So, you’ve heard Belgium is boring, eh? This little country that houses the Commission, the Counsel and (unofficially, but c’mon) the Parliament for the European Union, eh? Interesting. When we moved into our rectangular, little flat in Brussels a year ago, we had no idea what to expect. Quickly enough, we learned just how complicated they prefer to operate here. Welcome to Belgium! Now, go wait in line.
After you find a place to live in Brussels, register with your respective commune (it’s sorta like a neighborhood, but more official). A policeman will come to your home and verify that you in fact do live where you say. It’s a little intimidating, but they’re nice enough about it. It’ll probably take you months to get your ID card, if you’re lucky. Took us eight months of correctly standing in line, providing all and more paperwork, and using whichever particular language in which the attendant preferred to speak. You see, Belgium has three national languages – French, Dutch and German. And the three are rarely mixed, so don’t make the mistake of speaking French to someone from Flanders, the Northern part of Belgium who instills laws that you must speak Flemish in their parts. Just don’t do it. How do you know if a person is from Flanders, you ask? You don’t, until they start speaking. Let’s just call that the fun part.
So, now that we’re legally registered and have developed this mix of Fremish so that no one gets violent with you, you want to explore your new city. We’re home to the biggest ball monument, the Atomium, and the grandest of grand squares, aptly named Grand Place. Manneken Pis, that little peeing statue who has a bigger wardrobe than your whole family, lives nearby. You won’t go far without smelling the sweet, sweet aroma of Belgian waffles. Give in. They’re delicious. There are also two kinds of Belgian waffles that many outsiders aren’t aware of: the Brussels waffle, which is a rectangular shape and topped with powdered sugar, or topped with sugar, chocolate, whipped cream and strawberries if you want to go out all stereotypical tourist; and the Liege waffle, which is made with sugar cubes inside the batter and thrown into the waffle maker – these are a favorite in our household. Did I mention that waffles are an afternoon snack type of food here? Because that’s important. After desert, try fries a la mayonnaise for dinner. That’s another competition all in itself – which friterie is the best friterie in town? We’re here to tell you (unfortunately unsponsored) Frite Flagey, and we’re standing by it.
Don’t worry, you’ll walk it all off oogling the historic buildings and questioning why there is all of a sudden a big glass, supposed-to-be modern building butting up next to the ornate 1607 one. Brussels sold its soul. Kind of. The EU needed some place to house the capital and Brussels won the honor because it was probably the only country that would let them knock down centuries old buildings to make room. I bet France laughs at this. Anyway, we get to be the capital. Not that we’ve seen anything that would indicate that Brussels is the capital except for the glass buildings, the brigades of diplomat vehicles clogging up the streets and RyainAir flights til your hearts content…if you want to make the trek out to Charleroi, which is farther than you think.
I feel like I’ve gone a bit ranty about the Belgian hardships, but, like a local told me the other day when she threw her empty solo cup at my feet – ‘it’s just the way we live here in Belgium.’ And it’s true. It won’t ever change, except collect more fix- it patches, so we drink the beer and gorge on the chocolates and catch flights to Italy like it’s our job, so we can remember the bureaucracy CAN be worse. Good thing we are also the home to a quaint little town called Spa, which is indeed the birthplace of the idea of spas. Ahhh, relaxing, indulgent spas. There’s also Dinant nearby, birthplace of the saxophone, and Oostende, # 1 water birth center in the world. We like to keep it diverse. While you’re here, check out the canals in Ghent which are totally different than the famous (thank you gruesome In Bruges movie), Bruges. Both lovely. Antwerp isn’t far off either, the diamond capital of the world.
It’s a quirky, little corner of the world and your new home will soon enough prove that it’s anything but boring.