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September 4th 2016
Published: September 16th 2016
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We have well and truly left Belgium and are in Tirana, Albania travelling now north of the country to Shkoder. But before I go in depth about our Albanian adventure lets go back to our last 2 days in Belgium – Brussels!

We arrived in the predominantly French-speaking capital in the afternoon. Our very lovely hotel was very close to the central station and a stone’s throw from the Grand-Place, a big square with lovely Baroque style building surrounding it (I believe they may date from the 19th century). We just for a walk around they day and popped into the Smurfs (des Stroumphes in Dutch) store at the figurine museum to buy a papa Smurfs toy for Shaabi (our Maltese-Shihtsu dog and yes we spoilt him). For dinner we walked around and got hassled in ‘restaurant street’ before doing a loop and coming back to stupidly sit down at one of the restaurants. Rue des Bouchers (Butchers street) we later found out is the belly of Brussels. Restaurants lining this picturesque street are usually run by North African/Lebanese restaurateurs who take the Middle Eastern tactic of hassling customers to new levels as they are walking down the street very seriously! Anyway we sat down to the promised 12.50 euro meal (I had to especially ask for this menu as they put the more expensive menus in from of us) plus drinks. Rather bland and rather expensive in the end as they kept our small change as a tip in the end :/ very sneaky, very bland. In the end, it was more nostalgia in the end for me as I recall sitting in this street when I last came with Biab and Douwe in 2003.

The next day we walked down to the European Parliament, one of the 3 locations of the European Parliament (the other 2 being in Luxembourg and Strasbourg).The free exhibition, Parlamentarium, is a fantastic place where you can learn about the European Union and the events in the 20th century across the EU countries that led to the formation of the EU in the 50’s. Spanning over 3 floors, the free audio guide, which you scan over each exhibit, first explained what function parliament serves then the next floor had lots of photos spanning the decades explaining the atrocious events of WWI and WWII, the communist era, the fall of communism and up until the present day. The next floor was more interactive displays on the working of parliament and what the EU means for everyday citizens. You could even put in comments or suggestions of how to improve society for EU citizens but of course for Australians this didn’t apply to us! And of course I got a selfie at the photo booth.

That afternoon we joined a free walking tour at Grand Place. We were bummed to see that the beer festival tents they were putting up for the beer festival on the weekend was due to start the next day, Friday which is when we were due to fly to Albania! Boo! Anyway, our walking guide, a Flemish Belgian guy, was fantastic in his knowledge of the city and history if the country. After a tour of Grand Place, we went to the Mannekan Pis, the pissing cherub who’s prominence is everywhere in Brussels from chocolates shops that make huge chocolate statues of him to souvenir shops. There are many legends of this statues (which is actually quite small when you see it) one of them is in Medieval times this man came to Brussels on business, lost his son and the Stonemason who found the boy and brought him back to his father was rewarded with a lot of money so he went a bit crazy and made this statue in honour of the boy! Crazy but true? We also walked past the stock exchange, which is an important place in history but also a meeting point in modern day Brussels. It is also an important place as when the atrocious terrorist attacks on Brussels airport and metro happened in March people gathered and left flowers and messages here. He also went on the explain why Belgium is a country and the differences between the Flanders Dutch-speaking region (of which kids learn French and English at school plus are immersed with English speaking TV shows and movies), and the Wallonia French-speaking region where there is a choice to go to a school that offers Dutch and English lessons or not. So there is a divide between the French speaking community, who may not be able to converse with their fellow Dutch speaking citizens, whilst Dutch speakers are in a pretty good position then. I wonder if the lack of multi-lingualism in the French-speaking parts has anything to do with the cultural influence by the French themselves as the French are notorious for not learning other languages as opposed to the Germans, Dutch, Scandinavians etc. We can talk, lazy English speakers! And to add it to the mix there is a German speaking community and another small language community too! Brussels an international city so there is Dutch and French everywhere, plus English and often times German too. You can really see differences in architecture and culturally too being in the French part of Belgium. For example, later dinners and people staying out rather late as opposed to Bruges and Ghent.

We also so went through the park (which we walked through earlier on our way to parliament) where, as our guide described, a ‘zombie apocalypse’ was happening- Pokemon go players chasing Pokemon in the park and when then heard someone yell – they found a Pokemon and all the players hurdled in all directions to catch the Pokemon. Crazy but funny. Interesting enough they were setting up for a Bit Strip festival in the park that weekend. As the home of Tin-Tin and Asterix of course it’s the perfect place to hold the festival! Our guide also told us of Belgium’s role in the Congo and horrible atrocities committed because of this. It was a really good walking tour. We then went for drinks around the corner from our hotel and people watched while we did laundry. Our dinner that night was Greek! It was apparent the street was ‘little Greek street’ and we enjoyed a cheap Greek meal and drinks at the pub before turning in that night for a very early 3am start to catch our flight the next day!

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