Tourists in Bruges

I just returned from a long weekend trip to Belgium. It’s a funny little country, isn’t it? Four days in two cities didn’t allow for much time to explore but I feel as if I saw the whole world in those few days. Maybe it’s because Belgium is home to the European Union headquarters, or maybe it’s because the country has an identity problem—but I found the country strange and weird. In a good way.

Belgium is interesting. The country may be small (estimated 11 million people) but it’s a diverse one. With three official languages I could never pinpoint exactly what anyone was saying to me—or even what language it was in! People-watching was a highlight—from watching the busloads of tourists wandering around Bruges like it was Disneyland to the busybodies who all seemed too important in Brussels. But then Belgium seemed to break the mold. Whereas you might expect locals to get annoyed by gazillions of tourists in a tourist-trap-of-a-city like Bruges, the Belgians I met there were nothing but welcoming.

And in Brussels where you expect big money & big business to affect people, the whole city seemed grounded in reality. There were skateboarding punks hanging out on a Monday afternoon, graffiti and hipster cafes scattered throughout the city, fast food and luxury dining. The city has it all—even weird monuments like the Atomium. Umm….WTF?

Weird Brussels - the Atomium

The dichotomy of rich and poor in Brussels was painfully obvious. Historic architecture was often overshadowed by more modern, almost Soviet-style skyscrapers along the skyline. And though the massive palaces and churches were overwhelmingly large and looming, they felt rather at odds with the city today.

Brussels skyline - old & new

Highlights of my few days in Belgium included:

  • The indie music Cactus Festival in Bruges
    Three days of international indie bands (many from the USA) playing on one stage. Though it rained, it was a good show!
  • French fries
    I used to joke that my favorite part of being at a festival was being able to eat French fries out of a paper cup. But it seems they do this every day of the week in Belgium. I also saw an entire museum dedicated to fries. Weird.
  • Wandering around Bruges
    Bruges is as beautiful as everyone says. Having just been in Venice recently, I’m now a sucker for exceptionally pretty cities.
  • The incredible designs in Brussels
    The only thing I knew about Brussels before arriving is that it’s kind of a gay capital. I should’ve suspected that being Belgium’s gay city, Brussels would also be trendy, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. The city was full of street art but also
  • Quirky museums
    Whether it was the French fries museum I went to in Bruges or the comic strip museum in Brussels, Belgium seems to know how to make a museum out of anything. I didn’t have time for the Magritte museum, the Lamp Museum (yes, lamps!) or the Chocolate Museum and I’m sorry I missed them. Even that Lamp Museum—I mean, come on, how could you not be interested in what’s inside that museum?!

Flanders is a Festival

My visit to Belgium was in partnership with Flanders Tourism as part of the Flanders is a Festival blog trip.

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