A day trip to the south of Brussels, to be more precise – Brabant region in Wallonie which is the site of the Battle of Waterloo, where the resurgent Napoleon was defeated for the final time in 1815.
We started with the visit to the museum which takes you to the times of enlightenment and ideas of the 18th century philosophers like Rene Descartes or Diderot, Immanuel Kant (my ever time favorite), Montesquieu, Rousseau, Adam Smith, Voltaire … whose main ideology based on the idea that a human is allowed to advice for itself without being oppressed by the government nor church: in opposition to an absolute monarchy and the fixed dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church
Soon evolved the Declaration of the Rights of the Man and of the Citizen of 1789 (Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen de 1789, fra) – a human civil rights document from the French Revolution.
However, Napoleon – even though sharing these principles (he established the civil code etc), soon started to rule in authoritarian way and battling the Europe in Napoleonic wars. So, the european leaders allied against him in The Gret Coalition.
The Europe that time after so many battles looked liked this:
The most south battle was Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife which I mentioned in my previous post when visiting the Canary Islands. The battle between French Empire and British Royal was famous for admiral Nelson loosing his arm.
However, the wars through Europe continued and The Great Coalition decided to invite Napoleon for the battle at Waterloo.
The Battle of Waterloo took place near Waterloo on 18 June 1815 between the First French Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Seventh Coalition (troops from Prussia, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Hanover, Brunswick and Nassau), under the main allied commanders, the Duke of Wellington and General von Blücher.
Napoleon lost and the allies decided to make a tribute by building the butte with the victorious lion facing the France. We climbed up with 226 stairs, in order to see the battle and the strategy drawn.
Time for the beer: of course, in the country of beers, the Waterloo commemorative beer 🙂
The day was still bright and there was so many things to see around the field: the barracks of both enemies where the soldiers were sleeping, or the Hougoumont – the small house with the yard where finally the enemies met again to finish the battle, it was kinds the battle within the battle.
In his novel Les Misérables, Victor Hugo describes how 300 bodies were thrown down a well at Hougoumont. Most of them were still alive.
Fun fact: a celebrated 400 years old wooden crucifix which survived an inferno during the Battle of Waterloo was only to be looted from a battlefield chapel has been rediscovered in a Belgian flea market after a four year hunt by Interpol. The crucifix is now there, at the Hougoumont farm and it well respected.
The visit to the battlefield was very touching and sensitive. We decided to walk the land field which is nowadays full of agricultural goods but once the place of terrible battlefield.
The day finished in the city of Waterloo with the dinner. In the city center there is a small museum dedicated to the winner of the battle: the commander Wellington.
Funny, isn’t it? Even though he is the actual winner of the battle who stopped Napoleon for long time, his name is not even close mentioned and celebrated as Napoleons’.
One day trip to this amazing park of attractions, located in Wavre, close to Brussels, since 1975.
We started with the hardest ones: the roller coasters like the Vampire and Loup-Garou.
It literally spins you around, up and down and in all possible directions. Although the rides are short…
However, the Loup-Garou is a rollercoaster made of wood. And unsurprisingly loud! The map shows it is one of the longest routes.
Some funny things we took like Spinning Vibe or Calamity mine or the Tutankhamon experience 🙂 A bit childish but why not? Never stop feeding the kid in yourself.
But the most recent thing opened and what brings the most attraction is the Pulse. Although it looks scary, but once it brings you up and down, you kinds start to enjoy, at least I did. But then it is over.
Although I was not aloud the scream cause I just recently healed the hematoma on my vocal chords. -.-
After it brings you up and down, the last downing is actually almost diving into the water. So we were wet, completely.
Since I got myself a car: her name is Tintine, we decided to drive around Brussels and explore. My Flemish friend recommended Castle van Gaasbeek – apparently the most romantic castle of Belgium.
The castle was initially built in 13th century as part of the wider line of defence to protect Brussels but changed it’s style through centuries…
The castle was occupied by a succession of noble families. Lamoraal, Count of Egmond, was one of the chateau’s best-known owners.
