Belgium is wonderful and everyone should visit at least once in their lives. For you, at least, this is the best place you could have chosen to spend the coldest days of the year.
Your opinion includes three cities; Brussels, Gent, and Antwerp (you didn’t exactly make it to Bruges – see previous entry). But you feel as though you have a good sense of this place, because let’s face it, if you’re not going to one of the aforementioned cities then what the hell are you doing in Belgium anyway?
Let’s just start from the beginning. You first landed yourself in Brussels, the self-proclaimed ugly city. It’s not ugly, it is just sort of inconsistent architecturally, which for Europe you guess is something of note. But this is the capitol of Europe where you can go to European Parliament and watch official bureaucrats on their official lunch breaks eating their official sandwiches. You can also drink outstanding beer and have the best waffle you’ve ever had in your entire life. Oh and see the fountain (a toddler peeing) which is not that cool, but nevertheless, a tourist attraction. (You can also get waffles for 1 euro right across the street)
You and Maria followed the advice of your tour map and purchased some chocolate from a local supermarket. Apparently the quality is the same it’s just way cheaper to buy it there. Indeed. It is no secret that Belgians take chocolate very seriously, and this was something you were very keen on exploring. Verdict: amazing.
Your couch surfing host took you out to a bar that night where you had your first beer in Belgium. This goes without saying, but all the rumors are true. Belgians take their beer fucking seriously, and as a result it is seriously fucking delicious. It’s also on average, 2.5 times stronger than the average beer you’d drink in America. You decided to start off your beer-tasting with a triple Chimay. Good choice.
But you can get Chimay in the U.S. too, no big deal. You wanted something you could only get in Belgium. You wanted some 11% abbey beer, something that only the locals know about. Which brings you to Gent…
Brussels was cool, and you had an awesome waffle in addition to walking around in the snow looking for grocery stores, but your happiness simply bloomed when you arrived in Gent. Holy shitballs this city is beautiful. It is small and full of towering cathedrals and everything looks like it’s straight out of the 16th century. It is here that you experienced another staple of Belgium in addition to beer; frites.
That overflowing packet of fried goodness cost you 2.25 euro and you are certain that is the best 2.25 you’ve spent here. Belgians also take their fries very seriously and it shows. They are actually fried twice, and served with everything. Yum.
Back to the beer…Your amazing hosts Liesbeth and Sven provided you with your own room, your own bathroom, and a fridge full of beer. Sven and Liesbeth are not very heavy drinkers (despite being Belgian) but they made sure you and Maria could sample as many flavors as possible. It was glorious and you are eternally grateful.
You had lots of beer (and if your dad happens to be reading this, you would like him to know that the beer is everything he thinks it will be and more). Now you skipped Bruges so you don’t have much to say about that but Gent was where you became aware of your love for Belgium. The true moment of realization was when you were walking down the streets on trash day, and everyone had set their trash outside of their doors in an orderly fashion, sorted for recycling. *swoon*
Antwerp, from what you can tell, is like the European San Francisco. This is what San Francisco aspires to be. Everyone rides fixie bikes and has mustaches, only it’s not hipster, it’s just European. It is a harbor city, and the only one that knows how to do coffee right. Antwerp is the land of diamonds and fashion, but they also have a very interesting coffee culture. It is as if there were different variations of Blue Bottle Coffee all around, except they have different themes and the coffee is better. (There, you said it.)
Your first stop was the famous Caffenation. However, you arrived at the old location because your travel guidebook was pretty out of date. You happened upon a literal closet with 3 stools at a window ledge and one guy behind the counter. When you asked for the toilet, you were lead into a dodgey back room where the door was missing a glass pane and had a giant wire running through it. You were instructed not to shut the light off because it was connected to his refrigerator. There was hardly enough room for you and your bag to exist in the space, but my god did he brew you an excellent cup of coffee.
It is rare in Europe to get drip coffee. Usually you are confined to espresso or the pitiful americano, and you have a hard time justifying the extra 1.50 euro for them to add water. All things considered, your barista promised you a tasty cup, and he delivered. This was also the moment when Maria’s life was forever changed.
That was the moment she transcended into being a true coffee connoisseur. “Oh my god, it’s about flavor.” You also enjoyed your cup and after you met your host, you proceeded to the next location. Broer Bretle. This was a bit more like Blue Bottle in the way they make their coffee, and the atmosphere was excellent. Chess boards and interesting music along with 70’s wallpaper and more mustaches.
Tomorrow you will head to Coffee Lab and the new, larger location for Caffenation. You will also check out the Friday street market and an 80 year old pedestrian tunnel and a book printing museum. You are set to leave on Sunday and between Antwerp and your next “event” you probably won’t have time to update again but suffice to say, Belgium has been an awesome experience and you are totally looking forward to coming back in the summertime.
You’ve had the best waffles, beer, fries, and chocolate, along with the best COFFEE (you were not expecting that) and everyone is attractive and polite. Nevermind that it is the dead of winter and you are freezing your ass off all the time, this place really is the business.