Belgium is so beautiful and picturesque it makes you angry. You’re mad that the entire earth doesn’t look like this, that your parents ever told you fairy tales aren’t real, or that modern-ness has taken over in your home town/state/country. Right outside the bustling city of Brussels, the modern high rises and businesses and other elements fall away. Instead, there are rolling hills dotted with grazing cows, napping sheep, and random Snow-White approved cottages claiming the surrounding land. I almost lost my mind when I saw a gorgeous purebred horse napping under a 13th century windmill, right next to yet another idyllic little cottage
Going to Belgium is like stepping into a childhood fairy tale. There’s spooky woods, lone little cabins, winding, crystal clear rivers, and lush grassland as far as they eye can see. There’s geometrical backyard gardens with cute little breakfast nooks; the castles, moats, and guard posts are still intact.
My sister and I traveled to the smaller, iconic city of Burges (pronounced luge) to the east. In case you’ve ever seen In Bruges with Colin Farrell (a great movie and the reason we came to Belgium) you understand somewhat how awesome this city is. The center point of Bruges’s city ‘square’ is a big statue, which opens up into a giant circle skirted with sidewalk cafes, restaurants, and shops. The other big points are two museums littered with flags on top and, of course, the ginormous bell tower from In Bruges. Everything in Europe is bigger and older than you could ever expect them to be – and the belfry is no different.
We climbed the belfry, with its inexplicably steep ‘European stairs’ that we had to crawl up of more than climb. It stops off at several levels – the first has an almost thousand-year-old chest with over a dozen locks that modern technology hasn’t managed to open. Its contents are unknown, and the city decided to leave it be. There’s also some historical facts and pictures, and an absolutely spectacular view from the top. You can see Bruges and beyond from every angle – an endless sea of red-roofed houses and little chimney stacks dotted with green trees. Every few clusters of buildings there’s a smaller gothic church with its own proud bell tower.
Weabsolutely loved Burges. It’s hard not to fall in love with its well-kept cottage-like buildings, cobblestone streets, boutiques and shops. The locals are friendly, speak English and adorable; most ride their bikes around to work and back with baguettes and groceries in hand. Of course, Belgians are known for their chocolate – and it is freakin AWESOME. We loved Duvalier’s, a family-owned storefront close to our hotel that makes their truffles (some with Stevia) each and every morning. While most raspberry truffles are gooey, theirs was a raspberry-ish mousse that was somehow fluffy and creamy at the same time. Belgian chocolates blew See’s and Ghiradelli’s and everything else I’ve ever had out of the water. It made Hershey’s taste like cardboard.
We dined on traditional Flemish food, such as onion soup, Flemish stew with beef or rabbit (I know, sad) and pickled herring. I broke my vegetarian-ness and had some (or a lot) of the pickled herring, which is my favorite fish in existence. It’s disgusting, but I could eat an entire jar of pickled herring. Having it fresh was an otherworldly experience! (Yes, I know I’m gross). The onion soup was similar to its French counterpart, except that there was a teeny cracker of bread and a tiny bit of cheese than similar soups I’ve had at home. The stew was good – my dad got me to taste a little rabbit – and would’ve been awesome with just veggies and rice too.
We also had the European French Fry Experience. My friend urged us to try ‘Belgian Fries’, which are freshly cooked up fries topped with curry ketchup (yum!) and garlic mayonnaise (GROSS). I absolutely hate mayonnaise. After we ordered, the fries only had a little scoop of curry ketchup and a generous scoop of nasty, oily, yucky mayonnaise. I ate the fries. And….I loved them. I ate as little mayo as I could manage, but I was kinda grossed out by how much I liked them.
If you ever want to go to Snow White’s neighborhood, or eat the best chocolate on the planet, I suggest you go to Belgium.Being there felt like a fairy tale; beautiful belgian ladies, the ding of bicycle bells, chocolatiers on every street, and museums and history and wonder around every corner. I can’t wait to go back to Bruges.