Most countries have invisible borders. A sign, sure. And sometimes a river or mountain range or some other physical boundary. Crossing into Belgium from Germany, however, seems to involve passing through a thick white curtain of fog. Last weekend this was, of course, no exception.
Once through the fog, being in Belgium is like walking through a dream. Rich delicious chocolates, world-famous beers, fresh mussels, Belgian waffles, and the birthplace of “French” fries. It seems to me that Belgians must be the happiest people in the world.
It’s been a busy month, but I can’t let it go by without sharing at least a few highlights of two fascinating cities that James and I visited with our friend Justin while he was here on vacation:
Possibly the most interesting experience in this country is traveling an hour northwest from Bruxelles (aka Brussels) to Brugge (aka Bruges) and learning that the common language has changed from French to Dutch.
In short: Capital city of both Belgium and the European Union
Most impressive sight: The Flower Carpet consists of over 1,800 square meters of begonias in the main square (Grand Place) displayed every two years. It’s an absolutely incredible site, particularly when viewed from above. We opted for a view from the Brussels City Museum balcony so we could learn more about the city’s history along the way.
Also don’t miss: Manneken-Pis. Actually, I guess you could skip this tiny but absurdly famous attraction which is exactly what it sounds like: a bronze statue of a brash boy peeing in a fountain. But do make sure to see the exhibit on the top floor of the Brussels City Museum dedicated to this little imp. He has an extensive international wardrobe that you can see modeled on replicas – everything from Elvis and cosmonauts to samurais and sombreros. We saw the little guy on a rainy day so he wasn’t dressed, but usually he dons a custom-made costume to show off for visitors.
In short: Quaint city of canals and UNESCO World Heritage site (the entire city center)
Most impressive sight: The city itself. With its small town feel, narrow stone-paved streets, sprawling town squares, and historic churches, Bruges is an enchanting city to explore. The canals that wind their way around and through the center of town, and the small bridges that cross them, are well worth seeing both by day and at night.
Near the market areas of town, you can see older women with white caps hand-crafting lace. This traditional art involves a complicated system of threads attached to many thin wooden knobs that the women cross over one another in a specific pattern.
Also don’t miss: Madonna of Bruges, a sculpture by Michelangelo in the Church of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk). Haphazardly converted in part to a museum, the church boasts this masterpiece as the highlight of its art collection.
Tip: On a tour of the De Halve Maan brewery, a wry tour guide advised visitors to limit themselves to one Belgian beer per day due to their high alcohol contents. “I know what you’re thinking: ‘What does this old lady know about what I can handle?’ But trust me.”