In all honesty, how could I have possibly had a bad experience in a country that is notorious for its waffles and its chocolate? Needless to say, I was beyond looking forward to indulging myself in these local delicacies. However, after spending a few days in Belgium (in both Antwerp and Brussels), I can definitely say that even though the food was a major factor, it was the places I saw and the experiences I had that placed Belgium on my list of favorites.
During our first day in Belgium, I traveled with two of my SAS friends on an hour train ride to Brussels. We spent much of our time wandering the city by foot and saw some truly beautiful buildings, monuments and parks. There was one park specifically that I loved, where we found an adorable gazebo and a gorgeous water fountain. I also found this park rather humorous because it was where EVERYONE went to run – I saw little kids, men and women my age, and some exceedingly older people running the path on the outer perimeter. It was what I would imagine a completely unorganized marathon to look like.
We also stumbled upon a quirky street market where locals came to sell handmade goods. There were stands with jewelry, ceramic animal figurines, and customized wooden pens and pen cases (so random!). But it was also in Brussels that I began to realize just how delicious the food is in Belgium. I devoured my share of waffles (drizzled in Belgian chocolate with fruit and vanilla bean ice cream of course), Duvel, Stella Artois, and fries – which are a Belgian creation not French! After all, there’s no calorie counting when we’re in port! Haha
The parents of one of the friends that I was traveling with actually lived in Brussels for a period of time before she was born, so while we were there, the three of us set out to visit the neighborhood in which their old house still stands. It definitely made her day to go there, but I also enjoyed seeing a section of suburban Brussels complete with small cottage-like houses.
While in the port city of Antwerp, which is where our ship docked, we journeyed through a maze of charming narrow cobblestone streets that were lined with cute little shops and cafes. We also ventured to the oldest zoo in the world and walked past shiny store fronts of many diamond merchants. Just as in Germany, the use of bicycles as a mode of transportation was prevalent. We also found out very quickly that many people in Belgium speak English, so with the lack of a difficult language barrier (such as in Russia), it was easy to communicate with locals. But one thing that we had to get used to was the widespread acceptance of smoking cigarettes in public places such as restaurants and bars. Although we had a few drizzly days in Antwerp, I was prepared with my trusty rain jacket (another thing that I’m grateful my mother insisted that I buy for the trip) so the rain didn’t affect my time there. 🙂
On one of our nights out, we went to a nightclub named Noxx, where we had SUCH a great time. There were many SAS students there (when we come to town, we take over) but there were locals there too. They mostly played American music but much of it was older songs. We could not stop laughing when Will Smith’s Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song sounded through the speakers because it was so strange to hear at a club, but we loved it just the same. The only thing we weren’t crazy about was that the European concept of paying to use the bathroom was even commonplace inside the club! Although Antwerp also had a red light district, it was very different from the one that we saw in Germany since it was strictly strip clubs and brothels with women posing in windows. Therefore, we did not spend any time there.
The metro systems in Belgium were also very easy to use. The Antwerp lines were based on an honor system (just as they were in Germany) but they were also only two or three cars long, which was weird for us to see when we’re so used to the long trains in the NYC Subway system. Nevertheless, we got a taste of home with the Brussels metro, where we were required to swipe our tickets through a turnstile before making our way to the trains below.
All of the experiences that I had in Belgium truly amounted to an amazing time, which is why (as I mentioned before) this country has made it to my list of favorites. 🙂
*If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium is a 1969 romantic comedy about a group of Americans that take a guided tour through Europe. We watched this film on our cabin televisions before we arrived in Belgium. The craziness that took place during the film and the main theme song left us laughing for days after viewing it and has since then became a silly memory for my friends and me from the voyage.