Give Belgium a chance

Belgium, as a country, is underrated. It has been underrated by the rest of the Western world for decades, especially those in most recent memory.

It’s time to start giving Belgians more credit, people.

Especially in the last century, Belgium has been seen by other Western powers as more of a pawn country than its own power to be feared. I’m not one to give history lessons online. However, if you have no idea what happened to Belgium in the first two World Wars (or skipped all of your HIST1002 classes), I suggest checking out this refresher article from Britannica.

Essentially, Belgium was invaded by Germany in both wars and then used as either No Man’s Land or the Western Front with little regard to its current government or population. There are a lot of folks alive during World War II still milling about, and the Belgian people have a long memory when it comes to occupation.

According to my City Sightseeing Tour in Brussels, Belgians are very proud of their current royal family and parliamentary monarchy system. I’m assuming this is especially because the country was literally without a government for 18 months in 2010-2011. Prior to the non-government, the country experienced governmental turmoil since 2007. Understandably, the new Cabinet system (and independence) is important to them.

Also understandably, as Belgians were able to just go without a government for over a year and were a pawn in both World Wars, folks in England view Belgium as a nice place to see techno concerts and that one place the EU meets rather than a legitimate, contributing Western power. As an American, I know I could barely point to Belgium on a map before this weekend, and had no idea their flag has the same colors as Germany’s, but the bands are vertical and in a different order.

However, despite my own ignorance, after only spending three days in the country, I found out that we underestimate Belgium.

The Top 5 Reasons Belgium is Underrated:

1) Gastronomy

This “Brussels” waffle from Waffle Factory is covered in melted Belgian chocolate and fresh whipped cream.

They may be simple “street foods,” but Belgians have taken frites, waffles and chocolate to an artistic level.

The best places to buy frites and waffles, according to locals in Brussels when asked, are on the street from stalls that sell them 24/7. The stalls may not look very appealing (“dodgy,” even), but those are the places that serve up Brussel’s best waffles and frites in a paper cone.

Frites, unlike the American French Fry, are supposed to be covered in sauce. Frites stalls will offer anything from curry sauce to mayonnaise.

There are two main types of waffles in Belgium, depending on where one buys the waffle. “Brussels” waffles are made of a more airy batter, and are thus lighter or fluffier. “Liege” waffles are more sugary and dense. There are dozens more waffle off-shoots which I was not fortunate enough to sample, such as savory waffles or waffle sandwiches.

Most humans who know anything about chocolate are familiar with Godiva chocolatiers. But, there are hundreds of Chocolatiers in Belgium, according to the Choco Story museum in Bruges. Belgians have been perfecting the art of chocolate-making for centuries, and are especially fond of “pralines,” or filled chocolates, which they claim to have invented. Regardless of who invented the praline, they come in thousands of varieties and are just as delicious as waffles.

2) Culture

Belgians often combine cultural items to make statements, such as these chocolate mock-Euro coins sold at the EU’s Parliamentarium.

Bruges, in Belgium’s region of Flanders, was listed as the Cultural Capital of Europe in 2002 and the historic medieval center of Bruge was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000.

Brussels alone has dozens of museums dedicated to various arts, and is also the central location for the European Union, which makes Belgium not only historically cultural, but home to many international cultures as well. Thanks to past colonialization and strict regional divides, each Belgian region has a distinct culture as well, complete with cultural nuances like language, artworks and food.

Belgium is home to many masters of classical and modern art, which is evident throughout the hundreds of museums in the country.

3) Beer

Barbar is just one example of Belgium's many "other" classification beers.
Barbar is just one example of Belgium’s many “other” classification beers.

Maybe it’s because I’ve lived in Milwaukee for so long. But I appreciate a place that appreciates its beer.

According to those at Have de Mann Brewery in Bruges, Belgians love beer so much they have three types: 1) Noble/Trappist (made by Monks), 2) Abbey (made with recipes from Monks) 3) Everything Else, which can have dozens of classifications, including “white,” “trippel” (with alcohol content up to 12%), “ale” and “pils,” among others.

There are far too many Belgian beers available for one to try in a three-day visit. However, bartenders and servers are proud to serve local craft beers (just like in Milwaukee) and will spend time with you to find a beer that suits your taste, whether that may be strawberry beer or a dark ale.

International and large breweries are denoted with the Belgian crest, while local and family-owned breweries mark bottles with the Belgian flag. I have yet to taste the difference between either kind, but after visiting the Maes’ family brewery in Bruges, I have a sneaking suspicion more love goes into the smaller brews.

4) Architecture

Bruges' bell tower has existed in some capacity since the Middle Ages, and currently stands as a symbol of Belgian and regional autonomy and pride.
Bruges’ bell tower has existed in some capacity since the Middle Ages, and currently stands as a symbol of Belgian and regional autonomy and pride

While Bruges’ architecture has been chided by other Beglian cities for being fake (as most of its medieval charm is re-created charm), Brussels and Bruge had a cornucopia of Architecture worthy for any tourists’ visual feast.

5) Hospitality

Belgian people are nice. Genuinely nice, even, not “fake nice,” like your ex-best-friend from Middle School. The City Sightseeing Tour of Brussels joked to stand on a street corner with a map, and within seconds a Belgian will come to your rescue. Forgetting such joke, I was lost on a street corner with a map, and I think it took about 2.4 seconds for a young Belgian man to help me, in English, un-ironically and without sarcasm.

Hostel-owners, restaurant owners, and even the man serving you frites are all nice. It was a bit unnerving coming from London where people glare at you if you actually make eye contact with them on the Tube, or France where our obvious “Americanness” is enough to be scoffed at.


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