footloose in belgium
photo credit: pespmc1.vub.ac.be
i had an invite to visit belgium from a filipino family living in brussels. since i was already in paris, the decision to accept it was a no brainer. it was a trip that would only take less than two hours by train.
i’m glad i went. belgium is a beautiful country with many interesting places to see. in addition, the trip gave me an opportunity to bond with filipinos who have made it their home.
belgium is one of the smallest countries in europe. it’s about the size of maryland with a land area of 11,690 sq. miles and a total population of about 11 million people.
according to the philippine embassy in brussels, there are only 3,067 filipinos officially registered with the belgian national institute of statistics. i was told by an old-timer, however, that the total number of filipinos in belgium is much higher. it’s estimated to be around 7,000.
the filipino hosts and their friends treated me like family and accorded me with the traditional filipino hospitality. i couldn’t ask for more. they took turns driving me around to the country’s well-known attractions.
we went around Brussels on a bright sunny day. it’s a pedestrian-friendly city where most of the landmarks are just a walk away. some statues could be considered x-rated. so, beware if you’re squeamish. look, but don’t see.
we drove to waterloo where napoleon bonaparte met his disastrous defeat in 1815. pardon my ignorance, but i didn’t realize it was in belgium. then again, it used to be part of the netherlands, wasn’t it?
we climbed le butte du lion (lion hill), the main memorial towering 141 feet high by 1,700 feet wide. reaching the top took 226 steps, but it was well worth it. from up there, we got a panoramic view the entire battlefield.
we went to another famous battlesite, this time at ypres where the germans and the opposing allied forces suffered over a million casualties in world war i. we visited the essex farm and cemetery where lt. col. john mccrae was buried. this was the place where he wrote his famous poem, in flanders fields, that we learned in high school.
standing amidst rows and rows of white crosses, i was overwhelmed by emotions. in another life, i believe i died as an infantry soldier somewhere in france during world war i. ok, I hear you. i’m a little bit weird entertaining these thoughts.
we went to bruges to view the relic of the blood of jesus housed at the basilica of the holy blood in bruges. according to the legend, it was brought there by the knights templars during the time of the crusades. it’s shown to the public every first friday of the month.
one rainy sunday, we made a pilgrimage to banneux where the virgin mary appeared to a child named mariette becoto between january 15 and march 2, 1933. she asked the child to drink from a nearby spring and told her that its water could be used for healing. many miraculous cures have been attributed to it ever since. after drinking the water, i could say i felt good and relieved from a nagging cold.
lastly, we attended the 115th philippine independence day celebration on jun 16 held at the national basilica of the sacred heart park in koekelberg, brussels. it was hosted by the local chapter of the knights of rizal. various filipino groups from different parts of belgium came to celebrate in friendship and amity. i didn’t expect to see many belgian nationals wearing traditional filipino attires and even singing in tagalog. certainly, the filipinos in belgium have come a long way since the first batch of filipino nurses arrived in the country more than 20 years ago.