Monday, October 02, 2006


Another week, another trip. This time, however, I traveled with three good friends of mine from Chicago – Jeff, Mark, and Tino. Traveling with good friends is awesome.

Everyone arrived in Leuven on Saturday night after the three spent several hours in Paris where Mark’s bag was taken by some other guy on two separate occasions. Against all odds, he somehow got it back and saved himself the humiliation of having to wear all my awesome law school t-shirts for the rest of the trip.

We went out that night in Leuven and were joined by a few international friends of mine, two of which were the Russians – Elena and Ksenia. Though they both speak excellent English, they completely fail to comprehend American slang, so we took a good two hours trying to describe to them a few words we commonly use. I haven’t laughed that hard in awhile, and I’ll post more about it later. For now, just imagine trying to explain what a “douche bag” is and why we use it…

Sunday brought another cloudy day, and it saw us off to Brussels. As much as I hate to admit it, my “home town” isn’t much to see, though the Grand-Place (the city center) is surrounded by a few incredible gilded buildings. On one side of the square sits the Hotel de Ville, the only buidling to escape French bombardment in 1695 - ironic because it was the target.

On the left is the Hotel de Ville, Brussels' most recognizable structure.

In person, these buildings are beautiful. The guilded gold facades, barely visable here, set off the intricate architecture. I don't know who the hell takes the time to build these things.

Prior to my arrival here in August, I was told that Belgium is arguably Europe’s most eccentric country, filled with odd but quaint little stories and statues. Brussels does its best to uphold the reputation.

With this in mind, we headed over to the Manneken Pis, a statute not far from the Grand-Place. But this is no ordinary statute; rather, it is a small boy in a somewhat compromising position peeing atop a fountain. He’s not large – maybe two or three feet tall – but he’s definitely naked, definitely “anatomically correct”, definitely holding his junk, and definitely pissing.

I had to do a little research here, because I knew there had to be a story. Turns out, this little Manneken Pis was born on August 13th, 1619, when the city ordered a local sculptor to make a new bronze statute to replace an old and withered one. No one knows exactly why he’s there, but it’s thought that he is nothing more than a decoration atop a fountain where local peasants once filled their buckets with fresh water. Why they thought this was a good idea is anyone's guess, but it's pretty freakin' awesome.

Even more strange is that he is not the only pissing boy atop a fountain. Historians have found references to a similar statute that date to the 1400’s, and citizens of the Flemish city Geraardsbergen claim they possess the oldest peeing boy in Belgium (and for that matter, I hope the entire world). Apparently, the two towns feud over this issue, and Manneken Pis has been stolen at least once by a raucous clan of crazy Belgians. Some people really have way too much time on their hands…

Rumor has it Michael Jackson ordered a replica. OH SNAP!!

Anyway, you’ll notice that Manneken Pis has a costume on in my pictures. This is common. He actually has a wardrobe of over 600 costumes, each of which is stored and preserved in the King’s House or the City Museum. Daddy’s first new suit dates to May 1st, 1698. No, I’m not joking. These people take their pissing boys seriously!

On a side note, this is not the only odd statute I’ve encountered during my time here. I’ll have to say I’m warming up to this country quite fast. On the surface, everyone is calm and extremely reserved. But every now and then you get a glimpse of their quirky side that I really appreciate. I’m sure I’ll have more pictures of Belgian oddities in the future.

That about wraps up everything noteworthy of our stay in Brussels. It was cool to be with people who appreciated where we were. As Tino said sarcastically, “I’m not sure when I’ll be in Belgium again.” Good point. I’ve been traveling so much that I risk losing perspective here. I probably won’t visit many of these places again for a very, very long time.

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