A Weekend in Bizarro Netherlands, aka Belgium

It turns out that a weekend in Belgium for someone who has lived nearly a year in the Netherlands is a rather disturbing experience because nearly everything is the same but not quite right.  The architectural style is similar but with more stonework and modern buildings thrown in, a lot of history focuses on the Golden Age but more with regards to Antwerp than Amsterdam, and while they also eat their frites with mayonnaise here they unquestionably taste better.  Add in the creeping influence of the French the further south you go, and… yep, Bizarro Netherlands.

Anyway, recently I went to Brussels, and I was further surprised to discover that Brussels is actually quite nice.  I was not expecting this at all- it’s usually described as a boring place, and looked like a giant sprawl from the train whenever I’ve traveled through there, but it turns out if you know where to look amidst the office buildings there are still true gems of lovely old architecture-

Now the thing all tourists have to do in Brussels apparently is take a look at Manneken Pis, a statue of a cheeky little boy taking a whiz into the fountain below him.  It’s really not that exciting but you can locate it by following the increasing numbers of tourists in that direction, and then finally you find every tourist in Brussels taking a picture of this guy-

…Yep.  I think one of the most interesting things to note here is you can buy Mannekin Pis everything in Brussels, from a bottle opener to a magnet to a little statue.  It strikes me as more than a little strange in that “I would never buy it but clearly someone does or they wouldn’t be selling it” sort of way.

The second thing to note is on the day we were there Mannekin Pis was dressed in the traditional Belgian army uniform to celebrate the National Day of Belgium, which just happened to be that Saturday.  Hooray!  It’s not a huge one so far as national holidays go, but there was a bit of a street fair going on near the normally dull government buildings where you could admire the tanks and regalia and what not of the Belgian army.  Obligatory jokes about how the entire mighty Belgian army was probably on that street block naturally ensued.

Anyway, at the end of the day the consumption of various delicious tasty foods and beverages of Belgium were consumed-

…where the beer is of course served in a different glass for each beer. (Something they do in the Netherlands too but with much greater conviction here in Bizarro Netherlands.) This one pictured here has always been my favorite Belgian beer glass by the way for a beer called Kwak- it’s so wonderfully complicated and reminds me of a volumetric flask from a chemistry lab reassigned to a higher calling.  The beer itself isn’t bad either!

I must say, one of the nicer little travel discoveries since I moved to the Netherlands is Belgium- it’s rather nice with lots of pretty things to see and tasty things to eat and drink, but happily goes around not making much fuss so few people ever think of visiting it.  It definitely might be the best-kept secret of this part of Europe if you ask me…

6 responses to “A Weekend in Bizarro Netherlands, aka Belgium

  1. Kwak! When I was home over the weekend my dad showed me one of those glasses and stands that he’d found at a garage sale, and I helped him translate the “Cheers!” written on the stand. It was still too dirty to drink out of, but I can imagine it’s delightful. 🙂

    • Hahaha awesome! I believe the name “Kwak” btw comes from the sound of when the beer suddenly pours out of the bottom part to the top- and the splutter of the person if s/he isn’t careful about the sudden influx of beer. 😉

      I did actually have it once at a Belgian beer bar on the West Side of Cleveland btw, so it *does* exist over there…

      • At Apenheul, I was shocked to see an information panel about a bird called the kwak, or what I would call the “black-crowned night heron”.

  2. At Apenheul, I was amused to see an information panel for a bird called the kwak, which in English is the cumbersomely-named “black-crowned night heron”.

  3. I really like the idea that Belgium is a biazzro/twilight zone version of Holland. It would explain a lit.

    Kwak is awesome!

  4. Ah, Belgium… the land where people park on parking-lot shrubbery (Brugge train station), where a top-of-the-line train station gets 2 trains a day (Antwerp), where waffles taste like a slice of cloud with blackberry jam… Bizarro Europe for me, and a place that reminded me a lot of my very own Mexico City because of the jarring juxtaposition of civilization and disorganization. I didn’t have any Kwak but I did have Trappisten Rochefort and would crawl halfway to hell for another bottle! ^_^

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