Before arriving in Belgium I heard from multiple groups of travelers that, “it was the one place they would have skipped” given the chance to “do it over” (no regrets, people).
Undeterred, I decided to find out for myself.
I haven't the slightest clue what these people were talking about – Belgium is the tits and should the winds of fortune grant me the opportunity to do so, I will be visiting this magical place once more.
Admittedly, I knew very little about the country prior to my arrival. The following is a (non-exhaustive) summary of my knowledge gained during my visit.
THE BEER CULTURE
For some reason people think of Germany as being the beer masters of Europe, but I would take Belgian over German beer every time (although in terms of price, Germany knows what's up). Sure, Belgian beer can accurately be described as “that beer in fancy bottles” or “that beer that monks make”, but that's just the beginning. Every beer (worth drinking) has it’s own custom glass, and to drink out of a bottle (and they only come in bottles) would be like drinking wine straight from the bottle elsewhere (aka it’s incredibly classy). The beer is strong, tasty, varied, and available everywhere. I should have never left this place.
THEY SPEAK FRENCH AND FLEMISH
Belgium is divided into two geographical regions: Flemish-speaking Flanders in the north and French-speaking Wallonia in the south. Brussels (the capital city – it's not the other way around) sits more or less in the middle on the country just between the two and (technically speaking) is bilingual (although I found much more French to be spoken here). I spent most of my time between Brussels and Flanders where English served to get me around just fine.
CHOCOLATE, WAFFLES, AND FRIES
If people know one thing about Belgium, it's typically Belgian waffles or Belgian chocolate (and possibly, in light of recent events, that they knocked the United States out of the World Cup). And these people are correct – Belgium has a lot of waffles and a lot of chocolates (and all of them are delicious). Belgium also has fries (served twice fried with an assortment of sauces) and a wide variety of other fried things. And all the aforementioned things are delicious (particularly after taking advantage of Belgium's incredible beer selection – did I mention that Belgian beer is excellent?).
IT'S EASY (AND CHEAP) TO GET AROUND
A lot of people (in the Unites States) think that travel in Europe is extremely inexpensive because of the continent's massive network of railways. A lot of people are incorrect in their assumptions. However, trains in Belgium are in fact cheap (for anyone 26 and under – although I never needed to show any ID), and for only six euros you can travel anywhere within the country (it's called a Go Pass). The price is so good that I didn't even bother hitchhiking (although I was tempted). How much are trains for the older (looking) folks? I'll worry about that next time (or I'll just break out the thumb).
PROSTITUTION IS LEGAL
It turns out that the infamous Red Light District in Amsterdam is not the only place in Europe to (legally) pay to have sex with a stranger – Belgians are on board with the prostitution racket as well. Maybe it's because all the foreign dignitaries need some company while they are away from their families (I'm looking at you, Obama), or maybe it's because they don't want the Dutch having all the fun. Regardless, if you're feeling particularly lonely on your Eurotrip, know that there will always be friends waiting for you in Belgium.
Bike lanes are everywhere and the country is incredibly flat (its high point is 2,277 ft in the south and 197 ft in the north). Walking around Belgium and seeing all the cyclists with their fancy wheeled transportation and bicycle-attaching bags made me incredibly jealous. It was enough to inspire me to (plan to) embark upon a biking tour of the Europe. A tour that will most likely start in Belgium (or maybe I should end there, beer etc.).
THE CAPITAL IS BRUSSELS
Apparently a lot of people (according to the Belgians) think that Belgium is the capital of Brussels. To clarify this: Brussels (or Bruxlles) is the capital city of the country of Belgium. Brussels is also where the European Parliament is, and where Belgium's most famous tourist attraction can be found: the Manneken Pis. What is the Manneken Pis? Well, it's a fountain, no more than two feet tall, that features a statue of a young boy taking a piss (yes, the water is streaming from his penis, and no, I have no idea why it's so famous). Depending on the season or date, the Manneken Pis gets dressed up in a variety of costumes. I was fortunate enough to catch Vampire Manneken Pis, a memory I will cherish forever.
ITS FLAG IS DIFFERENT THAN GERMANY'S
Flags can be challenging for a lot of people. Personally, I rather enjoy learning countries’ flags (I think my current favorite is South Korea), but I will admit that many flags out there bear a strikingly similar resemblance to one another. Belgium’s flag is three, equal width, vertical stripes of black, yellow, and red – in that order from left to right. Germany’s flag bears these same colors, but with horizontal stripes (it is very similar to the French/Dutch flag situation). If you find yourself having difficulties, then just remember that It's like if the German flag and the Dutch flag made the sex and had a baby.
BRUGES, ANTWERP, AND GHENT
For such a small country, Belgium has quite a few cities (other than Brussels) that many of us have heard of, but never stopped to think about what country they are in. Well, they are in Belgium, and they are (most likely): Bruges, Antwerp, and Ghent. I paid a visit to both Bruges and Antwerp and each city made an excellent case for the further exploration of the country (and I would be wrong to not admit that the film In Bruges had some influence on this decision). And did I mention that it only costs six euros to go anywhere in the country?
BARS NEVER CLOSE
Still need a couple more drinks to work up the courage to ask that prostitute for twenty minutes behind the curtain? Well thankfully in Belgium you need not worry about the bar closing down on you because the country does not have a legally mandated bar time (aka last call). If you haven't already deduced the implication of this (then apart from being drunk yourself – cheers), I will make it easy for you: bars never have to close. Rest assured that you will have plenty of time to enjoy the seemingly endless variety of Belgian beer.