Yesterday Pépé generously took us to see the ‘ascenseurs’ of Belgium, the machines that transfer barges from canals on one level to another. First we drove to ascenseur 4, one of the newest and largest. It was truly enormous! There was also a museum of the geniuses of Belgium, with short films about each genre. There were exhibits for painters, musicians, cartoon artists(Belgians invented comic strips in the 40’s), athletes, scientists, and more. I couldn’t understand much, because even though the films were in English, it was very English English and the machines of the ascenseur were very loud. But it was still very interesting. We watched a French barge be lifted all of 73 m to the next level; it was very impressive. Then we drove to another ascenseur, another large one of a different type, with a gradiated ramp rather than an elevator-type system. It was also absolutely huge, of course. In the tower, they had a panoramic view; we could see Brussels, Waterloo, and other landmarks (including cows and sheep) from there. It is very flat here, so you can see for a long way. We also enjoyed a museum about the life of ‘bargees’, including headsets and replicas of daily life for the people who work the canals. Happily the headsets were available in English, so we learned a lot of new information about things like how bargee children go to school and the culture of the bargees compared to landlubbers. I had never thought about this before, or even really seen very many barges, so it was a new experience.
Today we drove with Cecilia, her brother’s family (Carole and her sons: Roman, Antoine, and Maxime), and Pépé to an amusement park for the day. The park was set up with different areas with themes from around the world, so we started in ‘Mexico’ and ended up in ‘Canada’(Canada? Exotic?). I screamed through the loop-the-loops of the roller coaster with my eyes shut (Julia laughed at me), admired the giraffes, and got pretty wet on the ‘super splash’. Roman went to watch the super splash IN FRONT of the protective window, and he really was soaked. He even had to wring out his handkerchief! Happily the sun was shining so we all dried out. Carole went with us on some of the gentler rides, and her face was the best part of all the rides put together. Julia and I laughed ourselves silly at her expressions of horror when we where spinning around in little pink teacups and gently bumping down a ‘river’. It wasn’t crowded at all, and it really wasn’t noisy---very different from the AK state fair or the other amusement park I went to in Pittsburgh. We could see cows and farms from the top of one of the rides. Cows and farms are ubiquitous (good word) here. There will be two or three shops, and then, all of a sudden, more cows and fields. And then more shops and houses. Julia and I found that amusing when we weren’t yelling. We stopped for lunch in the ‘wild wild west’ of America and I had a Belgian-American Hamburger with fries(frites). Like all food of the Belgian sort, it was good. The frites here are different; they are thicker and aren’t salted. Mayonaise goes on fries, not hamburgers, and you eat fries with a fork. Ketchup has no bounds however, and you may eat it however you want. At the end of the day, I also got to try a waffle. They are sold like icecream or crepes, with or without chocolate. I told Cecilia and Antoine that we eat waffles for breakfast with peanutbutter and honey. They thought that was quite novel. Apparrently there are two types of Belgian waffles: the Liege and Brussels types. I had a Liege type with chocolate. It was heavier than waffles in the US, and very sweet. I managed to get chocolate everywhere and thoroughly enjoyed it. The boys sweetly gave Julia and I stuffed lions for souvenirs. Mine is named Albert, after the Belgian King.
A note on the daily machines of Belgium: cars. OH MY GOODNESS GRACIOUS, driving here is intense! The roads are narrow, without any real markings, and intersections seem to be open to interpretation. Parking is extremely precise and close, and everyone drives fast. Drivers here are very skilled, and all the cars are small and well-kept. Pépé has a device in his car that beeps when you are close to backing into something. Good idea. I am rather relieved I only have to worry about learning French and the metric system and not how to drive!