The next leg of our adventure has brought us to Belgium, firstly to Ypres and then to Brussels via the battlefield at Waterloo. We haven’t travelled here before, and I was a little anxious about how we would navigate this country but I needn’t have worried. While Flemish (51%) is the official language of the country, 47% speak French and a few speak German, but almost everyone we encountered also spoke English.
Ypres was a beautiful town that we only stayed one night in so we could witness the Menin Gate ceremony and visit some WW1 battlefields and cemeteries on our way to Brussels. Before arriving in the capital we stopped for a few hours at Waterloo to give the boys, especially David, the opportunity to explore this most famous of battlegrounds. Unfortunately Joshua would not let me sing out loud, but the song was playing in my head while we were there.
We arrived in Brussels later that Sunday afternoon with the goal of needing to return our hire car at the central Railway Station by 5pm. The GPS told us to turn right down the next road but there was a roadblock there and police not letting any cars through. An English speaking policeman kindly informed us that it was illegal to drive any cars in Brussels that day as it was ‘Ride a Bike in Brussels’ day. We had to prove we were in a hire car that needed to be returned that day and therefore received special authorisation to drive through the city’s streets.
It was a bizarre experience to be driving in a major city and only encountering buses, taxis and about a million (give or take!) people on bikes, trikes and scooters. While it sounds okay, they all thought they had right of way and just rode any which way on the roads and glared, despite us having special authority to share the road with them!
The trip in the taxi to the airport this morning was another harrowing road experience. Although we were travelling in the wee small hours there was a significant amount of traffic on the freeway and I was watching the speedo climbing higher and higher as we ducked and weaved through the vehicles. Our top speed was 150km/hr and I was pleased to be relegated to the back seat for this trip. I decided the safest thing was for me to just keep my eyes closed!
I get the feeling that Belgium isn’t really secure in it’s identity. It feels like a place that wants to be one thing but is being pulled in many different directions. They are quite proud of their famous products of waffles, chocolate, beer, mussels and fries, and I am really pleased we didn’t discover how amazing Belgium chocolate truffles are until the last night, otherwise we would all be twice the size we are!!
They like to declare they are a European country that gives leadership and direction to the rest of the EU as demonstrated by the fact that the EU Parliament is here, and the EU council. This, however, reminds me of a meme that says “a lion doesn’t need to tell anyone it’s a lion.”
One of the biggest struggles in life is discovering who you are and how you fit in the world. Some people are really clear on what that is, others do not ever seem to work it out. Who we are can also be adjusted depending on our season of life and/or our circumstances. I am glad that while I may wrestle with my identity in the secular world, my identity in Christ is secure. I am His follower and I strive to live as He did while walking on this earth. I am not always successful at it, but I try.
Overall, Belgium has been a pleasant enough place to visit, with a number of quirky features that have made us smile. Would I come back? Possibly, if only for the truffles, but I would make sure I missed ‘Biking in Brussels’ day!