Published: June 22nd 2006June 22nd 2006
"If you iz watching dis in da UK, you may remember me from da telly. If you iz in Belgium... you iz living in a shit hole."
- Ali G, Ali G Indahouse (2002)
Buoyed by having successfully completed my Search for the Truth About the Fries, I decided to undertake a little quest to see if I could solve another one of life´s enduring mysteries: Is Belgium - home of the waffle, Tintin, and Hercule Poirot - indeed a shit hole as Ali G proclaimed? Inspired by the famous portly Belgian detective, and with camera, notebook and my trusty Acme Shit Hole Detector 2006 in tow I set off in search of the Truth.
Leaving The Hague, I boarded my train and headed for Antwerp, one of the major centres for the world diamond trade, or so I was told. Being the diligent traveller that I am, I leant out of the train compartment window for the entire journey with my passport at the ready to be stamped. But border control between The Netherlands and Belgium seemed to rather lax on the day of my journey as my train failed to stop once. Belgium had already earned
a cross in my notebook and I hadn´t even set foot on Belgain soil yet. Maybe Ali G was right after all? I asked one of my fellow passengers (a jovial fellow with a red, leathery face and clutching a 6-pack with 2 beers left in it at 9 in the morning) what he thought of the Belgian border security. After he burped his beer-breath answer at me, I passed out only to awake an hours later at Antwerp station.
I exited the beautiful ye olde world station and strolled down the long boulevard of fashionable shops to Antwerp´s old town centre. Very pretty I decided, with many quaint cobblestoned streets and a beautiful main square in the Grote Markt, and Belgium received its first tick in my notebook. I double checked my Shit Hole Detector just to make sure: nil reading.
Feeling a little hungry from the train journey and in need of sustenance to recover from the lethal blow of beer breath, I stumbled across a McDonald´s (who would´ve thought they´re everywhere?? I thought only Sydney was lucky enough to have a few branches). I quickly perused the menu looking for the McDiamond meal, hoping to
score a free 5 carat diamond solitaire with the purchase of my McMeal. This was the capital of the world diamond industry after all. Alas, the special offer seemed to have ended and I had to settle for another meal of chips drowned in mayo, Belgian-style. Very tasty. Apparently the Belgians are known for their chips and mayo, even more so than the Dutch. Another tick.
Leaving Antwerp, I boarded my next train, this time headed for Bruges, the most visited town in Belgium. Apparently the picturesque little town is reknowned as being one of the most beautiful in Europe with its historic centre declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Pffftttt, I thought. What did UNESCO know? The real question was whether it could survive the close scrutiny of my Shit Hole Detector.
Upon arrival in Bruges, I joined the throngs of people headed for the main town centre. As I made my way closer and closer, pretty tree-lined canals, chocolate shops, horse-drawn carriages, and beautiful stone cottages appeared everywhere I looked. I quick glance at my Detector showed a nil reading, but I hazarded a guess that Bruges was so pretty that, had I brought my So-schmaltzy-it-almost-makes-you-puke
radar along, it would have been going off the scale right about now. But, having left it behind, I was left free to simply enjoy this perfect little medieval village, wandering through its quaint streets and discovering a postcard scene at every turn. Definite tick. I even climbed to the top of the Belfry in the main Markt square but some little hunchbacked dude wouldn´t let me ring the bells.
In keeping with the fairytale setting, I decided to look for a frog - a female one of course - to plant a kiss on to see if I could find my princess. A likely candidate was found lurking on the banks of a nearby stream so I planted one on the little sucker. The result...a wart the size of a tumour. Another cross in the notebook!
Leaving Bruges and bidding farewell to Belgium the following day, I reviewed the tally sheet in my notebook. Three ticks to two crosses and nil reading on the Detector. By the narrowest of margins, I found Belgium to be no shit hole at all. Ali G - you got it wrong!
* My thanks to Sacha Baron Cohen and
Universal Pictures for their assistance with this blog.