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20 Things about Belgium

We just returned from Belgium last Friday.  We want to share a few of the things we learned during our stay.

We found the language barrier very low.  Most everyone we met and chatted with spoke English.  There were a few people along the way that only spoke a few words of English but for the most part most were fluent.  They speak several languages in Belgium.  The most common languages are Flemish, French, Danish, and German.  Belgium is actually quite small yet the dialects can vary from one city to another.  

We never met a stranger.  Everyone we met whether large city or small was unbelievable kind to us.  Belgium’s are very warm and friendly people.

Belgium is a small country.  Our first stop once we left the Brussels airport was Antwerp.  We made it there in 40 minutes.  We drove from Bruges to Brussels in a little over an hour.  The roads are wonderful.  They drive on the right side the same as the US.  You can easily explore a couple cities in a day.  Speed limits are similar to ours.

Getting petro for self drives.  The petro stations require a Debit card with a PIN.  Many are unattended and have a couple card machines within the station.  You walk up to the machine and insert your card and then you enter your pump number.  A pending preauthorization amount is placed on your card until the actual charge hits.  The amount they held on our card was around $136 US dollars.  It took a couple days for the pending to fall off and the actual to hit.  (They require a card with a chip)

Gambling is legal in Belgium.  Here like in Copenhagen a lot of the bars have one or two slot machines.  You can find regular casinos throughout Belgium.

It is common to find smokers in Belgium.  The bars and restaurants are non-smoking but several offer a room within the bar designated for smoking.  They also allow smoking outside in front where they have tables setup.

Inside the cities you can park on the street but payment is required between the hours of 9am and 8pm.  You pay at a parking meter and you get a receipt to place in your car.  You can pay with your credit card or coins.  Some cities offer free parking between 12:15 and 1:30pm when they shutdown for lunch.  You do get 15 minutes for free.  They also offer car parks.

In cities (such as Leper – home to Flanders Field History Museum) certain shops and other places will shutdown for lunch between 12:15 and 1:30pm.   We had to wait to enter the museum.  We highly recommend the museum, especially if your are a war or history buff.   When you pay for your ticket they give you a plastic wrist band with a poppy.  You program your name and nationality.  Then when you walk up to a special feature you place the wristband by the feature and it will display the feature in your language.  We also recommend paying the 5 Euro and climbing the steps to the Belfry.  http://www.inflandersfields.be/en

The cemeteries pertaining to WW1 are spread out throughout Flanders.  We visited a couple different cemeteries.  America has their own which is very impressive.  We found the best way locate directions for them was looking under Flanders instead of Belgium.  Here is the link for the American Cemetery and Memorial. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flanders_Field_American_Cemetery_and_Memorial

French Fries are really Belgium Fries.  They are extremely passionate about this.  They get upset when you call them French Fries.  I guess the story goes something like this – the person that first created the BELGIUM fry took it to a bordering city in France for a French man to try.  The French man loved it and called it a French Fry.

Wervik is the oldest city in Belgium.    Well technically they are fighting over the title with another city.  They stand firm that they own the title but the other city is larger so they might win.  If you are in Wervik stop at Lusterke and have a drink.  Ask for Anthony.  He is the owner and will take very good care of you.  Most bars are owned by the breweries.  He owns his own.  He is there Friday to Tuesday from 8am until 8pm.  Wednesdays 8am until 1pm.  Closed Thursdays.  He has a wonderful bar which is worth the visit just to check out his records and tube TVs.   Lusterke is located at Molenstraat 29, 8940 Wervik, Belgium.

Many bars do not serve food.  Do not go into a bar expecting to get something to eat with your cocktail.  On several occasions we had to leave the bar to find food.

European District in Brussels is home to a lot of expats.  You will find American, Irish, English, etc here.  We spent our last night in Brussels in a Guest house on Archimede.  There were plenty of restaurants and bars in walking distance.

The hot chocolate which they call hot chocolate milk was the best hot chocolate I have ever had to date.  I am 52 years old so that is a pretty good stretch.  It is hard to even explain.  It is like a really mild dark chocolate flavor but when you add the sugar they provide it turns it into a really smooth almost milk chocolaty taste.   I recommend you try one when in Belgium.  If you need a little more of a kick they will be happy to add Baileys and whip cream.

The same way they are passionate about their Belgium Fries they are passionate about their Chocolate.  We would equate the number of chocolate shops in Bruges to pubs in Ireland.  You can find chocolate in the shape of almost anything, even X-Rated!!!!

If you love beer then this is the place to visit.  You can find anything you like.  Beer in Belgium varies from pale lager to lambic beer and Flemish red. There are approximately 180 breweries in the country, ranging from international giants to microbreweries.  Most beers are bought or served in bottles, rather than cans, and almost every style of beer has its own particular, uniquely shaped glass or other drinking-vessel. Using the correct glass is considered to improve its flavor.  We saw all different sizes and shapes of glasses.

You should not leave Belgium without trying their waffles.  Yes they pride themselves on their Belgium Fries, Chocolate, and Beer selection but you can add waffles to that list also.  We have to say they love their ice cream too.

When you go shopping ask for a VAT refund form.  You must have the form to get the VAT refund.  I forgot to ask and when I got to the airport I was told it was my duty to ask and there is nothing they could do even though I had the purchase still in the bag with the receipt.  The VAT is 21% of your purchase on non-edible items.  So sorry chocolates don’t count.  I believe food is 6%.  The minimum purchase is 50.01 Euro.  If you spend over 50.01 it is definitely worth the trouble.

Farmers are still unearthing mines from the WW1.  They call it the Iron Harvest.  You hear stories about it happening on a regular basis all over Belgium.   During World War I an estimated one ton of explosives was fired for every square meter of territory on the Western front.  As many as one in every three shells fired did not detonate. In the Ypres Salient, an estimated 300 million projectiles that the British and the Germans forces fired at each other during World War I were duds, and most of them have not been recovered.  In 2013, 160 tons of munitions, from bullets to 15 inch naval gun shells, were unearthed from the areas around Ypres. Unexploded weapons—in the form of shells, bullets, and grenades—buried themselves on impact or were otherwise quickly swallowed in the mud. As time passes, construction work, field ploughing, and natural processes bring the rusting shells to the surface. Most of the iron harvest is found during the spring planting and autumn ploughing as the region of northern France and Flanders are rich agricultural areas. Farmers collect the munitions and place them along the boundaries of fields or other collection points for authorities.

We loved Belgium and will definitely go back one day.  We made some really wonderful friends.  If you are over in Europe we recommend you stop.  

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