Thursday, February 12, 2009

Namur and new friends



Day 3 in Belgium, and highlights of today included driving to Sophie's house all by myself, uphill, in the snow; successfully navigating my way through eight (count 'em, eight) roundabouts; and experiencing my first authentic Belgian waffle. I've also discovered Cote d'Or praline blanc, and I will never be the same again!

As you can see, I also managed to snap some photos before it got too dark . . . this is Vieux Namur or "old city" Namur, not far from my hotel. Yes, the sidewalks really are made of cobblestones, and you have to really pay attention to where you step unless you want to twist something. 

Namur, known as the Gateway to the Belgian Ardennes, is a city of about 100,000 people that is situated on the confluence of two rivers, the Meuse and the Sambre. It started as a Celtic trading settlement, was conquered by the Romans, and ruled by the Merovingians. (A Merovingian castle sits high up on the hill overlooking the point where the two rivers meet.) It's been part of the Spanish Netherlands, France, and the Habsburg empire, and was on the front in the two World Wars. So this is a hardy place, with battle scars, yet there is something very vibrant about it. I'm looking forward to learning more about the city's history over the next couple of weeks. 

Now I want to write about some of my new friends. After work yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Sophie's kids, and they are adorable!  The children don't speak English, and I don't speak much French or Flemish, but we managed to communicate just fine. Her son (age 6) was especially excited about meeting an American woman, so hopefully I represented my country well. We liked each other immediately. I had only known him for about 20 minutes when he took me by the hand and led me to the children's playroom, where he got out a chalkboard easel and some chalk, and proceeded to teach me some French. It was so cute. First, he taught me the French alphabet. Then we got into some vocabulary. He even had me sound out the words: puh-oh-um-um-uh = pomme (apple). Thankfully, we didn't get into verb conjugation, although he could probably teach me that as well as anyone else could.

His four-year-old sister is quite the charmer, as well. I have two new friends now, and it didn't seem to matter at all that we couldn't understand each other. In a way, it made me think that us grown-ups talk way too much. Maybe if we'd all just shut up and listen, smile a lot, and pay attention to each other with our eyes and gestures, we'd all get along a lot better. And fix the economy, too. 

It's evening now, and I'm sitting here drinking Fanta Orange (which tastes way better in Europe than it does in North America, for some reason) and watching CNN International. I need to get some rest because we're getting up early tomorrow (5:30AM!!!) in order to drive to the office in Brussels. Tomorrow will be my first time in the city of Brussels. So come back again and read all about it!