Count of Egmond, Governor of Flanders, Commanding Officer of the Spanish army in the Low Countries (Spanish Netherlands), Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece, was born in 1522 in Hainaut. He came from the Dutch Egmond family, which had amassed an enormous fortune via lucrative dealings and who were consequently influential in the politics of the Habsburg court. His father was a chamberlain and personal friend of Emperor Charles V on whose side he fought several times.
I like him cause he was he protested against the Spanish Inquisition.
During the Romantic Period, the fascination for the Count of Egmond grew, and he became a popular theme in literature and the arts. He became a national hero in the young Belgian Kingdom and was also acclaimed within the Flemish Movement.
In the late 18th century, the castle became the property of the Italian aristocratic Arconati Visconti family. Gaasbeek Castle became a meeting place for scholars and artists.
Marquise Marie Arconati Visconti, the last Marquise of Gaasbeek Castle. She was the daughter of the French radical socialist, a progressive journalist and member of the French National Assembly. At the age of 33, Marie married a tremendously rich guy named Visconti – an Italian who she met in Paris.
Apperently Visconti spent most of his time in Milano, and Marie studied, she ignored social obligations and refused to behave as a woman of her standing. She rolled her own cigarettes, sometimes wore men’s clothes and used rough language.
Three years after their marriage, Giammartino Visconti died and Marie inherited a gigantic fortune. Marie lived alternately in Paris or in Gaasbeek. In Paris, Marie held political and literary Salons, at which the liberal socialist Léon Gambetta was a key figure. He gave her the nickname ‘the angel of liberalism’. Like her father she abhorred religion, collected art and donated fortunes to scientific research. She punctuated her busy intellectual and urbane life in Paris with long holidays in Gaasbeek Castle. She had a love of history and archives and at times dressed up in page outfits. Together with her adviser, the antiquarian Raoul Duseigneur, she purchased a great many works of art. Duseigneur, who was also Marie’s lover, often stayed with her in Gaasbeek. Basically, the woman lived my life! ❤
Her favourite period was the Renaissance. Really? 🙂 So she restaured the castle according to back 15th century renaissance style.
Shortly after that, the World War I started and she knew she needs to make the testament. The Louvre received her complete collection of mediaeval and renaissance works of art.
The impression of her left some mark to my historic soul. I was walking through her gardens and admire… picturing her soul wandering around the castle…
The evening we spent at the Brasserie Graaf van Egmond. 🙂 We had typical flemmish meal.
At the end of the Second World War, it was clear that the Belgian system of canals and waterways needed to be standardised and suitable for 1,350 tonne barges – a step up from the traditional fleet of barges used on the canals, with a maximum capacity of only 300 tonnes.
Additionally, the European Conference of Transport Ministers in 1957 recommended that the canals be adapted to suit 1,350 tonne barges.
The Strépy-Thieu project was the final step in the Belgian canal improvement programme. It is strategically important on a European level because it forms a link between the Escaut and Meuse basins, and also between the port and region of Dunkirk and the Rhine basin.
My friend and I decided to stop by (driving from Mons back to Brussels) and check what is it about.
We took a look from the hill first, realising the view is capturing the nearby farms with animals and minings.
At the view point there is a guide mark explaining the directions, distances and interesting places in surrounding.
From the close it look even more impressive!
After a number of years spent working on the design of the Strépy-Thieu funicular boatlift, the only one of its kind in the world, work finally began in February 1982.
The boat lift was the tallest boat lift in the world, and remained so until 2016 when China constructed bigger version of a dam boat lift.
The boat lift is promoted as a tourist attraction in its own right by the government of Hainaut. A pedestrian ticket for a one-way ride on the lift costs €5,50.
My friend and I decided to go on great Chimay tour for a grand weekend in Belgium. We sat in her car (hot as it was 34 degrees outside) and drove south of Brussels through Ardennes and Wallonie.
Our first stop was a brewery Beers and Cheeses of Chimay. We tasted samples of beers and decided to continue further.
We were driving to many pitoresque small belgian villagges filled with houses made of stone and detailed with flowers in pots. It was charmng to drive 30 km/h and enjoy all those things one can not see when driving from the high way.
Our second stop was Poteaupré and the abbey of monks. This Abbaye de Chimay, a small group of monks, during the summer of 1850 established themselves on the wild plateau of Scourmont near Chimay. Around the monastery, soon came a farm, a brewery, and a cheese plant famous today as well.
