Admit it, those are some of the first things, or even only things, you think of when you think of Belgium. Chocolates and beer are probably the predominant ones. Now, you wouldn’t be too far off, because chocolates and beer are part of the fabric that makes up this lovely little country north of France, but there are many, many threads that make up its intricate patterns.
I don’t know about you, but when I was an early and young wanderer, I used to plan my trips down to the T. I would spend hours’ worth of researching and reading reviews about museums and attractions, tips and advice to exploring this or that city. Eventually, though, I matured and gained wisdom about how travelling can be a much more relaxed and genuine experience.
Before planning our honeymoon, I knew nothing of Belgium. Zip, nada, zilch. All I knew were these three things:
1) Belgium was known for its chocolates and beer
2) There was a city called Bruges that was supposedly very beautiful
3) I had never been there, therefore, I HAD to go and explore (probably the biggest reason we went!)
We arrived in Brussels by train from Paris Nord, with no idea what to really expect, which, personally, I think is the best way to arrive in any new place! We were most enchanted and surprised
Sadly, I had a terrible stomach flu that prevented us from going out on our first day, but we greatly made up for it the very next day. We began with a free walking tour by Sandeman’s in the morning, in which we discovered so much about Belgium’s history and culture, all vividly and passionately told by our marvellous guide Charlie. We learned about the good, the bad, and the ugly. Interesting how little of history we all really learn in school, how selective and narrow…
I felt shocked and a bit ashamed that I never knew Belgium had a large Flemish-speaking population, and that French was not the only official language. However, I was more than pleased to be enlightened, after all, part of what makes travelling so enticing to the human soul is the knowledge you gain and the exposure to the new and unknown.
My husband and I greatly enjoyed our two and a half hour walking tour, getting glimpses and snippets of the deeply rooted history of the land and how it came to be as we see it today. I snagged an over-priced waffle, and my husband greatly enjoyed the pee boy, naturally.
Once the tour was over, we were hungry and ready for some belgian food!
Belgium is known for its fries (chips) and there is historical evidence to suggest that they should really be called Belgian fries, rather than French fries. Either way, Belgium takes pride in their fries, and our guide gave us his top fry house recommendation, which is a place called Georgette, which is on the street that branches off from Les Galleries du Roy.
No, seriously. They are beyond phenomenal! So good, they make you want to slap someone! The secret? They are fried in beef fat. Sorry, fellow veggie and vegan wanderers. Wayne and I loved them so much, we had another batch of them later that night!
After the walking tour was over, we wandered around and explored the city. We came across a chocolate shop with my name on it! Literally! Naturally, I couldn’t resist, so we went in and bought some delicious belgian chocolates!
Since we had been walking for hours on end, we did go back to the apartment for a little while to rest and freshen up before going on the Beer Tour.
The Beer Tour, which began at Scott’s, a pub just outside Les Galleries, was a fabulous opportunity to socialize and form relations with fellow travellers. They begin with the first beer tasting in the loft, where we are gathered in a circle, so already a more intimate and communal setting. We are given plenty of time to begin conversations, and our guide Charlie greatly encouraged it.
Belgium has some amazing beers, in fact, they are home to my most favourite beer of all time: Leffe Ruby. To my great heart-broken disdain, it is not sold back home in Canada. So I was very happy to have it again while I was in Europe, and you may have seen me post it on my Instagram!
After the first beer, the tour moves on to another pub, this one in particular is known to not sell Pepsi, coke or anything really other than beer or wine. Here we had 3 tastings, the first was a very bitter blonde beer, the second was a delicious dark beer with a hint of sweet, and the third was a very light-tasting blonde, but also a bit bitter.
At this point, the tour is just about over, and our guide is now to lead us to Delirium, which is a bar known for have hundreds upon hundreds of different beers on tap from all over the world. By now, everyone in the group has mingled and formed new smaller groups of friends. We met this lovely young German couple from Hamburg, Pia and Gendrick. There was also a man from New Zealand who was very difficult to understand (bless him!) and a lady from India named Betty. This made up the core people we sat and talked with for the next couple of hours, while I enjoyed my Leffe Ruby.
This was my favourite part of the night. A group of travellers, all different ages, backgrounds and from all corners of the globe, sitting together, laughing and chatting away. We talked about where we came form, what brought us to Brussels, places we loved, places we would like to go, what we did in our ‘real lives’, we talked a bit about weddings and marrying age (everyone was so surprised to find out Wayne and I were on our honeymoon!) and customs from our home towns, facial hair, and more! I’m pretty sure Betty made us laugh so hard we cried!
Making friends and human connections are such a vital part of life, and yet I find that sometimes we can get caught up with keeping to oneself, avoiding eye contact, never striking up a conversation, and never raising our eyes from the screens. Yes, the world is a dangerous and scary place, but there is so much beauty in it, and all it takes is some courage to drop down our guard and put ourselves out there just enough to realize that you do not have to be so afraid to open your arms and embrace the moments that would have never come otherwise, and which later you could never forget. Travelling reminds you of that, and it is so much easier to practice, especially when your comfort zone is practically non-existent.
We ended the night with some night shots of Grand Place, which as you can see, is even more beautiful than in the daylight! Thank you to our German friends who came along with us and took this great shot! (seen in our Slider gallery above)
This is our Brussels adventure in a nutshell, really. I was so sad that my illness had stolen a day from us, but was so thankful for this very full and enriching last day. I shall share about our day trip to Bruges in a future post.
If there is anything in particular about Belgium or Brussels you are curious about, ask my in a comment below! I’d love to share or help any fellow wanderer out. I certainly hope if you have never considered visiting Belgium before, that you will think twice about it now!