First of all, how can a country famous for so much good food (hello, waffles and fries) and drink (hi, beer) also be so beautiful? It’s a chicken-and-egg question of which inspired which.
My Belgian adventures began in Bruges, which you see here as viewed from the top of the belfry. 366 claustrophobic steps to gorgeousness!
This is the belfry itself.
The city is known as the Venice of the North, because PRETTY:
A market! Don’t mind if I do. And I always do.
I picked up some fuel for belfry climbing, which is made out to be a bit of an ordeal but wasn’t at all, even for me and my legs, which have the strength of mushy noodles.
The Markt, the heart of the city.
If I see a museum dedicated to frites, Imma go to there. As if this guy weren’t reason enough…
…I learned all sorts of cool stuff about potatoes. For example:
I did not see a waffle museum, but I did see this, and then I ate it.
This is Carbonade Flamande–Flemish stew. It’s a lot like boeuf bourguignon, but made with beer instead of wine. Definitely putting it on a mental “to-recreate” list for winter! Fun bonus: in Belgium, you get to eat stew with fries.
There is a giant beer wall in Bruges, displaying all the Belgian beers. I counted about a dozen I had tried, which is obviously only a tiny fraction. I made it my mission to sample more and did not waste any time.
De Halve Maan is the only public brewery in Bruges, but I skipped the tour and went straight to tasting.
Brugse Zot, a dubbel and a pale blond: that’s what’s on tap. This brewery also makes Straffe Hendrik beer, at least one variety of which is barrel-aged. I met a Dutch beer enthusiast in Antwerp who told me that barrel-aging beer originated in America. Well, color me proud! It makes sense, of course, but I had never thought about it.
Also, by this time on my trip, I had perfected the art of riding out heavy rainstorms. (I had to, because I refused to buy an umbrella and have yet another THING weighing me down, you know?)
Basically it consists of this, alternating between beer, espresso and mineral water:
Bourgogne des Flandres, a delicious lambic-infused bruin, tasted a lot like a Belgian sour a local brewery makes down the street from where I live, which only reaffirmed my love for good old Great Basin. I love how enjoying a beer at a Bruges square made me so grateful for something I have at home. And yet another example of just how much American craft brewers are killing it!
My next stop was at Gent. However, I loved Gent so much I’m dedicating a whole post to it.
Then: Antwerp. This is the Antwerpen Centraal train station: by far the most impressive I have ever seen.
Cathedral of Our Lady. Construction began in 1352 and the cathedral was supposed to have two spires, but remains unfinished. That’s 661 years of “whatever, it kinda looks good anyway.” (Also 661 years of all kinds of trouble from fires, Protestants and French revolutionaries.)
You can take a rather long pedestrian tunnel to cross the Scheldt river for this view, which I bet is even prettier at night. Antwerp has a really lively nightlife and just generally seems like a bonkers place to go out. At dinner, I saw a rowdy group of fellows at the bar across the street. One of them was wearing a bright blue shiny spandex bodysuit and an electric-blue wig and was asking female passersby to sign his bodysuit with a Sharpie. I assumed it might be a bachelor party, but who knows? It might have just been a regular old Saturday in Antwerp.
The local brew is De Koninck. I enjoyed this in a bar with a median clientele age of at least 70, and it was awesome.
Of course, I couldn’t leave the country without my share of moules and frites.
Now, this! This is interesting. It’s a Broodje Martino–a broodje is a Dutch sandwich essentially, with many many variants. This particular one, a Martino, consists of spiced raw ground beef, referred to as “filet americain” locally, for mysterious reasons, topped with chopped onion, pickles and hot sauce.
I liked it, but I suspect it’s largely because hot sauce and pickles are the way to my heart. I don’t know how I feel about the raw beef paste, but I’m glad I gave it a shot.
Up next, as mentioned above, is Gent! Be prepared for serious gushing.