Saturday, October 29, 2011

Saturday 29 October - Durbuy

To the Ardennes, at last. A beautiful, crisp, autumnal morning, giving way to a bright and mild afternoon, provided the backdrop to my first trip down south. Further south than I've ever been in Belgium.

Very hard to believe you're still in Wallonia. Such a contrast to the drab industrialism found in its cities. Went along with friends, and we really couldn't have picked a better day. The colours of autumn were in full bloom with browns, and oranges, and reds protruding from every vantage point. It really was a magical sight.

The village itself is attractive, without being prissy, and was relatively free of the usual hordes of tourists villages in the Ardennes are famed for. Although there was a lot of Dutch being spoken. Not the Flems this time, but Dutch as spoken by the Dutch. Didn't hear much French anywhere we went.

Having grown rather tired of Belgian cuisine, we settled on a picnic for lunch, and sat on a grassy bank alongside the main car park, but in front of the river. Seemed like the perfect spot for it, and I was surprised that others hadn't thought of the idea. We even had our picnic rug. "You can take the English out of England..."

Walking around the place reminded me a little of Luxembourg. Funny that, considering Durbuy is in the Belgian province of Luxembourg. Or maybe an archetypal English village, possibly Boscastle, in Cornwall, where I went a couple of years back.

Only here the valleys were a lot smaller, and without the dramatic drops down below. The forest in the distance, the small bridges, and the river running through it, all helped give it a special feel.

I've heard that this place looks spectacular around Christmas time, with all the lights on and decorations up. Even more so when the snow arrives. I can imagine.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday 23 October - Villers La Ville

Home of the ruins of a very famous abbey, not far from Charleroi.

Had to change trains here and hop on a two carriage jobby, which then chugs it way along a very small line, stopping every few minutes at the kind of train station that Network Rail would have loved to have consigned to extinction long ago. The kind where about two people get on, and either one or none get off. It really felt like a blast from the past.

When I got off the train you're immediately confronted by a row of houses and a street with about two shops on it.

The walk to the abbey led us through a small forest, running parallel with peoples' homes, and the obligatory barking dog every few hundred yards or so. It reminded me of being back in the English countryside: the purity of the air, the tranquility, the nature. I've been so starved of greenery these last two years that this really came as a welcome relief.

The abbey really is well worth the visit. For a while we were the only people around. It was one of those days where it was freezing out of the sun, but glorious in it. I kept positioning myself in its glare; the shade being far too cold for a wimp like me.

A huge place, where you're still able to see the scant remains of some of the rooms, such as the kitchen, dining room and servants quarters. I love these kind of things.

Yesterday evening there had been some sort of function, with the media in attendance, which explained the discarded tea lights scattered all over the place, and the remains of a few of those giant candles, and candle holders, still propped up against the walls. It must have looked amazing at night. Incredibly atmospheric, but ever so slightly haunting, out in the open, all exposed, with just the forest for company.

On a warmer day, a great spot for a picnic. Instead, we lunched at a bistro/pub type place, which from the outside looked like something straight out of Switzerland, with the building dwarfed by the forest around it. It was us, and dozens of bikers for company.

A lovely way to pass a few hours.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tuesday 11 October - A Breakthrough (many of them)

This is an article I've had published elsewhere which outlines some of the successes that have taken place over the last few weeks with regards to the forming of a new government. We're almost there! It doesn't go into too much detail about the successes, but acts more as a background as to why modern day Belgium is the way it is.

So, rather than repeating myself, I'll attach a link to what I wrote about it and which can be seen on my website:
http://benmitchellwrites.blogspot.com/2011/10/making-sense-of-belgiums-political.html

Friday, October 7, 2011

Thursday 6 October - Independence? No, thanks!

Another one of those "do you want Belgium to survive?" type surveys came out today. And this time produced some unexpected results.

A poll of over a thousand Flemings found that three-quarters of them do not want Belgium to split up. Only 22% supported an independent Flanders. However, this figure rises to 56% for supporters of Flanders' far right party, Vlaams Belang (VB). Which, if you think about it, is still a lot lower for a party that advocates complete Flemish independence as its raison d'etre than it should be. Surely, it would be somewhere up in the 80s, or even 90s, otherwise why would you support such a party?

Its strong views on immigration (limit it. A lot) probably provide more of an attraction for its supporters than its call for independence. Hence, it represents something of a protest vote, rather than a deep-seated desire to see Belgium break up.

Only 37% of those who back Bart De Wever's Flemish nationalists/separatists, N-VA, also support independence, with 61% against. Another really surprising stat. A bit of a slap in the face to the Flemish nationalists I'd say.

30% of all those polled still believe, however, that Flemish independence is inevitable within ten years, with 66% saying it's not.

And, fully 73% of those quizzed said they were proud to be Belgian, rising to 80% for younger Flemings.

No matter what the nationalists may say, support for Flemish independence currently isn't there. Having said that, they are stil heavily backed by voters in Flanders, but probably not for the reasons they think.