Monday, August 12, 2013

Belgium: Chateau de Seneffe: Our First Picnic in Belgium

     It was only a matter of time...while unpacking boxes, I had found my picnic backpack and I knew that soon I would drag my family to parts unknown in order to experience the Belgian countryside "pique nique"-style.  Still not knowing much about the area, I did a bit of Internet research and came across a festival at a nearby chateau scheduled for this past Saturday night.  Surely, this would provide an excellent backdrop and as I "sold" it to the family, I informed them that fireworks were on the agenda.  Oh, and did I mention that the evening also included classical music - six hours of classical music?  Dear Daughter rolled her eyes but with the knowledge of food and fireworks, she packed an activity bag and off we went.

     La Nuit Musicale (The Musical Night) was the title of the evening and the location was the expansive Domaine du Seneffe, an easy 25 minute drive from our house.  As we got closer and closer to our destination, we noticed more and more cars.  This was a big event - actually, it was a huge event.  We followed the line of cars around the outside grounds of the chateau, through cornfields and eventually to a large field, which tonight had been transformed into a parking area.  Grabbing our gear, we followed the crowds and Dear Daughter noticed that we were in the minority - no one was carrying picnic supplies.  No worries, I informed her, I had sent an earlier email to the organizers asking if picnics were allowed.  Of course, came the reply.  

     We were a bit disheartened by the long line at the entrance gate but it moved quickly and soon we were inside the main courtyard entrance to the Chateau.  I cannot tell you anything about the history of the house but the structure was very impressive.  The entire courtyard had been transformed into a large cocktail area with small food and beverage tents and hightop tables.  The fashionably dressed were intermixed with the more casual.  Quiet strains of music added to the ambience.  We exited the courtyard to do a bit of exploring and of course, to find the perfect picnic spot.  Directly behind the house was the main lawn and it provided an ideal location.  We quickly spread out our French tablecloth, tonight a picnic blanket (with matching napkins) and I started with our first course, shrimp cocktail and sparkling wine.  Passersby wished us "bon appetit" and we settled in for our evening of music and food.

     Scattered around the grounds of the chateau were musical venues of varying sizes.  Each area was numbered and around each stage, seating was provided.  Some areas were large enough to also hold small cafe tables and chairs.  The idea was to visit each venue and listen to the music.  When the concert was over, you could take a small break, eat or drink something and then head off to the next location.  Each concert lasted about 30-40 minutes - hence the title, The Musical Night.  Of course, we did not learn this until much later in the evening.  We leisurely enjoyed our first course while listening to a fabulous choral group.  It was during our second course, tasty baguette toasts topped with goat cheese, prosciutto and arugula, that we realized that we were listening to the exact same piece of music.  The choral group sang, took a break and then sang the same piece of music again...and again...and again.  Oh well, we really did not feel like transporting our picnic throughout the grounds in search of new music so we continued on with our meal.  Following our pasta salad main course, we decided to start the musical rotation.  We sampled our delicious chocolates for dessert while listening to a small orchestra perform a piece by Schubert.  (Have I mentioned that we have a wonderful chocolate shop in our village and that we are making weekly visits for the mini boĆ®te - a small box of chocolates?)

     By now, the sun had descended and the pathways around the chateau were illuminated with citronella candles.  Being Belgium, the main beverage of choice was Leffe beer and we sampled one while listening to a small chamber group. We never made it to all of the venues but what we heard was really quite good.  At 11:30 pm, the music ended and we found a spot on the great lawn and settled in for the fireworks extravaganza.  All in all, it was a very pleasant evening and a lovely first adventure in our neighborhood.

     Now let me digress and give you two other observations of the evening.  The main reason that most people were not carrying in picnics was because they obviously knew about the food being served.  No standard festival fare here...Classical music has its standards.  We saw individuals dining on oysters, foie gras, crepes, skewers of shrimp and various salads.  And while, you could toast the evening away with champagne or wine, again, the beverage of choice was Leffe beer.  And while you might be sipping that wine in a plastic cup, you drank your beer in the typical Leffe glass.  Can you imagine the expense in collecting and washing all of those glasses.  No wonder the cost of admission made Dear Husband raise his eyebrows!

     My second observation is a little less classy but has to be mentioned.  After partaking in all of the food and beverages, at some point in the evening, a visit to the "loo" is inevitable.  And while these toilets looked like the standard portables that no one likes to enter...these were the luxury models.  Again, classical music has its standards.  First, at the top of the queue was a table manned by two attendants.   Your entrance fee is 50 cents.  That guarantees you a clean toilet with an adequate supply of toilet paper.  Upon exiting, you head over to the portable washbasin and using the foot pump, pump water through the faucet and wash your hands.  It is all very civilized, all very clean.

      In our province, castles are everywhere and just this morning, I read that that an organization hosts Sunday picnics at many of them.   Pay for a catered meal or bring your own.  Wait until I tell the family about this!

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