Belgian Friends and Frites (Fries) in Namur (11/07/03)

Last updated 11/15/03                                                                                                                                

After our time with the little "peeing boy" in Brussels, we headed to the town of Namur, located southeast of Brussels and the capital of Wallonia (the French-speaking portion of Belgium), to visit Christophe and Stephanie De Vleeshouwer. I met and had the honor of working with Christophe while he was a visiting researcher at the Video and Image Processing lab in the EECS department at UC Berkeley (where I am still a grad student). The De Vleeschouwers kindly invited us to visit them in Belgium even though Stephanie was in the final stages of her pregnancy and shared their home, time, and very yummy food during our stay.

The main dish in our first meal together was the famous coq au biere (yeah I just made that one up, but it sounds right) -- little game hens, occasionally coated with Belgian beer, and baked along with shallots. We also got to try endives (a leafy vegetable that reminded me of chards  which were boiled and then combined with the demi-glaze formed by the coq au biere (this was very good and I'm certainly gonna try this one when we get back -- Berkeley bowl has all kinds of veggies and I'm sure finding endives will not be a problem). Combine the 2 dishes above with some pumpkin soup made from scratch and a nice bottle of red wine and you've got a veritable feast for the palate. Other cuilinary delights are described in the pictures below. Needless to say, there wasn't any time when our stomachs weren't content with the quality or quantity of food that we got.

Christophe and Stephanie showed us all around Namur, including the famous citadel of Namur, which is described below in considerable detail. One thing that the pictures don't mention is that in Namur we got to see Matrix Revolutions.

Warning: Matrix Revolution spoilers below. If you haven't seen it, save your money. If you liked it, please do not read any more of this blog. Or any other blog that I write, because I think I've lost all respect for you.

Lemme just say that it sucked big time. I thought that the 2nd movie in the series was pretty bad, but I think the dialogue in this movie rivals that of Terminator 3, and that is in no way a compliment. The first Matrix movie was good -- decent plot, good special effects, and so you didn't even mind when Keeanu said "whoa" in the middle of the movie since it felt like the right thing (I've been waiting for him to say "dude that's so non, non, non heinous" throughout the series... no luck yet). The second movie decided to dump the plot and jack up the special effects (but there are only so many Agent Smiths you can see before you go "um, so what"). As far as I'm concerned, there were better action sequences in that Matrix-like Gap commercial (Gap Khakis I think it was) than in the entire 3rd movie. I think the culmination of crap that was this movie was the Trinity death sequence. It felt more artificial than silicone breast implants and I was waiting during the entire sequence for some sort of major catastrophe to take place -- an earthquake, a UFO landing, even having the video projection unit go haywire  would've been fine --- anything to end the agony that we were all going through. Portions of the movie were so bad that people couldn't help laughing -- I know that probably was not the intended response, but it's either laugh or walk out... maybe walking out would've been the best option.


                           We went to Namur to visit Christophe and Stephanie De Vleeschouwer. Puneet met, and had the honor of working with, Christophe while he was a visiting researcher at the VIP lab in Berkeley. Christophe and Stephanie were very gracious hosts and spent the entire weekend showing us around Namur, all while Stephanie was in the final stages of her pregnancy (baby girl expected soon -- we wish them the best).

                            An ode to the local cuisine.... we are very grateful to Christophe and Stephanie for the wonderful meals they provided and for showing us several wonderful local food places -- Chez Gaby serves up tasty Belgian frites (somewhat-thick french fries) with all kinds of sauce (including mayo... uh, I'll pass on that one), We also went to Villeroy's which cooked fresh, sweet, Belgian waffles outside the store to entice passersby with the delectable aromas of this local delight.

                     During a walk around Christophe's house, he showed us an old stone quarry that offered some amazing views of the town. We took a nice long walk through the quarry and then along a path that used to support train tracks across the forest. Christophe shared with us the piece of Belgian history concerning the trains; apparently, until mid-20th century train travel was the main mode of transportation between Belgian towns, but later on long-distance buses and especially cars won over the travel market, and nobody used the trains any more. Train lines were cancelled and forgotten, in many places the tracks were dismantled. In the recent times, however, enterprising people reopened some train lines as tourist attractions for short-distance trips on man-powered carts, because the setting of old tracks is often highly picturesque. Namur took a different approach and paved over the old tracks, making them into pedestrian/bicycle paths in a lovely park-like environment. I thought both the paths and the old quarry were great places for kids to play and ride their bikes in.


                 One of the highlights of Namur is an old citadel which has helped defend the region for the Spaniards, the French and finally the Belgians. While the citadel is quite well positioned and appears impregnable to the human eye it suffers from its position right on the watershed, which means that plains extend on two sides of the fortress, hence it was easy for the enemy to bring many troops and massive guns to attack the citadel, not to mention blockading the fortress from needed resupplying. However, it is also quite possible that the citadel was never conquered but changed posession because of peace treaties signed elsewhere during the course of many wars that happened on the current territory of Belgium. Nowadays the citadel grounds provide a wonderful natural playground for kids who have the entire ruins (and accompanying gardens) to run around in. It also offers nice views of the city as shown in the pictures.