The buzz about Brussels
Because you asked! Last week’s column was about spending a day at the Corvallis Art Festival (170 exhibits) with a female friend and the fact my husband Burt might have been bored by the fourth booth. I went on to suggest that if you bumped into Burt, just ask him how long it took us to “do Belgium.” This has been a long running joke between us since our long-ago traveling days. At Chamber Lunch he was asked about Belgium by folks who had already gotten their paper and my husband’s stock answer has always been “20 minutes.” Not exactly the truth, but compared to time we spent in many other cities, poor Brussels pales by comparison.
Emails have arrived from readers wanting to know the buzz about Belgium - including one from granddaughter Autumn who is honeymooning somewhere in South America. This column travels although we no longer do. I figured if a dozen emails came in from readers who took the time to write and ask, then I would cough up the story. Sure enough, number 12 email arrived from steady reader Kay Radenbaugh who lives in Solon, Iowa. So, Kay, here goes.
Way back when we were young and frisky we spent 10 weeks clutching a Eurorail pass and the book “Europe on $5 a Day.” We worked out a vague itinerary, made no reservations ahead of time, hopped on and off trains, agreed to crash in modest pensions and meet the Europeans. My theory has always been if you go out into this amazing world and stay at The Hilton you only meet other Americans.
Each country we visited presented new and fun experiences - except for one. Our train arrived in Brussels, Belgium late one afternoon and we were starving. In studying the guidebook, two must-do things jumped out at me: (a) “When in Brussels, eat the mussels.” (b) “Make sure to see one of the most famous statues in Europe, called Manneken Pis.” It’s not rocket science to figure out what that statue is doing, but first I convinced Burt to find a certain café mentioned in the book so I could try the mussels. I think he ordered meat and potatoes, but I still remember devouring those six dozen delicious mussels - in garlic broth. With dark bread. Yummm.
By now it was getting dark and we needed to find somewhere to sleep. We always nailed down a place immediately on arriving in a new city, but hunger pains messed us up. The first few pensions were full. Finally, we found one with a room available. The man at the desk said it was one floor up but neglected to mention the room was directly over a “restaurant.” To this day, we both have a clear visual of opening the door to that room, switching on the light and being horrified at the sight of an army of cockroaches bouncing on the bed like it was a trampoline. We stared at each other, took another disbelieving look at the roaches and hurried back downstairs, dragging our luggage. We wanted to kill the guy at the desk, but at this point we had to pretend to be pleasant about the cockroaches and beg for another room. We ended up in a tiny attic room, with the two of us squeezed into a single bed. We hardly slept and could not wait for morning. We also did not take advantage of the continental breakfast. Somehow I pictured cockroaches merrily doing high dives into the orange juice. (Anybody remember Tang?)
We set off to find the famous statue. We were so bummed out by our night in the Bed and Bug Pension that we both just wanted to get out of Dodge and hop a train for the next town. We did spend time at the statue, along with dozens of other tourists and it was well worth it. I have received mail from readers who have visited Brussels and they all mention “the little boy.” Question: Do you know why little boys do what they do? Answer: Because they can.
For those of you who don’t know about the statue, here are some details about Manneken Pis found on the Internet: (There are plenty of photographs in case you are curious).
The 61 cm tall bronze statue was made in 1619 by Brussels sculptor Hieronimus Duquesnoy. There are several legends behind this statue. One legend states that in the 14th century, Brussels was under siege by a foreign power. The city had held its ground for some time, so the attackers conceived of a plan to place explosive charges at the city walls. A little boy named Julianske happened to be spying on them as they were preparing. He urinated on the burning fuse and thus saved the city. Here is another fun fact: - The locals often dress up this little statue and evidently it is a big deal when they change his outfit - brass band and all - and that he has quite an extensive wardrobe which is kept in the City Museum. On occasion, the statue is hooked up to a keg of beer. Cups are filled up with beer and given out to people passing by.
Now, thanks to Kay in Solon, Iowa, you know “the rest of the story.” We have laughed about this for years because Burt’s answer comes up often when we discuss how much time to allow when we go to almost anything. “Who knows,” says Burt, “after all, we did Belgium in 20 minutes!”
Maybe our only regret is that the one day we were in Brussels, they didn’t have the little dude dressed in a costume OR hooked up to a keg of beer.
Bobbie Lippman is a professional writer who lives in Seal Rock with her husband Burt, their dog Charley and a shelter cat named Lap Sitter.
Bobbie can be contacted at
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