I feel sorry for Belgium. Squeezed in between its three big neighbours (France, Germany and the Netherlands), this tiny country often gets overlooked on the main tourist trail. Apart from Bruges, or “fucking Bruges” as Colin Farrell so poetically nicknamed it in the movie “In Bruges”, few people venture further inland to discover the true beauties of this nation. The reason for this is that Belgium is considered “boring”! Belgium boring, really? How can you call a country boring when it has all this to offer:
1. Award winning festivals
Belgium has the coolest festivals! Did you know that during the summer you can attend a different festival EVERY SINGLE WEEKEND? Take Tomorrrowland for example: it’s the largest electronic music festival held IN THE WORLD! It reaches over 200.000 attendees and has won the title of “Best Music Event” in the “International Dance Music Awards” three times! Take a look at this video: now does that seem like a party or what?
If you are not into dance festivals, no worries! For the rock music fans amongst us, Belgium hosts its own annual equivalent of “Glastonbury”. It is called “Rock Werchter” and has won several awards for “Best festival in the world”! In 2015 the headliners were Foo Fighters, Pharrell Williams, Lenny Kravitz, Muse, …
Right, where do I start? There are over 800 varieties of beer in Belgium. Yes, you read that right, 800! Beer in Belgium is not just a frothy beverage, it is CULTURE! Need proof? Every single beer is served into its own glass (if it’s not, it’s not a good bar!) and almost every Belgian will be able to tell you the right beer for the right occasion. For example “pils” is drunk at a party or when you don’t feel inspired. White beer and “Kriek” (cherry beer) are great for relaxing on a sunny terrace and “Trappist beer” is best drunk in a combination with cheese and deep conversations! Try some of them but go gently, some of the most famous ones have an alcohol percentage of 9%!
3. In Belgium monks not only pray, they also make beer!
Belgium used to be a pretty religious country. But things seem to have evolved. The few monks that are still left are now responsible for some of the best beers! The “Trappist” beers are beers that are still made inside the walls of a monastery! One of the beers, Westvleteren, can actually only be bought at the monastery! You can’t find any in the shops, nope, you have to drive all the way to the monastery and it’s only available after you made a reservation! How cool’s that?
Yes, Bruges is very pretty and photogenic, but if you want my opinion (and since you’re reading this, I assume you do), you should go to Gent instead! Where Bruges has more a museum feeling, Gent is one of the most lively and hip cities of the country! It is also the third most vegetarian-friendly city in Europe! And there are just as much, if not more, medieval buildings to admire than in Bruges! If you don’t believe me, take Lonely Planet’s word for it: in their 2011 edition of “Best in Travel”, Gent was nr 7 on the “cities to visit” list!
Let’s face it, Belgium is the highlight of surrealism! The country is the size of Maryland in the USA or 1.5 times the size of Wales in the UK, but boy do they know how to complicate things! One language isn’t enough for this country, no it needed three! The north speaks Flemish (similar to Dutch), the south speaks French and a tiny part of the east speaks German. This leads to three different names for exactly the same city, e.g. Liège (French)=Luik (Flemish) =Lüttich (German)! And according to this pic, you should follow a different direction to the same place, according to the language you speak! 🙂 So how does this country manage to function properly, you ask? It doesn’t really, which brings us straight to number 6!
6. The country without a government
In 2010 Belgium had its four-yearly general elections. The result was so fragmented that it took 589 days (yes, that’s over a year and a half!!!) to form a government! Belgium even beat Iraq on this point! Now, you’d think that this would result in a lot of violent protests or riots in the country, but no, instead Belgians decided to hold a “fries revolution”. To commemorate the honour of being so long without a government, thousands of people were treated free Belgian fries in eight different cities across the country. Fries were the symbol of the protest, cause fries are what keeps the country together after all! Surreal you said? Yes indeed!
7. Comics are an artform
Who has never heard of “The Adventures of Tintin”, the young Belgian reporter, assisted by his faithful fox terrier Snowy? And did you know that the Smurfs and Lucky Luke are Belgian too? Comics are serious business in Belgium! In the capital of Brussels there’s a whole museum dedicated to the art! Or how about following the “Comic Book Route” around Brussels? It brings you across several neighbourhoods and murals depicting numerous cartoons.
8. The heart of Europe
Belgium is called “the heart of Europe”, because a lot of European institutions have their headquarters in Brussels. And although this might not be very excited on its own, it does create a huge international community! In 2012, a study showed that over 180 nationalities lived in Brussels alone! Meaning you can have a Brazilian cocktail for a starter, an Italian meal for a main and Moroccan sweets for dessert all within a few miles apart!
9. Capital of fashion
Late 80’s-beginning 90’s, 6 Belgian fashion designers put the city of Antwerpen on the fashion scene! Dries Van Noten, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dirk Bikkembergs, to name but a few, gained huge popularity on the international catwalk! Antwerpen has since then been nicknamed “Belgium’s capital of fashion”. But it’s not just the famous brands that you can score here! Antwerpen is also known for its edgy character and the “Kammenstraat” houses a fair amount of underground, punk and vintage shops!
10. A progressive, broad-minded nation
Belgium has legalized euthanasia in 2002, gay marriage in 2003 and adoption for same-sex couples has been legalized since 2006! Belgium boring? I don’t think so!
Have you been to a country that is wrongly perceived? Looking forward to read your comments!