On Sundays, Belgians walk. Along routes clearly marked by colored stickers, in lengths of 5 kilometers (3 miles), 10k, or 20k; old people, young people, families, walking groups; organized as most everything Belgian in a French version and a Flemish version—Belgians walking.
Founded in the late 60’s, Marche Adeps could not be a simpler, or more wonderful, idea. A quick look at the website for this coming weekend shows more than 10 locations to choose from, in Wallonia alone. That means that on a Sunday in late October, there are probably 2 dozen places organized for Belgians to get out and walk.
The routes are laid out in advance by volunteers: you simply head to the welcome point, pick up a paper with directions, and begin to walk. In general, the color-coded stickers along the way make the xeroxed instructions unnecessary. You walk along through a town, along a path, through fields, in a forest, in suburbia, and keep an eye out for the red, yellow, or blue stickers that correspond to to the length of your chosen walk.
The walks loop back to the starting point, generally a restaurant or a school cafeteria, that offer a special Marche Adeps menu: how great is a walk in the country knowing at the end you can have the famous tarte au riz–delicious creamy rice-filled cake– or boulet frites—meatballs and fries—or a fantastic Belgian beer.
On Sunday after finishing a little home-improvement in the morning, we leave the house just after noon, drive 20 minutes, and arrive at the Moulin de Broukay, a former mill and activity center–including a summertime jazz festival–that serves as our starting point. The Marche Adeps website has a ‘stroller friendly’ icon, so Steph, myself, and the not-yet-one-year-old Felix park the car, and walk and roll toward the welcome-table.
Somehow the sight of a guy and his horse pulled up to the first table at the restaurant does not compute, and I neglect to get the photo. But there are horses and riders all over the place, and people on bicycles, and a range of ages from infants to upper 70’s, as we follow the blue stickers on our walk.
The stroller-friendly walk begins flat–along one of what Stephanie tells me are a famous and well-organized series of interconnecting bike paths in the Dutch/Belgian region of Limburg–passing through fields with corn and cows, and then a small village, before turning up a significant, steep, not friendly, hill.
At the top of the climb, the walk continues on a farming road, and the gravel and mud seem at points downright hostile. No matter, on a beautiful, clear, October afternoon, the fields give way in the distance to a massive quarry, and even the electric towers seem majestic.
If you look at the map, Bassenge sits on several borders: at the divide of Flanders and Wallonia, the two largest parts of Belgium (don’t forget Brussels—capital of the European Union, or the small German-speaking region) and within a few kilometers of Holland. This only matters when you say hello to people along the way: you might speak French, they might speak Dutch—and if they speak Dutch they might be Belgian or Dutch–and while it is a little confusing how to say a simple hello, no one seems bothered.
In a country that is largely urban, you are never really very far ‘off the grid’. When I drop Félix at his Belgian grandparent’s house, the nuclear reactors of neighboring Huy loom large a mile away across the river; a walk through the idyllic countryside means that fields, cows and the power infrastructure share space.
We walk past a small store specializing in potatoes—the Belgians love their potatoes fried, but in general, they just love their potatoes and have access to a great variety—with all the varieties named. In utero we had dubbed the fetus ‘bintje’ after the first ultrasound convinced me Steph was carrying a potato; a friend in Brussels immediately emailed a list of potato varieties, and so before he became Félix, he was just another potato.
Anyway, nothing spectacular, just a well-organized walk in the Belgian countryside on a beautiful day, with a shared plate of boulet-frites and a couple of delicious beers, as the bikes, horses, and afternoon walkers pass by.