In the brewery, french brasserie we degustated the pyramide of beers and chimay cheeses.
As there was a small shop, we were even making our own way of shopping – a beer shopping! 🙂
From there and the city of Chimay, we continued towards France… towards the sunset and new adventures…
What I am mostly surprised of this region of Belgium, is its nature. The heavily forested Ardennes massif occupies the southeast of the Walloon region. Mostly cliffs, forests, river Meuse and many streams. The legend said Hitler will never manage to break through the Ardennes and take over Belgium and later Netherlands. Happens to be the guy invented tenks.
Anyhow, this topographic peculiarity gave the region its name, Wallonie being in the Walloon tongue the ‘land of the valleys’ (vallons). It is a common misconception to think that the region’s name derives from Walha, the ancient Germanic word for ‘strangers’ or ‘non-Germanic people’, after which Wales and Wallachia were named.
As a pat of Kingdom of Belgium, the economic inequalities and linguistic divide between Wallonie and Flanders are major sources of political conflict in Belgium and a major factor in Flemish separatism.
This is Wallonia’s largest city. It is one of the longest continuous history of any Belgian cities and some fine examples of 17th- and 18th-century Mosan architecture. It is a vibrant and friendly city known in French as the Citée ardente, due to the warmth and enthusiasm of the local folk.
As Birthplace of Charlemagne, the place has the present cathedral of Liège which was originally one among the seven collegiate churches of the city built in the times of merovinian dynasty. Today it is called St. Lambert’s Cathedral.
Mons got its name from Latin “montes“, meaning “mount”, from the geographical feature where it stands, although it is really just a hill. 🙂
At the heart of the city is a beautiful Grand Place with buildings originally built in 1530 in the Gothic style of wealthy local families. Ofcourse, there is a Town Hall (so called “House of Peace”) and the Belfry.
Outside the main entrance of City Hall is a small iron statue of a monkey. Its origin is not really known, but it is for sure some centuries old. Some historians claim it was placed there in order to bring luck to the city and its inhabitants. Today, the tradition is that when you visit Mons, you should touch the monkey’s head with left hand and make a wish.
So I did 🙂 So far good…
The Sainte-Waudru Collegiate Church is one of the most characteristic churches and most homogeneous of Brabantine Gothic architecture (Brabant is the region of Wallonie).
Then my favourite Namur and Dinant! 🙂
Standing at the Meuse river, the town began as an important trading settlement in Celtic times, straddling east-west and north-south trade routes across the Ardennes.
The Romans established a presence after Julius Caesar defeated the local Aduatuci tribe.
Namur came to prominence during the early Middle Ages when the Merovingians built a castle or citadel on the rocky spur overlooking the town at the confluence of the two rivers. When the Dutch gained the right to garrison Namur, although the subsequent Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 gave control of Namur to the then called Spanish Netherlands , the citadel was in the hands of the Austrian House of Habsburg. Note the strategic importance of the citadell, which was later recognized by Napoleon, too.
Middle Ages were also the most interesting time for Namur. It was economically rich and developed, at the crossroads of the German Hansestadts and France.
It was the city of handcrafts, especially the goldsmiths’ work and glass work are valuable and unique to see in the local museum.
From Namur, I took the train to Dinant! 🙂
The train was passing by beautiful Ardennes, marked with river Meuse, green forest and high and sharp cliffs. There is a legend about the four nephews of Charlemagne riding a horse named Reynard, passing by the Ardennes and separating magically the cliff to go through. It is how the valley of Dinant became (he name of the city comes from celtic ”Sacred Valley” or “Divine Valley” ).
The city is rather small but pictoresque. The main square is Place Reine Astrid, just at the foot of the citadel hill. People climb usually at the top of the citadel with the funicular, and enjoy the view from the restaurant. Below is the collegiate Church of Notre-Dame.
Just opposite the church stands the Meuse bridge. It is a beautiful early Gothic building from the 13th century on which are placed colorful saxophons in the colors of the flags od EU member states. Why saxophones?
