Every year, about this time, something miraculous happens in Belgium — the people go outside.
Of course, there are people outside in Belgium at any given moment of the year, but they are often scurrying from place to place, under heavy layers of clothing. They look determined to get from point A to point B without getting wet or cold or both.
You see, Belgian winters can be rather bleak. While the lack of snow is a nice change for this Canadian, the lack of sunlight is something else altogether.
Through careful scientific study, I have deduced (or picked a number at random) that the average Belgian winter has 42 minutes of sun. That’s not much for an entire season, let me tell you.
In winter, the sun doesn’t bother coming up until after 9 and disappears again by 3 — that is, if you see the sun at all.
This lack of sunlight explains the springtime phenomenon. Like geckos emerging to sun themselves on warm rocks, the people of Belgium take to the streets to soak up the vitamin D.
Spring seems to occur in Belgium, all of a sudden, when you least expect it. One day you are looking out your window at bleak greyness, wondering if you will ever see the sun again. The next, day out of the blue, there are leaves on the trees, the birds are singing, the flowers are exploding into colour and the people are taking to the streets.
Restaurants, cafes, pubs — right down to the tiniest take out shop are setting tables and chairs outside that are swiftly taken over by sun-seekers.
In Nova Scotia there are a few restaurants that have patios and they are often packed in the summertime (you know, that long weekend in July that constitutes summer in Canada), but most Canadians are content with their backyard BBQs.
Here in Belgium, the sidewalk becomes one giant patio. Perhaps it is a general lack of backyards in Brussels, or maybe it’s the fact that Europeans take more time to enjoy watching life go by than your average over-worked North American.
In any case, don’t expect to walk on a city sidewalk between April and November in Belgium — they have more important things to do than be trodden on by people who can’t take the time to enjoy a little sunshine.
The sidewalk cafes aren’t the only place Belgians flock to find the sun. Belgium has some of the most fantastic parks of anywhere I’ve been. After fuelling up on coffee and croissants, Belgians head for nature.
You see them strolling and running, biking (of course, but they’ll do that in any weather), walking every shape and size of dog imaginable, picnicking and just laying about on the grass. In one of my favourite parks, they even fish.
Maybe it’s because the average annual rainfall in Belgium could flood a small island nation, or maybe it’s just because Belgians are better at taking time to stop and smell the roses. Whatever the case may be, spring has officially arrived in Belgium and I’m glad to say, we’re taking to the streets.