around the downtown historic area, with a magnificent central square. By this time I was exhausted so we went back home, for a lamb chop dinner (fresh from New Zealand!) and tastings of some Belgian beers - my new favorite beer - Hoegaarden Rose - which has raspberries...my god, I could drink that stuff like water...