Cheesy travel guides are always talking about “the hidden gem” of a certain area. Since I think I have yet to refer to anywhere as a hidden gem, I’m going to go ahead and say Belgium is the hidden gem of Western Europe. Let’s be honest; since most of you reading this are American, you probably don’t know much about Belgium. It’s okay, you can admit it. I myself didn’t know it was an independent country until somewhat??recently. Well friends, I’m here to tell you, not only is Belgium a country, but it is also one of the greatest countries in all the land.
However, our first night in Brugge was quite weird. We stayed with a couple that I would describe as hillbillies. The guy, Pascal, had yellow teeth and thinning hair. He looked like he was about 45, but he told us he was only 30. His girlfriend, Yannick, was pimply and boisterous. Their house was filled with old junk and had mold on the walls. I felt like I was in an episode of Hoarders. We went out for a drink with our hosts–or, rather, they invited themselves along with us. At the first bar we went to, the waiter came over to tell Yannick to be quiet. She was honestly the loudest person I’ve ever met. It was like that SNL skit where Will Ferrell can’t control the volume of his voice. Then, at the next place we went to, while Yannick and Pascal were talking to a friend, the waiter came over and told us, “I feel bad for you, that you are stuck here with her, because she is so loud!” At that point, we were also feeling sorry for ourselves, so we left and spent the rest of our time in Brugge avoiding our hosts.
But I digress. Brugge is an awesome place to visit, even if you’re sleeping in a disgusting house with loud rednecks. All the buildings in the historical center are brick and about four stories high. Only the church steeples and towers poke up past the??surrounding roofs. The chocolate is incredible. Switzerland is going to have a hard time winning the best European chocolate award.
After our short stay in Brugge, we went to Antwerp and stayed with Jeltse, the enthusiastic girl we met in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. Jeltse was??the best hostess, taking us on a walking tour of Antwerp and showing us all the sights and different??neighborhoods.??She made sure we ate good food, including waffles, fruit pies, stoofvlies, fries, and other things that I forgot the names of. We learned that what??us Americans typically call a Belgian waffle is actually more specific to Brussels.??The Belgian waffle that is popular all over the country is??smaller and has??chunks of sugar crystals??mixed in with the batter. Also, even though they’re called French fries, those delicious fried potatoes were (supposedly) invented in Belgium. (I can’t guarantee that’s true, but the Belgians definitely think it is.)
That night Jeltse and her friend Antony took us out for some good Belgian beers. Really, they’re all good. Belgium might just have the best beer in the world. Apparently the monks brewed them in the monasteries, and for whatever reason, their techniques were preserved and are still used today. Monks are still involved in production of some beers. Just like wine, certain beers have to follow strict regulations to earn the Trappist??appellation. The Belgians are also very particular about the type of glass??used, the temperature, and the??cleanliness of the tap. (Apparently, if the tap isn’t cleaned properly, you get a headache the next day. Again, I can’t guarantee the veracity of this claim.)
I think we would have enjoyed Belgium no matter what, but meeting up with Jeltse again really made our time there special. We had so much fun hanging out with her, learning about her country, and meeting her sisters. (Unfortunately, her parents were out of town, so we didn’t get to meet them.) I just wish we could have spent more time there! If we could do our trip over again, I would take time from France and add it to Belgium. At least we got a (delicious) taste of this great place!