Well, the inventor of saxophone – Mr Adolph Sax was born in Dinant. 🙂
Upon my arrival to Brussels, I started to explore Belgium by visiting other cities. Everyone’s recommendation is always the Flanders and the most popular tourist place Brugge. Although, later I will discover the south of Belgium, Valonie. 🙂
Flanders is a Dutch speaking part of Belgium, at the north of the country with important place in European history. During the late Middle Ages, cities such as Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp and Brussels made it one of the richest and most urbanized parts of Europe, having great both domestic import and export. As a consequence, a very sophisticated culture developed, with impressive achievements in the arts and architecture, rivaling those of northern Italy. Flanders was one of the centres of the 19th century industrial revolution too.
Along such developed commerce and business, the society was famous by its own renaissance of the north. Painters like Pieter Bruegel, Jan Van Eyck and Peter Paul Rubens are the founding fathers of Flemish art.
Belgium is a beer-lover’s paradise. And that’s not just its proud inhabitants talking. Even UNESCO recognised its reputation for specialty beers, ever since the Middle Ages. Up to this day the enormous quality is met by an unmatched quantity: there are more than 1.500 original Belgian beers. That includes, among others, Belgian ales, raspberry or cherry beer, wheat beer, Flanders ‘Old’ red and brown, Abbey beer, lambic, gueuze and – the grandest of them all – Trappist.
Belgium has even it’s own pipeline that brings the beer directly from the brevery directly to the beerhouse. The pipeline is 2,000 m long and goues mostly under the city of Brugges.
Brugge is an outstanding example of a medieval historic settlement, which has maintained its historic fabric as this has evolved over the centuries, and where original Gothic constructions form part of the town’s identity.
As one of the commercial and cultural capitals of Europe, Brugge developed cultural links to different parts of the world. It is closely associated with the school of Flemish Primitive painting. The Flemmish (Dutch) painting renaissance (of the north) was carried by the painters like Jan van Eyck.
Jan van Eyck was a respectful artist of his time, leading the entire new wave of the paint art in the north of Europe. His most famous paint ‘The Arnolfini Portrait’ is complex double portrait oil painting, depicting the Italian merchant and his wige at their home in Brugge. Because of complex iconography and detailed picture space, it is considered the most complex paintig of the western art. The most interesting detail is the reflection of the painter in the convex mirror on the painting. The paint can be found in Nationall Gallery in London.
For five centuries, the Waterhalle was a part of the market in Brugge. It was one of the seven wonders of the city with its magnificent covered harbour. The city itself is a place of channals through which the boats were navigating by bringing the groceries and other trades. It was a time of the Golden Ages of Brugge (12 – 15 century) as being part of Hanseatic League, shaping new forms of merchant capitalism.
The local river made many chanals, however, a storm in 12th century re-established the access to the North sea, creating a natural channel called Zwin. The new sea arm stretched all the way to newly called Zeebrugge, and city soon became the commercial outpost for Bruges. Today, tourist can wals around the long sandbar of the port and have a great lunch with the view on the North Sea.
A magnificent medieval church from 13th century adorns the city, with the altarpiece of the large chapel of the most celebrated art treasure of the church—a white marble sculpture of the Madonna and Child created by Michelangelo, 16th century. The sculpture was meant originally for Siena Cathedral, but it was purchased in Italy by two Brugean merchants, and in 16th century donated to Brugge.
Interior of the 13th century Church of Our Lady
Michelangelo’s only-ou- of-Italy piece of Art
In the choir of the church there can also be find the splendid tombs of Duke of Burgundy, and his daughter, Maria of Burgundy who died. A she was born in Brussels, she united house of Bourbon with Burgundie dutchy and reigning the Flanders upon her death at age of 25 falling from her horse. She married in Ghent an austrian archduke, future Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, uniting her house with the House of Habsburgs.
Ghent’s wealth in the early medieval period was thanks to the import and export of wheat, and the manufacture of luxury woollen cloth. Much of the city’s medieval architecture remained intact and is remarkably well preserved and restored.
The most important cityscape’s are the Belfry and the St Bavo’s Cathedral, a rococco buildings of the 15th century.
Today, Ghent is an important university city of Belgium as an interesting crossover between open cosmopolitanism and the quiet atmosphere of a provincial town.
