I celebrated my 21st birthday in the company of strangers while stranded in Brussels due to a general strike which paralysed the otherwise efficient public transport and train services. I shared my birthday meal with an unemployed English parole officer, a Canadian Microbiology student and an Irish musician sitting in a restaurant within a relatively deserted Grand Place on account of the rain. I am reminded of this, as this is my 21st blog entry and both are a milestone of sorts.
I enjoyed Belgium very much. The people were friendly and helpful in many languages, that is to say that as a people, they were very impressively multi-lingual. Life, at least in the countryside, is bucolic and slow-paced. The beer was both good in quality and abundant in variety. Belgium may easily have the greatest number of beers in the world. Finally there are the frites which are thick French fries ( I do not support the campaign to call them freedom fries – it’s very immature). Frites are served with a variety of sauces and it’s the sauces that make it particularly memorable.
There were two places in Belgium that stood out in the Lone Grey Squirrel’s little mind. Today, I would like to share about Han-sur-lesse. Located in the Ardennes and near the scene of the Battle of the Bulge in the Second World War, even today the painful memories are awaiting in the mass cemeteries of war dead that are maintained in the area. Yet, strangely, I felt at peace there in the midst of the lush, green pine forests.
The main attraction tourist attraction at Han-sur-lesse is the grotto consisting of a cave and underground river. However, the whole atmosphere, the green sights, the sound of water and the smell of pine all contributed to a tranquility of mind and spirit. I arrived late in the afternoon which meant it was too late to visit the caves and I would have to spend the evening there. In fact, the time was well spent sitting on rocking chairs at the Youth Hostel deck, swilling back Belgian beers and swapping travel stories with an English father and his teenage son who were cycling through Europe and a Canadian stained glass craftsman. We drank and talked late into the night as the peaceful darkness of the Ardennes Forest enveloped us.
The next day was the trip to the caves which was interesting enough with a fair complement of staglatites and staglamites and other rock formations. (How to remember the difference between the two? “tights” come down while “mites” climb up). The highlight of which for me was definitely coming out of the cave by boat on the underground river as it emerged back to the surface. Frequently, there is a mist that forms near the cave exit and the mist hovers over the river making for a very mystical feel. Once again, with the river flowing through the forest, I felt peace, wonderful peace, in my soul.
(Dear reader, blog technology has not advanced sufficiently yet otherwise you would have had a rendition of me singing the last part of the sentence which is italised and in bold. I am actually a very good singer but for best effect, it may help you to just imagine Andrea Bocelli singing it to the tune of an inspirational hymn and reaching a crescendo. Thank you. I am now imagining your applause.)