Saturday, April 10, 2010

Belgium Duplicity - Wallonia and Flanders

We live in a land of two cultures, languages, and people. Belgium is split into two distinct regions. Dutch Flanders in the North and French Wallonia in the South. Yet in Brussels French language prevails. The French and the Dutch people are cordial but pretty much stick to themselves, rarely crossing cultures or even geography. Because of this, Belgian national pride is diluted at best...there just isn't that hand over your heart Stars and Stripes unity I associate with countryhood.

The most redundant part about this 'country of two' is that every street sign, piece of mail, menu, anything and everything is translated into French as well as Dutch. Not exactly an efficient use of visual space. The government cannot and will not decide on one 'official' language. So that means duplicity reigns supreme and decisions are that much more delayed and gridlocked. There is much much more I could write about the history and ripples of this twosome-ness, but will just leave it there at that primer.
Kirk, my always fair and balanced husband, realized we spent much of our Belgian time in Flanders...Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp. The tourist biggies really are in the North. But not wanting to leave out Wallonia he made special trips over the past month to the French town of Mons to see the famous boat lift. And then also to the town of Tournai to see the cathedral and main square. Both were quick trips, but helped him feel better about the attention he had lavished on Flanders. Hopefully now Wallonia doesn't feel left out.

Strepy-Thieu Boat Lift - the tallest in the world! It will remain the tallest until the Three Gorges dam boat lift in China is finished. Rumor is you can even ride it to the top during summer months.
Tournai is known as the oldest city in Belgium.The Notre Dame de Tournai is a highlight.Even so we may have tipped the scales back to Flanders on our last spontaneous "Let's get out and see more of Belgium" family jaunt to the Belgian coast. We drove from Knokke down to Oostende. There is a wonderful Belgian coastal tram that parallels this route. If it had been sunny and our time more leisurely we would have preferred that mode of transport. The coast was windy. But still the beach. Which always spells fun with a child.
I think we brought an entire beach of sand back in the car with us!
While they have a bit of an industrial feel, all the beach towns had a grand promenade lining the ocean. My favorite spot was De Haan. If we were going to be here another summer it would be great fun to rent a spot with some friends for some focused beach time. The homes are Grand Dame mansions that made us double-take that this could really still be Belgium!

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