Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
All I can tell you, is that I went to Belgium thrice in my life ... once with my class, once for a job interview ... and once, and this one is the interesting one, with friends, on an aimless trip to Maastricht.

I was a student back then, 20 years old, and was with 3 friends at my place, at night, smoking bangs and looking at cartoons (or playing Civilisation or the Sega Saturn).

Suddenly, one of them says: "hey, why don't we go to Holland"?". And swoosh, everyone agree with one soft yelp. We went downstairs, took the car of one of my friends, which was in fact a rented utility vehicle, and left for Belgium (at night), planning on first stopping in Charleville-Mézières to visit Arthur Rimbaud's tumb. We parked the utility vehicle at the frontier (didn't have the proper insurance or something, this was over 10 years ago and Europe back then wasn't as fluid as it is today) and took the train.

So here is a brief, first-hand account of what I found ... all of these below are generalities based on interpretations of anecdotes, but I like it this way.

People in Belgium are incredibly friendly. For one, they don't have that "big country complex" that seems to pollute all of us French, British, Germans, Americans etc. And they're always ready to help 4 drunken youths.

During our entire trip, which took us from the capital, through large cities and tiny villages (we just zombied around, without a plan, more or less in the direction of Maastricht), we were rowdy, we were loud, we were drunk ... and everywhere people seemd to find it absolutely normal.

At one point I remember that one of my friends forgot his radio on a train ... he went to declare it to the station's information desk, drunk. The guy at the desk made a hundred phone calls and in the end was sort of sweaty from all the action and very sorry not to be able to find the radio on that train (which had left the station). In France, if you ask for your radio at the help desk, the guy will just tell you "well, be more careful next time", or maybe even "ahh, fascinating story, neeeext".

Later we also had these train managers of a very small town and train station start and run an old train just for us. I don't think it was that we were persuasive, being drunk and all, but that they seemed to be getting a thrill out of it (didn't even charge us much) ... so we travelled on this old train for a while, at a good 10km/h ... throwing ourselves out of the train, yelling, getting drunk, and all along under the hearty laughter of the train guys. It was fun.

Garçons in bars were super cool, cops were immensely friendly, the whole country just seemed to smile at us.

Slowly as our trip progressed, we passed over into Maastricht, and went to coffee shops, etc ... finally arrived back in Paris after a wild run in the utility vehicle, which we had redecorated with toilet paper ... hell we even got stopped by police in that vehicle. When the cops opened up, this cloud of pot smoke came out right in their face, and this one friend of mine, a very loud, long-haired, Sorbonne student, said, giggling really loud: "officers you're really out of luck, we just finished it all!".

by Alex in Toulouse on Sat Mar 11th, 2006 at 03:41:47 AM EST

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