Some people must be sighing with relief, others look forward to this yearly event with much anticipation, indeed the calender year in Europe is demarcated by festivals, Sint Niklaas on 6 December is a big event in Belgium, Santa cowers before this Spanish might together with black (I didn’t say it) helper and horse, people ask me if they exist in South Africa, are you crazy man! ‘Swarte Piet’ is not only the helper but the ‘court jester’, black because he came from Spain or because he’s full of soot, who knows, tradition has severely mangled this tale. After Christmas (which is a minor) there’s the festival of the Three Kings and some special tart to savour, there is a lucky coin too or bean (Tom Robbin’s Jitterbug Perfume?). Next of course is Carnival, if it’s determined by when the moon was last full, it must surely be pagan! A propos, Pole Space does exciting stuff like decide exactly what the time is and when carnival is exactly! Carnival celebrations are spread out over a month a two to allow each town to revel in festivities and for people to experience more than one adult ‘rag farm’! Brace yourself from February to April, giants, oranges, gilles and more… Mostly it’s an excuse to fulfil your wildest fantasy and kick back… These photos were taken in Halle, I’m not sure what the theme is but I kept expecting to see a rather confused Alice or a rabbit popping out from somewhere…
Amsterdam is easy: just outside the train station, the zoo is on the right and aquarium straight ahead. The town square and a couple of other interesting museums within walking distance. The aquarium has a shark or two and surprises with the awesome use of space and emphasis on environmental issues complete with tortoise rehabilitation centre. One point of criticism: the aquarium does not have a vestiaire, pretty strange?
The Wildlife sanctuary spanning 250 hectares is home to many species formerly indigenous to this area and others in need of a home. Obelix would have been delighted at the sight of wild boar. You can also see deer, wild cats, lynx, highland cattle, stag, roe deer, aurochs, European bison and Przewalski’s horses in this timeless landscape. Fascinating geological activity must have been at work here to develop these valleys and disappearing rivers, not to mention the network of caves beneath your feet.
Take the 100-year old tram which takes you to a subterranean wonderland at a constant 13 degrees. Stalactites and stalagmites and curtains of limestone are hundreds of years old and archeological evidence suggests man has been fascinated with this site for thousands of years. Tours are available in French and English. As a next to last stop there is a sound and light show in one of the large chambers. The entire walk spans about 3km (5 miles) and takes a little under two hours. The exit is close to the town and the speleogame – join the interactive hunt with detectives, also available in English and suitable for children of all ages! Then enjoy the huge outdoor play and picnic area with domesticated animals including rabbits, donkeys, goats and horses. Or enjoy a meal in one of the many cozy looking restaurants on the main street. The museum is located here as well as a number of souvenir shops selling interesting ‘artifacts’.
If you haven’t had enough, arrange to spend the night in the cabin adjoining the bears’ den. Start your adventure with a spot of spelunking, exit in the sanctuary where you’re treated to a barbeque at the old tram stop with a view second to none. Spend the night far from civilization in close proximity to the bears. Sounds exciting!
Book online on http://www.han-sur-lesse.be and get more information as well as fascinating tidbits about the birth of European Bison, lynx and the re-introduction of species unique to this area.
A motley collection of all kinds of photographs, pre-digital era! South Africa, France, UK, Peru, Spain, USA, Malawi, Zimbabwe… I was trying to link to my gallery on http://www.viewfinders.be once again I feel my technical shortcomings…
The annual re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo is in mid-June.
The Fantastic Museum
It’s a flight into the weirdest fantasy and I have to wonder at the creative minds who have built the flying dinosaur swooping down to attack or the foetus in formaldehyde sucking at an energy drink through a straw. My favourite is the insight into the robot’s inner workings where it met its demise by breaking in two: jeans intact but robotic intestines overflowing. There is a Bluebeard-like refuge with female heads stored in glass bottles. I am everywhere all at once: on a Star Wars set, inside the vilest fairy tale, living my worst nightmare or my most futuristic dream come true? A keen eye and a bit of time are needed to spot all the goings-on in this three-storey converted home ,and an annex, in the heart of Brussels.
Posters are for sale depicting the Africa Museum in Tervuren with menacing crocodiles in the lake, or the Atomium where each sphere represents a stage in reproduction, who pops out but Mannekin Pis. If you want to purchase any of these, do so on site because the museum is divided into two sections, a short walk away onto an adjoining street. Halloween must be quite a site as the witches gather for ‘monster juice’ and to pass their exams for the witch’s certificate. In fact, this test is accessible to all. Everything is explained at the entrance, there are a couple of tasks to fulfil, one of which is to count the skulls dotted about the rooms, another is a touchy-feely test involving groping around in a box and identifying, among other things, body parts. Once you have solved all the macabre riddles, you can pick up your diploma qualifying you as witch.
Check opening times on their website http://www.maisonbizarre.be/ as the museum seems to be run entirely by volunteers and, in particular, the curator’s passion for the weird and wonderful. Opening hours are extended for special occasions like Halloween or Christmas as the worst gifts from Father Christmas go on display (open in December on Saturday and Sunday afternoons). Certainly not for the faint-hearted.
Photos and copyright by Olivia de Vos. First published in the Brussels Weekly