Belgium: Mons and Brussels

I was sent to a small city in Belgium called Mons to work for a week. The experience was a blast. I worked with extremely nice people in a very famous computational chemistry group in one of the most charming little towns in the world. Of course, it helped that in this francophone part of Belgium it is customary to kiss everyone hello and goodbye. I just made sure I was available when it came time to greet and to bid farewell to the babes.

It is hard to describe just how beautiful this small town is. It is striking in daytime, but it is even more impressive at night. The complete set of pictures is here.

In Mons and in Belgium in general food is simply terrific. The French influence is everywhere, and one notices it immediately after coming from, say, either the US or Amsterdam where one is generally served overpriced tripe with an attitude. Restaurants are often the owner’s home. Hospitality is a highly prized commodity. Therefore, one is treated incredibly well when walking into a restaurant. And, boy, is the food good. Especially the mussels.

I spent the weekend in Brussels on the way back from Mons (which is a half hour by train from Brussels) in hotel exactly 30 seconds from Grand Place, thanks to Expedia. It’s been 26 years since my first visit to Brussels. My memories are extremely vague, but this time around was quite nice. Brussels has a lot of culture. It’s very laid back. It’s a great place to live. Alas, after being designated one of the EU capital cities, Brussels has become somewhat overpriced and a bit crowded. Nevertheless, it’s more manageable than most European big cities.


What is nice about Europe is the stark difference between northern Europe and southern Europe. The former is populated by stoic people and has poor weather in summertime and even worse weather in wintertime. The latter has temperamental people, much better food, and a much warmer climate. So, if a cold February in Amsterdam has you down, then all you have to do is board a plane to any one of the destinations in Southern Europe for a warm, relaxing weekend. The other nice thing about Europe is that it’s tiny. Everything is very close. As a result, this flight does not take long, and thanks to a slew of cheap airlines, it does not cost much, either.

Barcelona is one popular and warm destination, but on the particular weekend over which this visit to Barcelona took place, it was damn cold. Nevertheless, the city was sunny and inviting enough to entice one to hit the pavement and see the virtually infinity of sites the city has to offer: parks, museums, architectural gems both modern and ancient, churches, beaches and much, much more. Click here to see the picture gallery. This is about a fifth of the sites. The rest perhaps you should see for yourself.