In September I went to Belgium to work in a Google datacenter, near Mons, for two weeks. I took the opportunity and used the three weekends to wander around and visit a lot of places, including three capitals: Brussels, Amsterdam and Paris (hence the title of the post).
I flew to Amsterdam on Saturday morning. The first thing I wanted to do was to visit the Google office there, but it was in a commercial space, which is closed during weekends, so I couldn't get in :(. So, as I was looking around on TripAdvisor for where to go next, one thing kept drawing my eye. I didn't want to believe it, but I finally caved in and went to the Van Gogh museum. For the first time in my life I went to an art museum. And guess what. I liked it. A lot.
The week before that I had been playing with the code from the paper "A Neural Algorithm of Artistic Style"and the most prominently featured image there is Starry Night by Van Gogh. The results obtained from that painting were quite nice, so it stuck with me, and when I saw that the museum was close-ish to me, I went for it. And I can see why Van Gogh is one of the most famous painters in the world. His portraits are incredibly expressive and suggest strong emotions. He said that portraits are "The only thing in painting that excites me to the depths of my soul, and which makes me feel the infinite more than anything else." A special category of his portraits are his self-portraits, of which he drew more then 43. As you look at them in chronological order, you can see his evolution, both as an artist and as a human being. He had lots of mental health problems and he often used painting as a "cure". And on his self-portraits you can sometimes see his sadness, his torment, his despair or sometimes just the lack of a will to live. He was a great painter, who tried lots of different styles, and it was fascinating to see them explained there, from paintings that were made out of dots, to ones that were made of clearly distinguishable strokes, to ones that were more continuous. He always tried to improve his painting and was constantly looking to meet other artists to learn from them and to find new inspiration. As I was walking through the museum it filled me with sadness to see that such a brilliant artist, who was looking for the infinite, did not find the one and only true infinite, God.
Amsterdam gave a really good impression in the first hour and I liked it a looot. What they say about how bike friendly it is is really true. It's full of bikes. And it has dedicated bike lanes everywhere, usually separate from cars. And I loved the buildings. I don't have much knowledge about architecture, so I can't really explain it, but I really liked the style of most of the buildings I saw.
I didn't spend much time in Amsterdam, because I went after that to visit some friends in Twello. Small city, nothing much to see. From there I drove 300 km to Mons, where I would be working. While driving, I kept reflecting on this and I couldn't recognize myself. I used to have a profound dislike for driving and now I voluntarily chose to rent a car and driving around a lot. Who is this guy that goes to art museum and likes driving around and what have you done with my former self????
Mons is the European "capital" of "culture" in 2015. I don't know if I chose the wrong two weeks to be there, but I didn't see much of culture in Mons. I remeber seeing one concert in the old city and plenty of weird looking, loud groups that made me want to stay away from them. Oh, and the renovation of the train station, which was supposed to be finished by the end of 2014, is still ongoing, so getting around in the city is really painful. But they've got one thing going on for them: food is quite good. Of that I cannot really complain (actually, I can, but more in the sense that I put on some extra kilograms, that now I have to get rid off before going to Romania next week).
Being in Belgium, I wanted to see it's capital too. So on the next Saturday I took the train to Bruxelles. At the suggestion of a colleague, I got off a station before the Brussel Central station, so I could walk around a bit. I went to have brunch in a really lovely place called Oma, where, like in the rest of the French-speaking part of Belgium, they didn't speak much English. Brussel didn't impress me as much in the first hour. Only after I had gotten to the Justice Palace and there, from the Ascenseur des Marolles I could see the "lower" half of the city. And from then on it became more impressive. There was neighborhood where pretty much every shop was either an art gallery or an antique boutique. Around the Notre Dame Du Sablon (there are multiple Notre Dame churches apparently. The more you know) it was full of booths selling antiques on the street. One item in particular drew my attention: a painting of a cat. For logistical reasons, I didn't enquire about details, but it's on my wishlist.
And then, as you go towards Manneken Pis, which is a statue of a little boy peeing, the antique shops get replaced by chocolate shops. I think every second shop is a chocolate shop. And it's sooo good.
In Grand Place, the central former marketplace, I saw the best street performance in my life. These people really knew how to create an atmosphere and fuel the crowd.
Last pitstop in Brussel: the European Parliament. I found it sooo ironic that among all the fancy, shiny buildings, with posters saying how commited the EU is to development and to eradicating poverty, there was a homeless person, right there, tucked away in a corner. So much about their noble goals. Thank you for caring for Africa, while this is still going on at your literal doorstep.
On Sunday I went to the church where a Hungarian colleague went. While having lunch with him, he mentioned how awesome the TGV is, that you're going at 300km/h and as you go along the highway, you see all the cars going backwards. So I decided to try it out, by going to Paris. At 2 o'clock I bought the ticket for the train at 4:15, at 6 o'clock I was in Gare du Nord and I had a train back at 9:52.
What do you go and see when you're in Paris? The Eiffel tower, of course. Because I wanted to see the city and not the metro system, I walked. I normally walk pretty fast, but now I had to walk even faster, because I knew I would stop to take a lot of pictures on the way. So what Google said would take one hour and ten minutes, took almost two hours. But I got to pass by the Opera, admire La Place de la Concorde (where the Obelisk is), walk through le Jardin des Tuileries and see le Petit and Grand Palais from a distance.
I did end up taking a metro in Paris, because I wanted to see my good friend Alida (who is much better now and she just started college in Paris). We didn't get to talk too much, only for about 15 minutes, but it was nice. I also find it funny how more and more I get to meet up with friends from my homewtown in cities all over the world, because we all left.
The last city that I visited is Antwerp. I'll list it here, because while it's not any countries capital, it's the world's diamond capital. Diamond shops, diamond shops everywhere. But interestingly enough, Antwerp itself doesn't look as luxurious. It has plenty of castle-like entities, that look almost like the ones in Disney movies, but almost everywhere you look, you can find some small thing that is off. Or just plain weird futuristic statues that don't fit anywhere.
After wandering about in Antwerp for 3 hours and eating some good pork ribs, I went to visit some more friends, this time in Deventer. And then I went home, finally.
And with this ends a period of 6 months, in which in every month I traveled somewhere, usually to a place I've never been before. For now, I'll take a break from this (well, except for last weeks trip to Romania. And the Christmas one. But other than that, totally :D) and focus more on new horizons in existing relationships, because that's the way I feel God is leading me "so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 3:10).