September 7, 2011

What I Like About You (Belgium)

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:36 pm by newsurroundings

My husband and I have lived in Belgium for a year now and there is a lot to like about this little country.  Here are my top 10 favorite things (in no particular order):

1.  Biking.  There are miles and miles of trails and bike lanes along most roads.  There are even stop lights just for bikes.  Belgium is very bike-friendly, meaning cars almost always yield to bikers.  You have to be careful, but I usually feel safe even with the traffic.

2. Bakeries (called Brood and Bankets) on almost every corner.  When they’re closed, there’s always the bread vending machine stocked with freshly baked loaves of bread-even at the gas stations!

3. Chocolate shops everywhere- Neuhaus, Leonidas, Del Ray, Corbello- to name a few of the best.  Belgium produces 220, 000 tons of chocolate per year.  Believe it or not, I don’t actually eat much chocolate, but when I get a craving, it’s always close by and it’s the best.  It’s just nice to look at too, always displayed so nicely in the shops.

Kevin and Erin picking out their favorites at Leonidas

4. Outdoor markets every week of the year- offering fresh flowers, produce, meats and just about everything else you can think of.  Our town, Brasschaat, has a market every Monday and it’s just fun to load up my bike bag with fresh produce and flowers and enjoy the atmosphere while snacking 0n a waffle or chicken wings.

5. Kasteels (castles).  I think all Americans like castles since we don’t have them in the U.S., unless you count the Disney ones, which of course, don’t count.  There are more castles per square mile than any other country.  They are not so big, as in some other countries, but are very pretty.

Kasteel van Brasschaat

6. The food!  Belgium has the highest density of Michelin star-rated restaurants in Europe.  It has been said that you can’t get a bad meal in Belgium, and from my experience, that is true.  I especially love to try the Flemish specialties, like Asparagus the Flemish way (white asparagus with chopped hard-boiled egg mixed with herbs, butter and lemon on top), or Stoofvlees (beef stew), and my favorite, Koniginnepasteitje (a puff pastry with chicken and little meatballs smothered in a yummy creamy sauce).

Asparagus the Flemish way

7.  Proximity to other countries- France, Germany, Netherlands, and Luxembourg are all accessible within a few hours driving time.  London is just an hour away by air or a few hours by train.  Belgium’s location is ideal for seeing Western Europe and beyond.

8. English-speaking people.  Although the primary language here is Dutch (actually Flemish, which is a dialect of Dutch), most people are fluent in English and don’t seem to mind speaking it.  Belgium has three official languages- Dutch, French, and German.  Kids learn English primarily from the radio, TV, and music.

9.  Waffles and Fries!  Ok, I’ve already mentioned food several times, but these two deserve to have a line of their own.  As for the waffles, there are 2 different kinds, both equally delicious.  There is the Liege waffle, a square, doughy, and sweet waffle, and the Brussels waffle, which is lighter and crispier and often comes served with toppings.  The fries are served primarily with mayonnaise, which is actually better than I expected.

10. Belgian beer- I’m not a beer drinker myself, but my husband and son appreciate it and, of course, no list about Belgium would be complete without it.