Tag Archives: Belgium

First Snowfall of the Season

This is the continuation of a story about my trip to Belgium some eleven years ago…

My first full day in Bruges was the first snowfall of the season.

When I arrived at the hostel, no one was in the six person room, so I dropped my bags and headed out on my own to explore.

Bicycles are a huge part of the way of life in Belgium and a little snow didn’t stop the locals from riding their bikes through Bruges.

As I walked through the countryside, near the windmills high on the hills, I saw children and parents alike sledding down from the windmill starting point.

When I returned to the hostel later in the day, I went to the room to see if anyone was there that I could hang out with for the night. Funny enough, there were a brother and a sister. And they were from New Jersey. More specifically, from the town next to the town where a good friend of mine had grown up. Small world. Two Canadians soon joined and the five of us headed out into the snowy evening to sample Bruges finest beers.

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Belgian Food is more than Beer and Chocolate

During my time in Brussels, I remember visiting the Grand Place, the main square, the Mannekin Pis, a famous landmark (Google it!) and the inside of many bars and chocolate shops…Belgian beers and chocolates anyone?!

I saw many attractions but this post will be solely about food, which, let’s be honest, is an attraction within itself.

First, frites…you could get a paper cone filled with French fries, and before it was handed over, it would be topped with a big squirt of mayonnaise on it.

To some, including the boyfriend, it sounds disgusting when I tell this story, but I remember it being absolutely delicious! Perhaps I imbibed on too many Belgian beers but even sober it sounds delish!

Second, chocolate shops were everywhere. At the end of my trip I had some Belgian money remaining (this was before the Euro) and I just went to a chocolate shop in the train station, I gave the shopkeeper my money and together we filled a bag of chocolate for my train ride home. This served two purposes – getting rid of Belgian money and an edible souvenier.

Third, waffles…I only had them once but they were more of a waffle on the go rather than what we do here in the US, loading them up with fruits and sweets. I remember them being thinner and lighter.

Fourth, beer. The array of beers was incredible. Each beer would be poured in a specific glass with the brand label. The shape and size of the glass was created to ensure the best taste with that particular type of beer. I went into a shop and brought a few bottles and their respective glasses home with me. And not just to London, but these bottles (unopened) made it back to the States with me many months later.

Fifth, I wrote a post about Belgium about ordering fondue in a restaurant and out came mozzarella sticks. A pleasant surprise.

And two other points to note. I have written before about my McDonald’s currency exchange plan. Belgium was the only country where I never saw a McDonalds. Or a Starbucks.

A country known for fries, chocolate, waffles and beer…how could you go wrong in Belgium? Though as I write this post, I have to wonder how prevalent heart disease is in Belgium. Or the increased incidence found in travelers.


How I Picked Belgium, or rather, How the Travel Agent Picked Belgium for me

In December 2000, I was working in a small legal publishing office in London. I had only started the beginning of the month and was still getting to know everyone.

As December had progressed, we had holiday drinks, holiday lunches and a holiday party. If you are curious for the number of parties we had to celebrate, this was in 2000 and the start of economic troubles were not going to surface for a few more months.

In random conversations, officemates were asking one another what they were doing for the holidays. I simply assumed we had a long weekend. The day before the office closed, I found out it would be closed until the New Year.

Sidenote: Do you hear that US-based companies? Giving your employees the week off between Christmas and New Year’s is totally the way to do it.

I wasn’t expecting a visitor from the States for another week and most of my flatmates had gone home for the holidays. So, what’s a girl to do but get out of town for a few days!

After work that day, I promptly visited the closest student travel agency (my university ID did not have dates attended and since I had just graduated, I still looked just the same). I met with a lovely woman who was tending to my last minute travel needs and I told her that I had never been anywhere on the Continent except a long weekend in Paris with a friend just a few weeks before.

I was open to anywhere. I had three (or four), I can’t remember, days, I’d be traveling alone and anywhere would do.

She suggested Belgium via the Eurostar, and I said let’s book it! My early morning departure was booked for Boxing Day, the 26th of December and I only knew I needed to pack warm clothes.

I spent Christmas in my flat making a scrapbook of my time already spent in London from October til December. We did not have television and the internet was a commodity onlyy found at internet cafes, so I amused myself with the radio and my own creativity. Imagine that!

