If I had to pick one word to describe Belgium, or (Jimbel as young Mark Hiscox used to call it) I would have to pick ECLECTIC. It is such a MIXTURE of styles and peoples and things. In some ways, it is similar to Canada, but then there are a lot of differences. Below is a list (in no particular order) of 10 things that are a bit different here.
1. Provisions for cyclists. Like Holland, (after all, Belgium used to be part of Holland) cyclists are everywhere. And not only are there very well defined pathways, there is also a cyclists' 'highway' network with its own set of numbers. Bicycle route 1 starts in Zomergem.I've noticed some interesting pathway arrangements. Along the main streets of our town, there are red pavers marking the pathways (and providing a smoother road surface). Just outside of town, I found this new stretch of road where the bicycle path is between the parked cars and sidewalk. (I saw a similar arrangement in Gothenberg.) And to illustrate how cyclists are celebrated, I found this sculpture in a Bruges square.2. Mussels. Mussels seem to be a national dish. But in the grocery stores I've been to, they are sold in vacuum packed trays, not in mesh bags like we find in Canada. There is also a large variety of sauces that can be purchased. Moules frittes are sold everywhere, which is why you need to ride a bike!3. Mirrors. At many intersections, one finds large mirrors to help see if cars or cyclists are coming. I know we sometimes have them on private driveways, but here they are much more common. I suspect there are dangerous intersections in Vancouver that could benefit from some well placed mirrors.4. Unusual houses. When we were on our world trip, I wrote about the architectural harmony one often found. Sometimes it was the result of the use of a common material (sandstone in Jaiselmer) or colour (Dubrovnik in Croatia) or scale (Warsaw). There was one exception...Albania which was a riot of colour and scale. Well, I've found another exception...Belgium! I've never seen such variety in terms of style, colour and materials. It's as if everyone wants to stand out and be different! However, if Zomergem is typical, there's a great sense of pride exhibited, with well trimmed hedges and flowers.5. A dozen eggs. Of course, you don't buy a dozen eggs here. You buy ten, since this is a metric country. (When will Canada change?) However, so far we haven't bought eggs, since we have chickens in the yard, and a refrigerator full of eggs, each marked with the date it was hatched. (When will Vancouver grocery stores start selling eggs with....)6. Window Shutters. I first noticed window shutters when I stayed with my sister who lived in France. At the time, I thought they were a great idea, and wondered why we didn't install them. Now that we have an increased interest in energy conservation, (and crime prevention) I'm thinking they would be an even better idea. Most new homes have shutters built into the window.7. Bread Matics and Mobile Pizzas. Outside our local bakery is a machine that dispenses bread when the store is closed. (between 12 and 2 and after 6, which is typical for most retail businesses.) And if you want pizza, there's a pizzamobile set up in the otherwise beautiful small town square!8. Beer. If mussels are the national dish, beer is the national drink. There is an incredible variety of offerings with varying alcoholic content and some unusual names. My favourite is Chimay, made by the peres trappistes, (which I assume are monks). A dark beer, it has a 9% alcoholic content. But other beers (palm?) are lighter in colour and alcohol.9. Brick Block Construction. While the buildings have varying styles, most new buildings seem to built from a masonry block...even small single family houses. While this is obviously done since they don't have forests, I am wondering why we don't use more block. As an aside, when I built Elm Park Place, architect Richard Henriquez insisted that we use a block wall behind the exterior masonry, rather than the more typical steel studs and gypsum board. (I suspect an increasing number of high rise condominium owners will soon wish their architect had been so caring.)10. Chocolate Delights. Yes, Belgium is famous for its chocolate. But I was still surprised when I discovered these chocolates in a shop window on a delightful street in historic Bruges!