One small country with one enormous story. A history steeped in red, bearing witness to war throughout the centuries. Somewhat frozen in medieval time, reminding the world of days that helped build our modern doorsteps. For the current world, Belgium has brought us such cultural delights as the Belgian waffle, Belgian beer and my personal favorite Belgian chocolate.
I am excited to announce that I will be adventuring to Belgium in May of this year. Belgium holds a personal connection of its own to my country and province, being a place where grandfathers have perished and battled not so long ago. I am hoping to enjoy a trip filled with history and deliciousness. Oh and maybe a few surprises along the way.
So in loo of my impending journey, I am overjoyed to have had the chance to interview Yolaine from Jolijnslittleadventures. She has shared so much helpful information about her country with me, and it has further inspired me to see it for myself. If you’re wondering what the attraction to this little slice of the world may then wonder no more. Thank you Yolaine for sharing with ScaleSimple!
Can you tell us about the country you were born? Where is it? What is it like there? The negative? The Positive?
My home country, Belgium, it is one of the smaller ones in Europe. However, we do have about 11 million inhabitants, which makes the whole of Belgium quite densely populated. Of course, it’s nothing compared to China or India. Just think of Belgium as a small, cosy country with a fair bit of people. And a fair bit of differences as well.
For a country this small, we sure know how to make things complicated. For example, we have five different governments ruling over Belgium, three native languages (mine is Dutch), and generally the different parts of the country (mine being Flanders) always find something to disagree on. (So maybe you can add “odd” to the small and cosy.) But there’s one thing that unites us. Our love for food and drink, and not just any food and drink. Drink wise I am of course referring to our beer. Foodwise, I could never live without our chips (fries for the Americans), our waffles, our speculoos (a sort of gingerbread biscuit that also comes as a breakfast spread), and of course our chocolate!
If I just landed in your home country, what are 5 things I should go and do?
If you would find yourself in Belgium, make sure you visit Bruges! It is very touristy, but so worth it as it’s like walking around in a medieval postcard. Even though the city is quite small to European standards, I can easily spend a whole week exploring without seeing everything. It’s quite close to our seaside as well and there are some good cycling routes around the countryside too.
Make sure you try our beer. Yes, also for those who don’t like beer, I can promise you, you will find one in Belgium that will take your fancy. We do all sorts of beers, from very hoppy ones to fruit beers and even non-alcoholic ones. My favourite:Tripel Karmeliet. I can’t explain it. Just try it!
Also try our waffles, but don’t get tricked by the other tourists around you. Most of them will have a waffle with banana and whipped cream or strawberries and chocolate sauce. Wrong! We have two kinds of waffles: the Liège waffle and the Brussels waffle. The Liège waffle is the one you can by on the streets, and that’s the one that goes without stuff! You just put a napkin around it and eat it on the go. The Brussels waffle is the one you can order in restaurants, with as many toppings as you like. If you’re gonna try one, try the Liège one. It’ll blow your mind.
And have a Belgian breakfast! It consists of all sorts of sweet stuff. Chocolate breakfast buns, sandwiches with chocolate sprinkles or one with our gingerbread spread.
One last thing you might not think of: listen to the Belgian radio stations, for example, Studio Brussels. Apart from the usual commercial music, we also have a lot of local artists who sing in English and to me, it is still a mystery how they are not more famous.
What are some places in Belgium that you have traveled that you would recommend visiting by someone who has never been there? Why should we travel there?
If you want to get a good feeling of what Belgium is like, visit the smaller towns, like for example Leuven. It is the oldest university town in Belgium and really the whole town consists of the university. It’s tiny but makes for the perfect day trip. And it also has a really nice market square to go for drinks in the evening if you decide to spend the night.
Our seaside can also have its charm. Especially when you go to De Haan. The architecture is so different from the rest of the seaside (mostly consisting of grey apartment blocks), the houses look as if someone plucked them straight off an Austrian skiing slope and planted them right next to our coastline. And the sea itself is an 180degree view of the dark sea, lined all the way by a sandy beach. I prefer to avoid summer, though because it gets so awfully busy. Try autumn, it might be chilly and windy, but it’s perfect to go watch the waves and lose your worries in the wind.