On Boxing Day, I left on my first solo trip to a place where I knew no one and I didn’t really know much about my destination except Belgian beer and Belgian chocolate…and already I was sold!


Boxing Day

Today is Boxing Day across the pond…and throughout the Commonwealth.

When I lived in London over Christmas of 2000, Boxing Day was like Christmas Day. Everything was closed. Which would be great if you had no plans.

Except that I had booked an early morning Eurostar train to Brussels, Belgium. At the time I lived in Battersea (just south of the Thames, and also where Prince Harry just visited the police department after a friend’s recent robbery).

I had to book a taxi and pay whatever Boxing Day holiday surcharge because the tube (subway) and trains were closed. The only way across the river would be to take a taxi or swim. I clearly chose the former.

And let’s be honest, had the tube or trains been running, my departure was so early that I probably would have paid the taxi anyway – remember, everything was closed, so no traffic, and I could sleep a little bit longer!

Once on the Eurostar, you would have never known it was a holiday. It was packed with people! I remember speaking with a fellow American who was en route to visit her boyfriend’s family. I had told her that after Brussels I was headed towards Luxembourg or Bruges, I did not know which. She had told me she had visited both and she highly recommended Bruges over Luxembourg.

I kept that info in my back pocket and did act on her advice.

After a day in Brussels, I bought a train ticket to Bruges for the following day.

Note: Bruges was AWESOME and ultimately became one of my favorite cities that I have discovered in Europe. Will elaborate about my experience in the wonderful city in future posts.


Translation Trouble

This has the potential to take a lot of the fun out of traveling!

Isn’t a big part of the fun not knowing?!

What about the time in Brussels where I ordered fondue and out came mozzarella sticks?!

Isn’t part of traveling trying things you don’t know?

I spent the good part of an hour at a cheese counter in a supermarket in Switzerland just trying different cheeses I had never heard of before. The person behind the counter even got a kick out of it.

Would you ever try centolla? Or are you afraid of the name? Because it’s actually crab legs. And I had them in Argentina. And they were yummy.

Of course there are times when this back fires. There was a trip to Italy. We were in a town called Greve in Chianti. The restaurant was full of locals and if there were any other tourists, they blended in just fine. The boyfriend decided to try the daily special. The daily special was an array of meat, meat so fresh, the plate had an overwhelming smell of wet dog. But to the restaurant, they were so proud. And to not insult, my boyfriend ate the better part of the plate. Every bite was chased by a gulp of water and a sip of wine. But he ate.

I should say my gnocchi, the other house specialty, was delicious and required no such chasers.


WHY leave?

This week’s WHY Wednesday questions why some travelers leave their comfort zone, only to eat foods that they are familiar with and know.

This was in the NYT and is crazy! The best part of traveling is eating like the locals…I don’t travel to faraway lands so I can eat cheese fries.

I have so many fond food memories from my travels but some of my favorites are getting freshly sliced cheese from a Swiss cheesemonger, spicy sausage on a roll with the local sauce in Bosnia and some unidentified tapas plate in Spain that the bartender sent over.

Personally, I’m not traveling just so I can eat something that I would eat after a night out at the bars when I was 22.

Eating while traveling is about finding a local market, tasting things on the menu you can’t get at home and being offered foods that you wouldn’t otherwise try. I ate fruits I never heard of in Costa Rica, I ordered fondue in Brussels only to find out that was actually mozzarella sticks and drank locally sourced milk at a market in Denmark!

Yes, sometimes there can be a negative experience. Like the time the boyfriend ordered the daily special in a small town in Tuscany and wound up getting a plate of fresh meat. So fresh, and chewy, in fact that he, a meat lover, had to follow each bite with a glass of water and a sip of wine. The place was small, and the staff attentive. Not wanting to insult, he finished most of the plate. I went with the pasta special of the day. Even now, years later, I remember how good my gnocchi and wine tasted. But he tried his, didn’t like it and didn’t insult anyone either and now we have a great story.

If something is on the table that you’ve never seen or tried, at the very least, take a bite! You’ll find yourself eating foods you wouldn’t have otherwise found!

Now the exception to this french fry story is ordering pommes frites in Belgium…you’ll need to get them topped with a few squirts of mayo, just like the locals!

Do you have any fond food memories? Feel free to post in the comments section.