Friday, 16 March 2012


At 10:00 this morning the people of Belgium held a minute's silence for the 28 of their countrymen, 22 of whom were children who died in an horrendous coach crash in the Swiss Alps earlier this week.

I spent some time in Belgium last year and put up a post about one aspect of the trip called Ypres. However I would like to share with you something else that happened to myself and my friends while we were there.

We had gone to Belgium for the Graspop Heavy Metal Festival and to visit some of the war graves and the Menin Gate Ceremony in Ypres.  The festival was in the middle of the Belgian countryside and our hotel was six miles from the site so we hired some pedal cycles to get to and from the site.

One lunchtime we were cycling to the festival and saw a nice riverside tavern in a tiny village so stopped for a couple of beers.  Before we left we noticed they had charged us for two beers that we hadn't ordered so after an amicable discussion they corrected their mistake.

So we carried on to the festival and spent the day in a frenzy of metal and Belgian beer.  That night as we were cycling back to the hotel we saw the tavern was still open and as we hadn't eaten since breakfast decided to stop for some food.

We clumped in and asked if they were still serving food but were told that the kitchens were closing as it was 23:00 but we could have a drink.  then the girl behind the bar recognised us and pointed out that we were the English men who had argued over the price of a couple of beers.
Great, we thought , now they won't even serve us a beer.
However the next thing we knew they were sitting us at a table and telling us they could probably rustle up a bit of stew. That would be great, we were hungry enough to eat a scabby donkey.

A bit of stew turned out to be bowls full of steaming, rich stew, plates of buttered bread and bowls full of frites and salad with mayonnaise dressing.  Brilliant!
We thanked them profusely and fell to, clearing every bowl and plate they put in front of us.

Afterwards we sat back at the bar and I found myself next to a big Belgian bloke eating meat out of a metal bucket.  I asked him where he had got it, his English was pretty good and he told me he was a lorry driver who lived locally and when he finished his late shift he dropped in for a drink and to eat any leftovers from the riverside barbecue they had held earlier in the evening.
We got talking and swapping stories, my friends talked to the landlord and chatted up the barmaids. Soon an old lady joined us and my new friend introduced her as the landlord's mother, she couldn't speak English so he did the interpreting.

She asked which bands I was looking forward to seeing tomorrow and I told her that we were driving over to Ypres the next day instead to visit the war graves and see the Menin Gate ceremony.
Why was it so important for me and my friends that we would miss the last day of a festival?  I thought about it for a bit and explained that, in my case, my grandfather had fought in the British Army during World War 2  and had been killed by a German artillery shell in North Africa..
Even though he was buried in a small Commonwealth War Grave Commission cemetery in Tunisia I could still try to honour him in this way.

When the lorry driver translated this to her she grabbed me and kissed me on cheeks then went behind the bar and spoke with her son.  Suddenly there were brandy glasses in front of us all and the landlord pulled a bottle of cognac from under the bar and filed them all.
'These are on the house', he said, 'you are fine men'.
And so we all toasted each other with cognac and bought each other beers, talking an laughing into the night until we had to leave.  We still had several miles to cycle through pitch black forest infested with wild boar and we were utterly pissed.
Everybody was hugging and kissing and they made us swear to come back next year as we said our goodbyes and rode of into the night, full of food, beer and happiness.

Today Belgium is once more mourning it's dead.  What has happened would be a tragedy for any nation but I have a soft spot for Belgium, it's respect for the dead whether they are soldiers dying to liberate the country or innocent kids on a skiing trip is admirable.
It only took a few days but I fell in love with this country and it's people and I feel so sorry for their loss.


Al Penwasser said...

All that and they make great waffles!
I love Belgium.

Janie Junebug said...

This post is lovely. I think I forgive you for complaining about your glasses and getting a new car.


YeamieWaffles said...

Rest in peace to all those poor children and those teachers. Such a horrible tragedy, I feel for the whole of Belgium right now, I really do buddy.

duffboi said...

Good post. Sorry to hear what happened. I'd sure like to visit Belgium now.

dirtycowgirl said...

I watched the news in horror when this story came on.

You just can't imagine how the parents of those children are feeling - nor would you want to.

I've been to Belgium once, to a Techno festival - which was amazing and was headlined by Underworld, my favourites. (I know as a metal head you are probably cringing at that) But I have to agree, from what I saw of the place, and the people we met, it is a great country.

Elisabeth Hirsch said...

What a neat story. I love it when you write about your travels and experiences. I so wish to travel some day. Belgium sounds amazing.

I really enjoyed this line: we said our goodbyes and rode of into the night, full of food, beer and happiness.

SkippyMom said...

What a beautiful tribute Tony. It is so terribly sad. Our hearts and prayers go out to the Belgium people.

Cherish your memories my friend.

Rob Z Tobor said...

good post

Belle said...

Thanks for sharing your wonderful story of Belgium and it's people. I was really touched. My uncle died in France in WWII. I wish I could visit his grave. I'm so sorry for the parents and families of the people who died in the bus accident.

Zyu said...

Belgium seems like a pretty interesting country.

Pat Hatt said...

Awful about the bus, sounds like you had a great time though. Not sure about the whole dark forest with the wild boar, that's a set up for a horror movies right there..haha

The Angry Lurker said...

Been to Ypres and the Menin gate once a long time ago with some of the guys and visited some cemetery's, it was an amazing place, great story sir....

Bart said...

always good to read a story about war stuff/places. keep on keeping on.

Miranda Hardy said...

Wow! What a great country to visit. I can see why they are special to you. Such a tragedy that happened.

Tony Van Helsing said...

Al: I ate far too many waffles.

Janie: thank you for your forgiveness.

Matthew: Unbelievably awful.

Cowgirl: nothing wrong with techno.

Elisabeth: I hope you travel too.

Skippy: I will cherish them.

Rob: Cheers.

Belle: I hope you visit it too one day.

Zyu: Certainly was.

Pat: It was exhilirating. We saw a boar the next day.

Lurker: It was truly amazing.

Bart: Glad you liked it.

Miranda: It's a bit of a mixed post is this one.

Jax said...

Eating meat out of a metal bucket?! I almost peed from laughing so hard when I read that! THis is great. hahaha

Anonymous said...

I didn't know this. It is very sad. :/

Ypres you say?:

Margaret said...

I heard abut that accident. My heart went out to those poor families. What a tragedy.

Jimmy Fungus said...

Wow. Such hospitality. I might have moved their permanently after being the recipient of such kindness.

Lindsay N. Currie said...

Oh, this is both a sweet and a sad story in one. Lovely post Tony.

Busana Muslim said...

Great post,I really like your article

Katsidhe said...

My former BIL grew up in Belgium and it truly is a beautiful place with (on average) very kind people.

Workingdan said...

I've never even been out of the United States. Sounds like a great place to visit and the people seem nice.

Eating meat out of a bucket...sounds like something I would do. And how in the hell did you ride bikes while drunk and in pitch darkness? I bet that was an experience!