According to the legend, there was a big giant Antigoon that lived in the river Scheldt and tolled the local fishermen and boatmen. Those who refused to pay, he would soak and kill. But a young hero killed the giant cutting off his hands and flung them into the river. Hence the name Antwerpen, from Dutch hand werpen, meaning ‘to throw hands.’
Antwerpen has a beautiful Cathedral of our Lady, same as Brugge, dating from 14th century. It houses triptychs by Baroque painter Rubens. The building was builded on a site of a small church from 9th century, in a gothic style and never been completed.
Later, in 16th century, when Antwerp came under the Protestant Administration, many of its works of art have been destroyed, demolished, removed or sold.
The most famous peace of art is The Raising of the cross, by local glorious paintor Peter Paul Rubens. It is a tryptich painting, masterpiece of the mentioned flemmish art, clearly being influenced by italian renaissance.
Rubens was born nearby Antwerp in 17th century, as a so of reformation’s family (calvinists). He is most notable artist of Flemish Baroque art school. A year after marrying, he designed his house, an Italian-style villa (after spending sme years in Italy doing apprenticeship) in Antwerpen, called Rubenshuis, with beautiful interior courtyard and gardens behind the house.
Antwer is also a famous shopping city of Belgium, fashion place and The World’s Capital of Diamonds, as around 80% of the world’s rough diamonds, and 50% of its cut diamonds are traded in Antwerp each year.
It is a huge port of Europe since it area is 50 miles inland. As a result, the port of Antwerp has become one of Europe’s second largest sea port by total freight shipped.
Located on both sides of the Scheldt River, the city of Antwerp is connected by three tunnels under the river. The Kennedy Tunnel was opened to road traffic in 1969, and was named after John F. Kennedy, the thirty-fifth President of the United States.
The massive Antwerpen-Centraal (Antwerp Central) is considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful railway stations, opened in 1905 – the times of Belgian Art Nouveau.
Dynamic and thriving city, most famous by its university: the oldest Catholic University in the world, founded in 1425. The historic centre is one of the most beautiful in Belgium.
The most famous citymark is gothic City Hall on the main square.
Then this city, probably my favourite as it is at the seaside, having long riviera, trying to capture my mood and remind me on the Mediterranean.
It is a coastal city on the North Seam in the history being constatntly taken by different invadors (French, English, Dutch, then later Flemmish, German…)
Especially during July and August, Ostend is famous for its sea-side esplanade, including the Royal Galleries of Ostend, pier, and fine-sand beaches. Ofcourse, some great sea food is well offered as well. 🙂
Living in Brussels gets special glow in the time of Christmas. There are many Winter Wonders and of course the Christmas Market where local delicious smell at long distance 🙂
Usually the Winter wonders (fra. Plaisirs d’Hiver) stretche over 2.5km through the Grand Place, the Bourse, Place Ste Catherine, the fish market and Henri Maus and Bouse-de-Brouckère streets.
At Grand Place there are christmas lights combined with the music. It runs every hour and makes you part of the fairytale. The main Christmas tree is there too,more then 20 m high! 🙂 A great shopping could be done around with buying some beer, waffles, chocolates, pralines and of course the famous belgian fries that will delight foodies.
Street decorations are the special part of luxury.
A cyclist makes her way along a pedestrian street lit with Christmas decorations in central Brussels at dusk on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015. Three days of the highest terror alert and unprecedented measures that have closed down the city’s subways, schools and main stores, has created a very different atmosphere as the Belgian capital tries to avoid attacks similar to the ones that caused devastating carnage in Paris. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant) ORG XMIT: XAG111
Christmas market starts around the Bourse with small houses and some benches to sit down or bar tables to stand around. If you are cold – don’t worry, the heat from the wooden christmas houses and some heaters above are enough to keep you warm around heart and your body itself.
The best part is at the Place St Catherine! At the facade of the church is a ligt show as well but more a representation of the cartoon. This year the Japan was in the spot of the story. St Catherine’s Square was transformed into a winter wonderland with the festival featured an ice rink, gift stalls, a craft fair, Santa’s Grotto, funfair, and choirs and brass bands performing your favourite Christmas carols!
Royal Sint Hubert Gallery is the story for itself:
A medieval castle in the town of Bouillon in the south of Belgium… impressively standing on the hill and witnessing its glory.
