Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mons, Belgium

It has been a while since I've posted anything about travel. Recently I went to Belgium for an academic conference.

What do you associate with Belgium?

For me, it's a close personal association with beer, chocolate and ping pong.

Well at least, the beer and chocolate are uncontroversial. There is plenty of evidence for these.

For example, in transit in Denver International Airport (DEN), I was immediately confronted with the New Belgian Hub visible below. Add in frites (French fries) and moules (mussels)? Pretty much case closed.

How about the ping pong? Well, on arrival at Brussels airport, I was heartened to find that these posters were very much in evidence. "Be a fan of skill," exhorts the poster. Absolument! Amen, brother.

As I mentioned earlier, I was there for a conference (on the topic of Language and Recursion as it happens). It was held at the University of Mons, bang in the middle of what seems to be a small town of around 30,000 inhabitants. (To compare, the University of Arizona has more students than that.) But even in this modest town there are 3 ping pong clubs. I visited CTT Ecurie Mons, which meets in a high school gym.

It is the middle club of three in terms of size in Mons. They field some 8 teams, with the top team in the Belgian national league (3rd division). Plus, more recently, one women's team. I hit for an hour with the guy on the left. His name is Guillaume. (He seems to be around the 2200-2300 USATT level.) Guy on the right is Laurent. He was the guy who responded to my attempts to contact someone over the internet.

No chance to play people like that where I live. So yes, due to its popularity, ping pong in Belgium can be pretty good even in a small place.

How about Mons itself? Well, it was just a 3 day conference, a short visit.

Let me offer the Grand Place (main square) by day (with the typically grey skies of Spring can you even spot it's 6pm?):

and the Grand Place by night:

At the conference reception inside l'Hôtel de Ville (aka the town hall), the big building in the above Grand-Place-by-day picture:

Let's take a closer look at the mural, which depicts a scene that seems familiar to me.

Once a year, there is a re-enactement of the St. George and the Dragon story in the Grand Place in Mons. Note I used the definite article here. Because I grew up in England, I thought this was an original English-only story. Perhaps the indefinite article would have been more appropriate. Apparently, St. George and the Dragon both might not be so English…

As for the conference? Well, it included all the (free) beer and wine you could drink while ruminating and attempting to think serious academic thoughts.

Seriously. I'm not kidding. All we had to do was flash our badges at the hotel bar. Talk about hospitality. Well then, who's a lucky monkey then?

Patting Le Singe de Mons (the monkey of Mons) on the head at the Hôtel de Ville with your left (has to be left) hand is said to bring good luck.

Finally, back at Brussels airport, the counterpart of the New Belgian Hub I began this post with in Denver, the Leffe Plaza Café

(All pictures taken with my Olympus E-P1 with Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens.)


  1. I never associated ping pong with Belgium!
    My associations are waffle & chocolates.
    Looks like you had a lot of fun in a nice city, Mons, in the spring break. that's great!-K

  2. mons country tell me about this city