Friday, May 29, 2015

Living In A Tourist Town

Come play in Mons
It may have started out slowly, or so it seemed, but Mons 2015 is in full swing. As in the tour busses are coming, the tourists are swarming and I dare say we are living in a Belgian tourist destination. And as a resident, I have to admit that it is all kind of exciting.

Although the construction of the new train station appears to be lagging, things are really picking up around here. The streets are cleaner---workers patrol the streets both day and night with giant vacuum cleaner like apparatuses sucking up trash, leaves and anything that lies in their paths. New restaurants, store fronts and private residences are opening up and public art is everywhere. Formerly drab facades have been splashed with brightly colored paint and pop up exhibits (like the giant inflatable red balls pictured at the left) appear in surprising places. And as someone who spends a lot of time wandering through the neighborhood, I've noticed an increase in signage identifying historic buildings. And much to my surprise the signage is usually tri-lingual with the local French sharing space with Flemish and English. But best of all is the increase in customer service one receives from the shop keepers and waiters. Under the best of circumstances I've found Belgian service workers to be polite if not a bit surly with many not speaking, or at least professing to not, speak any English. Now I have no expectation that anyone should speak English here but upon arriving here I was a bit surprised by how many people didn't speak it. But all of a sudden it would appear that the very same waiters and clerks now speak the language. Like I said, it isn't necessary but is a welcome surprise that makes it easier and more comfortable to go about my business. (Of course my French is also improving so maybe we are really just meeting half way).

And a Grand Place filled with balls
So on any given day, regardless of the weather, I leave my house and come face to face with hoards of map and camera toting tourists.While I don't take the sights of Mons for granted, seeing others stop to take pictures of the buildings around me is making me slow down and appreciate my daily views. And when I do I find myself in slight awe that I am living here in Europe and getting to enjoy all of this on a daily basis. On some level I must look like a local too since I am being approached on a daily basis with inquiries for directions or things to see. My French is still pretty weak but ask me for directions to the Grand Place and I can rattle them off in French with the best of them. But of course it isn't all fun and games.....

Remember the tour busses I mentioned earlier? Well they need to park somewhere and the narrow streets and even more limited on street parking spaces don't afford them a lot of leeway for moving about.  One way streets and sidewalks are being converted into make shift bus parking--both authorized and unauthorized-- and much to my dismay on more than one occasion this has included the no parking zone in front of our gate. Yes, the joys of city living apparently include being blocked into your driveway with no alternative escape route. I guess it is as good of an excuse as any but more than ever it means being flexible and making alternative plans. And regardless of the size of the street, a double decker tour bus is not designed to do K-turns. But they try and the results aren't always pretty.

With the summer season just gearing up the tourists and busses are only going to increase. Mons has a whole slate of fun activities planned for the coming months and I plan on joining the hoards and enjoying them as well. I'll be arriving on foot instead of by bus and will be able to escape to the calmness of my own house when the buzz gets to be too much. But at the end of the day this is all  a lot of fun. After all, how many people can say that they have lived in a fun and increasingly vibrant community with the designation of being a European Capital of Culture? I'm going to enjoy every moment of it while it lasts.

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