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Published: October 11th 2010
After a decent night's sleep to reorient ourselves to the time zone we are now in, we started the morning with a guided tour of the Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels. Admittedly, guided tour/museum first thing in the morning while still orienting to the time may sound sleepy yet the tour has made me a believer in guided tours! Our guide, an art expert who clearly knows this museum's fine works, steered us through the collection. At one point, she spent about twenty minutes describing a Bosch painting. I could have listened for another hour for the painting itself was complex with political and social themes of its time. In fact, she mentioned that she had briefed Michael Palin for two and a half hours and I'm sure the painting had some influence on Monty Python films to come.
From there we had the afternoon to explore the surrounding area of Brussels. I took the train to Bruges (to the North of Brussels in Flanders) with eight travel mates. The weather could not have been nicer and the city, as described in my guidebook, "impossibly quant" could not have been more accurate. Cobblestone, Gothic architecture, people everywhere, horse-drawn
From train station to town square with Marcus and Tamara
carriages, chocolate shops, the place was more charming by the block. The Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk, a 13th century Welcome Church of Our Lady hosts the only Michelangelo work to leave Italy during his lifetime. (see picture below of the beautiful sculpture, Madonna and Child).
Bruges is a city of canals and charming bridges over them. We later learned there was once a river running through the city and as it was settled, it was "canalized" (the word our boat tour host used). A boat ride took us through the city by water and offered unique views of the architecture and tourists!
A Brussels Debate
I don't think I've ever been on such a crowded train as the ride back to Brussels but we managed to take turns sitting in tight quarters and fortunately got off at the correct stop back in Brussels for a dinner with European guests and a presentation by Nikolas Busse, NATO and EU correspondent for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. He offered his perspective of the EU which then ignited a lively debate among the Europeans in the room. Issues of discussion included the effectiveness of NATO and the European Union for that matter. With
members of the EU Parliament in the room, opinions ran hot and the Americans soaked in the debate which we were told is an unusual happening in Brussels. An interesting theme has emerged regarding the popularity of Obama in Europe against a backdrop of former mistrust/disillusionment with former US isolationist approaches to transatlantic relations.
More about Belgium here....
I had read some history about Belgium before arriving, we then received a briefing on the country and then we sat next to a couple who lives in Belgium on the train ride. All that to say...it's an interesting history and reflection on their current affairs worth informing readers about. So bear with me--"Nothing works here and still it works" is a phrase we've heard stated and implied while here. And why Belgium has been lacking a federal government for over a year and seemingly seems to function just fine. Language plays an interesting role in the country--there are two distinct regions--Flanders to the North and Wallonia to the South. In fact, the couple we sat next to on the train live in Flanders and were on their way for a day at the sea and yet had never been to
On the boat
With Tamara and Elizabeth
Wallonia. Dutch is spoken in Flanders and French is spoken in Wallonia. Brussels happens to be in Flanders, further complicating matters. However, it is a very international city with a growing youth population who tend to think with a European mind as opposed to regional or even national identity. This notion of thinking European
or for Europe
rather than speaking for a specific nation is a lesson learned here. The young professionals we are interacting with make this comment regularly--"I am for Europe." The EU is gaining in its role and one can see that young people will and must play a significant factor in order for that trend to continue.
Tomorrow, we have briefings on:
Lobbying the EU
In each city, we have individual appointments to match our interests. Tomorrow I meet with staff from the European Federation of National Associations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) (www.
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