Although it was mentioned first in 988, it has been there, on the same site for a much longer time. The castle is situated on a rocky cliff of the river Semois .
In 11 century it came to the possession of Godfrey of Bouillon who sold it to Bishop of Liège in order to finance the First Crusade. The castle was later used for heavy artillery in the late 17th century.
Inside the castle you can walk from from room to room, to what used to be a library, to underwater passages,warehouses with of course – the brewery 🙂 until the dungeon where some detainees were tortured or killed. It is a great insight to medieval times!
Godfrey of Bouillon, 11th century was a Frankish knight, and one of the leaders of the First Crusade from 1096 until his death. To the Buillon castle he brought the best in technology and production to recreate the first Crusade in the company of thousands of men making their way to Jerusalem. After the successful siege of Jerusalem in 1099, Godfrey became the first ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. He refused the title of King, however, as he believed that the true King of Jerusalem was Christ.
Of course, he made himself a final destination in the city of Bouillon. Although not buried in the castle, his grave is very close to the city walls with the museum opened a few years ago.
Brussels is considered to be boring, dull and overrun by Eurocrats, but it is actually a hidden gem which takes time to discover. When people ask me do I like Brussels and living here, I usually answer that the city and I have a very schizophrenic relationship – we love each other, we hate each other. Sometimes its qualities are overlooked, so this post is a reminder to myself and those who have come to appreciate all the little things that make this city a beautiful place to live in.
Voilà, the 10 reasons why I love Brussels! 😀
The Clemenceau marché
A massive weekend market close to Gare Midi with selling products from fruits and vegetables to stolen ipods.
2. Fresh sea food from the North sea with the glass of white vine
3. Of course, her majesty The Chocolate!
A major industry since the 19th century, today it forms an important part of the nation’s economy and culture.
4. And the other majesty: La bière!
5. Walking through the city and unexpectedly discovering parks with fountains, monuments and flowers like Bois de la Cambre.
6. Stunning Art Nouveau architecture mostly led by famous architect Victor Horta.
Brussels is the capital of Art Nouveau and magnificent structures throughout the capital city are recognized as “world heritage” by UNESCO. The brilliant creative works of Victor Horta, Paul Hankar… bring pleasure to thousands of visitors who enter the private world of these opulent houses every year.
In 19 century Brussels went through a period of unrivaled effervescence. The middle classes, merchants and artists opted to have their houses built in the style in vogue: Art Nouveau, marking the beginning of modern architecture and design.
7. Famous Belgian Flower carpet
A biennial event that takes place every other August. Nearly a million flowers are required to create the ephemeral 1,800 square meter carpet. The tapestry always exhibits begonias, one of Belgium’s major exports since 1860.
8. This romantic existing things whenever I walk in the city:
9. It goes back to ”medieval” twice a year!
For two nights every July and later in September, Brussels goes back in time when 1,500 performers resplendent in 16th Century garb re-enact the entry of Emperor Charles V into the city.
10. The fact I am close to many cities and its airports/stations so I can escape whenever wherever.
Living in Brussels is specially amazing in autumn when the trees get beautiful colors of red and yellow. It is the time of plenty, when trees are drooping heavily with the last fruits of the year and thick-skinned gourds lie swollen on the ground.
So we decided to seize the sunny Saturday and took a day trip to the nearby castle La Hulpe in Belgian region Wallonia.
The castle is also known as Château Solvay. It was completed in 1842 by Walloon architects. Erected on the summit of a hill, in Flemish neo-renaissance style, it is flanked by towers at each of the four corners.
Walking around we enjoyed the sun and colors of autumn. We took a walk in the forests, with the sun shielded by a hillside, we came across this treetop that looked as if it were on fire.
It was quite a route – 7 km wandering around and getting our batteries charged. 🙂 The very special feeling was just to hear the leaves hitting sump under our feet and the last sun rays on our faces.
As the day was coming to its end, we decided to stop at the nearby market and buy some local season fruits like mushrooms, maroons, a bottle of great wallonian white wine and a pumpkin! The pumpkin will be probably used for a soup.
By the way, if you would like to discover the world of mushrooms, there is La fete des champignons in the nearby Louvain-la-Neuve village with expositions of fresh mushrooms, workshops, presentations etc.