Belgium isn’t famous for its nature, since everything we have you can usually find bigger in other countries. The Netherlands and Germany have similar dune landscapes, France and Germany have our forests and hills, The Netherlands again has we stretched out flatness. But if you do fancy some nature, go down south to the Ardennes, to me still the best place in our little country to go for a decent hike.
What are some local foods that you would recommend for a traveler to try?
Well I think I already covered those, food being a big part of the Belgian identity. One thing that I find a shame is that there aren’t really a lot of good Belgian restaurants anymore. We have wonderful Italian pastas, Japanese sushi, Greek mezze, we have stir fries and couscous, and they are all more and more prominent in the Belgian household. To eat a proper Belgian dinner, you’re gonna have to look really well for that one Belgian restaurant left in town, or find some locals to go dine with. My top three Belgian dishes: 1. Belgian Endive in ham, topped off with a béchamel sauce and grilled cheese. Serve with a fresh salad and bread or mash. 2. Hutsepot, a dish with Brussels sprouts, bacon and sausages, potatoes and chicken stock 3. Belgian beer stew with chips and mayo.
Are there any places in Belgium you would not recommend for a traveler to go? Why?
If you don’t have a lot of time, you can easily skip Brussels. Don’t get me wrong, our capital has a lot of different aspects that you might find super interesting, but to me, it’s not very Belgian, it’s more European.
I also haven’t said much about the southern part of the country. That’s not because it’s not worth it, but simply because I don’t know much about it. It might strike you as odd, since the country is so small, but really Belgians stick to their own region.
What would you recommend as the best way to travel around the country? Train? Bus? Car? Bike? Why?
You can do everything, but just don’t travel by car. Our traffic jams are the worst of the whole of Europe and we have a whole load of weird traffic rules. We have very decent train connections and since the distances are so small, you could even opt for a cycling holiday! Cycling in Belgium is almost as big as in the Netherlands, so you’ll find many wide cycle lanes to keep you safe and comfy.
Is there a certain time of year that is better for traveling to Belgium? Why? What is the weather like during the spring months? The Summer months? The fall months?
This might be one of the downsides of Belgium. Our weather is crap. Very similar to the English weather if that rings a bell: very moderate summers, also moderate winters, and of course it can rain every single day. Our summers are sometimes nice and if you’re lucky even hot (which in Belgium means 30 degrees Celsius), but also very often rainy. Our winters we hardly ever get any snow, usually just rain. (Except in the south of the country, you might even get some cross-country skiing done there!) There’s not really a perfect season, just dress accordingly and always bring a raincoat. And be prepared for the grim outlook: not all our cities have a lot of green, so when the skies turn grey it doesn’t matter what the season is, it’ll look daunting.
Can you explain briefly what it means to be Belgian? What makes Belgians different from other Europeans? What are some unique facts about Belgium and its people?
I think Belgians are very much a melting pot. For some things we resemble the French a lot, like the Burgundy lifestyle and our love for bread and cheese. For others we resemble The Netherlands and Germany, like our traditions such as Carnival and Saint Nicholas. Even our native languages are the ones of our neighbouring countries. What makes us different, is of course the fact that we are so proud to nevertheless be our own weird little country, having come together in our shared history. Even though we share almost everything with our neighbours, we still are the odd Belgians that may have different accents, like our bread even more than the French, have our own traditions within Carnival and Saint Nicholas. And when you meet a Belgian when being abroad, we are always instant friends, no matter if they speak French and you speak Dutch and their friend speaks German.
What are three things that make you proud to be from Belgium?
Our beer and chips. And the fact that we’re so tiny there aren’t a lot of prejudices against our country. (Although lately, we have been in the news quite negatively.) Tourists can really make up their own minds about us and so far, I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t liked it! We like to surprise you 🙂
What is on your travel bucket list?
I still want to visit so many places, preferably not just visit but even live there for a little while. But this is my top three: New-Zealand, Namibia, and Iceland. In road trip and hike style.
Would you like to be interviewed and featured on The Chatting Compass?
If you have any suggestions for questions to ask our Chatting Compass bloggers please let me know in the comment section below… Stay tuned for next weeks post, which will now be featured on Tuesdays.