I needed a base for Sunday night in Belgium and decided that it would be Mons (Bergen to the Flemish). It is actually only 15 kilometers from the French border, but it is amazing how a small intangible detail like that can change everything: the food, the vocabulary, the paint on the buildings...
Even the French never think of visiting Wallonia. When people try to think of cities worth visiting in Belgium, the only ones that come to mind besides Brussels are Bruges, Ghent and that's about it. Wallonia is considered to be a dismal industrial wasteland (partly true). Nevertheless, the region has some redeeming features, and Mons seemed very excited to have been chosen as one of the European Capitals of Culture for the year 2015, as there were already some banners up. This of course implied that they did not have much to which they could look forward before then.
I knew really nothing about Mons and did not have a guidebook, so I did as I usually do -- I just walked around.
I had the entire city to myself as usual. It is so strange to see these completely depopulated cities when you come from a place like Paris or New York.
That was a most interesting tour of the town Kerouac - a place, as you say, most people wouldn't bother going to see in Belgium! So many little photographic pleasures caught my eye - some like the uneven brick detail on a building where you can see the alteration in a higgledy-piggledy fashion, just lovely!!
The red post box with the two languages telling folks that this red oblong canister was indeed a Post Box! It reminded me of South Africa in years gone by where every announcement was in English and Afrikaans,( which is so close to Flemish).
I loved the really cute water fountain with the impish boy ready to take a slurp of water in his hand! And the three angelic-looking singers are a delight!
I finally found the inhabitant of Mons being walked by her dogs.
Anyway, I went about my major business of the day elsewhere, which might spawn another report. Back at the hotel, I waited until nightfall to venture out in search of sustenance, but would I find any in this empty place?
So, back to the Grand' Place, the hotspot of the city.
After some inspection, this looked promising, especially since it was beginning to snow.
There was a nice fireplace with a roaring fire, and four levels of tables looking out onto the main square. Believe it or not, there were actually people inside.
I dithered a bit over the menu. What about the moules? What about the magret de canard? What about the three kinds of carbonades? What about the baked chicons (the Walloon name for Belgian endive)? But I was intrigued by the special tartiflette made with Chouffe. Of course, I had no idea what Chouffe was, but I had an idea.
So I ordered it, and the included glass of Chouffe came immediately -- as expected it was a local beer, in this case amber beer from the Ardennes. The waiter explained that the tartiflette was quite different from the traditional Savoyard tartiflette. "We call it tartiflette because of the potatoes, but of course with the Ardenne cheese and the Ardenne beer, it is not at all the same." That didn't scare me -- I was ready for something different. Anyway, I had a big bowl of cheese cubes all for myself while I was waiting.
When the big baking dish arrived, it certainly did not look or smell like tartiflette. In fact it reminded me more of Alsatian baeckeoffe, although that it made with white wine rather than beer. A tartiflette is mostly sliced potatoes in creamy melted emmental with lardons. This was sliced potatoes with pieces of pork and melted cheese in a beer sauce. It was pretty good albeit not superior to a real tartiflette. Clearly it had just appeared on the menu, because the manager came to see me twice to determine whether or not I found the dish acceptable and to talk more about the preparation and the fact that it was a suggested recipe obtained from the Chouffe rep (!).
I ordered a second Chouffe to avoid going back out into the cold immediately, even though the rare snowflakes had stopped.
Finally, though, it was time to walk back to the hotel. I took the route passing the church.
I said goodbye to the belfry as well.
The train station next to the hotel was just as ugly at night.
And then I was in for the night.
This concludes the current information about Mons/Bergen (if it were an English town, that would translate to Hilltown or Hillside or some such, if anybody is wondering).
Here is the church, here is the steeple, it's all very pretty, but where are the people? Well, except for Kerouac, who somehow took killer pictures of this town which I suspect is not real, but something he found in a dream. (Awfully yummy food for a dream, though!)
I so much enjoyed the lush and the quirky photos throughout -- love the building with the flags & the verdigris clock tower & of course the little shop of weirdness.
I'm intrigued by some of the objects in the church which make it look like a warehouse for some old stuff the royalty wasn't using. That carriage?! Also intrigued by the very modern looking facade of the church. That object with the slender columns & the crowned head of a woman must be a reliquary. Was the church named Saint somebody or other?
You clever man you! Not only giving us the day shift in photos, you carried on taking more fab ones at night and showing off how different a place can look when the sun goes down I loved the cathedral in all it's floodlit glory!
Kerouac, some time ago you mentioned you had Ibis points to use up - did you remember them and not pay the 69euros?
What??? Never. A tartiflette is made with Reblochon. Emmental isn't even real cheese.
Heh. I like Emmenthal! Reblochon is obviously more interesting.
Another fabulous report on a town I know nothing about. That such beautiful places are so eerily empty while at the same time so many hideous places are often so crowded will never add up to me. I'd live there in a eyeblink if they'd have me (they wouldn't, it seems only ordinary people that are brown colored are allowed to move to the EU). I'd even learn Flemish- which being near Dutch is probably among the easier to learn languages for an Anglophone.
Actually, this was one of my famous Sunday morning excursions, and European urban dwellers absolutely hate to go out early on a Sunday. I saw perhaps 10 errant tourists and maybe about 10 locals on urgent business (bakery) the whole time. And of course, yes I did sometimes wait about 5 seconds for anybody I saw to evacuate before I took the picture.
I think the designs surrounding the windows are painted. That sort of thing looks so normal to me that it never crossed my mind to take a close up, but now that you have mentioned it, it is the sort of thing that I will keep in mind for future reports.
As Bixa and I tiresomely (and untiringly) repeat often: one should never forget that one's ordinary surroundings are interesting and exotic to people on the other side of the planet. For example, if I were in the U.S. I might even do a report about the variations of rural mailboxes along the road. They are invisible to people who pass them everyday but a source of wonder to people who never see such things.
if I were in the U.S. I might even do a report about the variations of rural mailboxes along the road. They are invisible to people who pass them everyday but a source of wonder to people who never see such things.
So is this a subtle request for a new photo thread?
In July I will make a report about Mons that should include quite a few more people. Mons is the European Capital of Culture this year, and I will be there on July 21, the Belgian national day. The city should be hopping.