Before Easter, Hannes and I spent a few days in Belgium. I spent an evening in Brussels, and then together we spent a day in Bruges and two days at the coast in De Haan, near Oostende. I knew pretty much nothing about Belgium before I went, and of course I still know close to nothing, but here are my observations.
There were a lot of non-white people in Brussels, which I thought was cool. I saw a lot of French-speaking Arabs, and also a fair number of non-Arab Africans. The city has some impressive squares, but it also felt a little seedy. When I arrived at my hotel, which was in the center of town and within walking distance of the major tourist sights, there were already prostitutes hanging out on the street corner - and it was only 6pm and full daylight.
Bruges is truly a beautiful city and a UNESCO world heritage site. It was enjoyable to spend a day wandering around (but if you ever visit - you don't need more than a day). The architecture is cool and everything is clean and quiet. Hannes kept commenting on how clean all the bricks were on the buildings - we only found one where there was any moss growing.
The Coast - De Haan and around.
So: the Belgian coast is not that great. If you live in Brussels and want to take your kids there over the summer, fine. But if not...well, there's really not that much to do, especially in cold weather. One day we walked around the sand dunes and ate moules frites, another day we went to the Atlantikwall, which is a system of fortifications built up in the dunes in the first and second world wars. All of the above were cool, but they didn't really add up to someplace worth hanging out. Though we were pleasantly surprised by the De Haan nightlife - we went out to bars both nights and found them quite fun.
Truth be told, Belgium is a little boring. The best way to alleviate that? Sampling Belgian beers, of course! Apparently Belgium produces around 700 beers - more than any other country. Belgian beers are quite strong - 8% alcohol is typical - which makes them rather sweet. My FAVORITE thing about Belgian beers is that they each come with their own unique glass. I chose beers either with a cool glass or with a lower alcohol content - the latter were often the white beers. Flavor-wise I'd probably always go for California favorites Anchor Steam or Lagunitas...but when in Belgium, the cool glasses win.
This is where I complain a little.
We had a fun trip but Belgium didn't exactly find its way into my heart. The main reason? Eating out in Belgium is super expensive! It was extremely difficult to find any restaurant where main dishes were less than 20€. Plus everywhere we went they refused to give us tap water. We asked at several restaurants and were rebuffed each time. When your food already costs 20€ per person, and you've already ordered a beer, it starts to feel so unfriendly to be refused tap water! I have a philosophical objection to paying 3€ for 150 ml of water in a glass bottle that's been imported from Italy. The price AND the carbon footprint are offensive! I also often found the Belgians we interacted with (primarily in restaurants) to be unnecessarily strict. At one bar we were at, I wasn't sure what beer I wanted so Hannes was going to order one first to taste, and then I was going to decide. However, the waiter told us this was not an option: if two people were sitting down, then two people had to order drinks. Seriously??
So I was happy to return to Germany, a land where you can get tap water and inexpensive meals. See? It's the little things that make me happy!