First things first, Belgian food!
Did you know that French Fries had it humble beginnings in Belgium? Well, neither did I! So how did fries come to adopt “French” instead of “Belgian” to its name? The tale told among Belgians goes on like this…
During World War 1, American soldiers arrived in Belgium and tasted the deliciousness of its golden crispy fries. However, as french is the local language of the Belgian Army and the Americans didn’t know any better that they were in a country called Belgium and not France, they called it “French Fries”. French fries were soon introduced back to the US where it eventually made its global debut.
Upon visiting Brussels and Ghent, I realized how big of a deal fries is to the Belgian people. In almost every corner of the city you will find a store selling exclusively fries. Yes, just fries in all possible combinations of sauces fried in all different ways you can imagine!
Not only people consume fries alongside lunch and dinner, fries are also a popular snack during other times of the day. Served with an array of sauces; ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard and everything else you can imagine, fries remain a dietary staple to the Belgians. I could only eat so much fries so I moved on to the next Belgian food specialty – waffles. A sweet tooth like myself jumped at the chance to indulge in such decadent pursuit of sugar high. The two recognized types of waffles are the Brussels waffle and the Liege waffle; they have a subtle but notable difference. Brussels waffle are made with a lighter batter and is often eaten with toppings as the batter itself lacks any sugary taste.
Liege waffle, on the other hand is made with dough containing chunks of sugar that caramelizes into scrumptious deliciousness. To avoid looking like a tourist, never eat the Liege waffles with toppings because the sweetness of the waffle itself can already drive your glucose senses through the roof.
Belgium is indeed a wet country. On average, it rains 250 days annually. If you work better in percentages like I do, pick a totally random day and there is a 68.5% chance that it will rain. The rain is (fortunately) not torrential heavy rain but light drizzles instead, so you can technically still be outdoors provided that you are equipped with waterproof jacket with a hoodie and boots.
Side note #1 : The picture above is with the Manneken Pis, a famous sculpture of a young boy urinating which somehow became the landmark for Brussels city. The sculpture is so tiny and not worth all the fuss, in my honest opinion.
I had it lucky, on the six days I was in Belgium, it only rained three days (50%!). Its nice to beat the odds.
Side note #2 : If you are an interior design and garden landscape fan such as myself, make sure to pay a visit to the Van Buuren Museum about 30 minutes away from Brussels city. Its a house owned by Art Deco collectors, David and Alice Van Buuren that was declared a National Heritage site in 2001. Some other landmarks I was able to photograph in better conditions are…
Belgium assumed neutrality after signing a treaty in 1839 whereby it declared to take no sides of any upcoming wars. Due to its neutrality stance, Belgium became a popular destination for political exiles to take refuge. The most famous example is Karl Marx whom started the Marxist ideology which gave birth to communism. Ironically, Karl Marx wrote “The Communist Manifesto” whilst on exile in neutral Belgium, a feat that soon made him a nuisance to the Belgian authorities. As I walked through the central square of Brussels or “The Grand Place”, a tiny plaque on the side of one of the Art Noveau architectured house reads
Legend has it that Marx had pittance to his name when he lived in Brussels. This allowed his theoretical ideas to take on a practical reality since he had a firm grasp of poverty. Who knows, the world might be a very different place if Marx did not take refuge in Belgium, which gave rise to his seeding thoughts on communism…
Not really a Colonial Power..
Differing from its European counterparts, Belgium never boasted itself as a colonial power. When all of its neighbors were busy claiming far away lands in Africa, Asia and the Americas as their own, Belgium was too busy minding its own business. Well, except for that one time when Belgium decided that its international prestige needs some improvement so they colonized Congo in Africa. Maybe because Belgium has never colonized a country before so King Leopold II got a little too excited… The one time Belgium decides to colonize a country, it left a bloody trail of genocide and exploited Congo’s resources dry. King Leopold II’s reign was infamous for its mistreatment that it eventually became an international outcry, leading to Congo’s independence in the 1900s.
Bi-Lingualism…Yay or nay?
Due to its lack (almost non-existent) military power, it was the target of other power-hungry European states. Traces of this still lives in modern day Belgium where the official languages are both French and Dutch. All names of places have both French and Dutch names, which can be confusing especially when you speak neither the languages! For instance, the time when I was heading to Bruxelles Midi station for my train to Luxembourg. Typed in my destination on Google Maps and off I went for a 20 minute walk only to find myself in Brussels-Zuid station. It was then I questioned the reliability of Google Maps. Refusing to believe that Google Maps has failed me, I wandered around the station and then stumbled across two signs contradicting each other. In my confusion I asked a fellow next to me.
“Is this Brussels Midi or Zuid Station?”
He chuckled at probably a common mistake tourists make and replied
“Its the same thing. Midi is in French and Zuid is in Dutch”.
Pfftt. Usually when the names are in different languages, they are at least close enough to each other, like how the town Ghent is called Gent in Dutch and Gand in French. So beware, fellow travellers! If you speak neither French nor Dutch, prepare to be confused and slightly lost in translation in your first few days in Belgium. Luckily enough most people there spoke excellent English to help me through the confusion.
In conclusion, My favourite thing about Belgium: The unique history