Belgian Desserts

If there’s one thing that brings Flemish and Walloons together, it’s dessert. Belgium marks the glorious border between Dutch and French inspired desserts making it a dream destination for the traveler with a serious sweet tooth (like me).

Of course, the country is synonymous with awesome waffles. Even bad waffles here are good by non-Belgian standards. There are as many topping options as there are recipes, so you will have to eat MANY, MANY waffles just to be sure that you don’t miss anything important. Bruges is great for waffle hunting. Interestingly, I walked by an endless supply of fancy restaurants with stunning waffles, but the waffle above at a small, hole-in-the-wall restaurant topped with sour cherries and mounds of ice cream stopped me in my tracks. Resistance was futile Continue…

A Quick Look at Brussels

On several occasions in Flanders, I asked what is perhaps the most toxic question in Belgium: Is Brussels actually originally part of Flanders? On every occasion, I got exactly the same response. The friendly Flemish smile was replaced with an odd, hesitant expression which immediately conveyed, “Should my answer be honest or politically correct?”

If you look at a map, Brussels is a geographic island surrounded by Flanders. The city and its surrounding districts form a separate political division, a solution designed to minimize tensions between the Flemish and French halves of the country.

Architecturally, Brussels looks Flemish and it’s quite stunning, but French is clearly the dominant language. The difference in the city vibe is VERY noticeable. It’s hard to Continue…

Belgian Beer

If you’re a fan of great beer, Belgium needs to be at the top of your foodie-and-drinkie list along with Germany and the Czech Republic. This tiny country has an impressively diverse selection of great beers which range from the strictly defined (and certified) Trappist brews, including famous names such as Orval, to the more loosely defined Abbey beers, such as one of my personal favorites, the Grimbergen Optimo Bruno.

Do your homework before you visit Belgium because, for the non-beer connoisseur such as myself, the array of options can be overwhelming. Menus start easy with amber, blond and brown ales and quickly shift into high gear with options such as champagne beers, Flemish Reds, Dubbels, Tripels, Oud Brins, Saisons, and more.

One of the more interesting discoveries was the Lambics Continue…

The Ghent Altarpiece

The Ghent Altarpiece, also known as the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb or the Polyptych of Ghent, just might be my favorite single piece of art in the world. Considering my travel history and the fact that I have always had a distinct preference for everything African and Asian, that’s a pretty strong statement. But this breathtaking painting and its history, which might have made a far superior fourth Indiana Jones movie, have certainly “converted” more people than me. Plus, this painting and I have a special connection.

It’s impossible to appreciate from the picture above – or any picture for that matter – but the painting is spectacularly three-dimensional with deep, rich colors which appear to have defied history. (I’m assuming amazing restoration is at least partially responsible for that last point.)

Painted by Hubert and Jan van Eyck over a decade and completed in 1432, the painting is so exceptional and such a departure from what came before it that it Continue…


Midnight in Ghent at a backstreet dock staring out at Gravensteen waiting for the moon to rise above its fortified walls. Total silence except for a night bird and the sound of a small boat bumping up against the stone quay. In Europe, it’s rare to have perfect moments to yourself in such a remarkable city. But apparently, Flanders is somewhat of an exception.

My first thought when I arrived in Ghent was, “Flanders clearly does not do ugly cities.” Again, Ghent is an overlooked treasure of a town which somehow seems to have slipped below the radar of world travelers scanning the globe for that perfect destination. Am I starting to sound like a broken record here in Belgium?

Although it may not be a household name for much of the world, in the late Middle Ages, Ghent was among the Continue…

Mussels from Brussels…

Or Ghent…. or Bruges… or Leuven… or, in my case, Antwerp.

Like stoofvlees, the dish known as moules-frites, mussels and fries, appears on restaurant menus across Belgium. So when Tourism Antwerp treated me to an amazing meal at Grand Café Horta (Hopland 2), I decided to forgo the lobster and try the mussels instead.

Grand Café Horta didn’t list any sides with the mussels. When I asked the waiter what Belgians ate with mussels, he laughed and answered, “Fries! This is Belgium, we eat fries with everything.” Clearly, I did not need to worry myself over such details. Instead, my choice revolved more around what style to order.

I chose wisely.

The waiter brought a huge pot of perfectly prepared mussels coated in a spectacular beer sauce. (Does it get more Belgian than that?) In addition, the chef added a delicious mustard-based dip on the side just in case the beer sauce wasn’t enough. YUM! If beer sauce is not your thing – which would be pure insanity Continue…


Well, now I’ve seen everything. I thought I was coming to just another insanely beautiful historical town centered around yet another ridiculously spectacular monster cathedral. But oh no, clearly the people of Mechelen do things a little differently around here. Very differently.

Emerging into the center of town via a boulevard of red-brick gingerbread gabled houses, I expected my highlight to be the famous Renaissance Town Hall. Instead, I discovered locals had decided to blanket the village square in a layer of sand and have a beach volleyball tournament. (My god, Flanders really is a festival! Do these people ever take a day off?) Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” echoed across the makeshift medieval beach as dozens of super-fit, super-tanned Flemish served and spiked their way towards the prize. Wow!

But it’s not just the volleyball. Everything in this incredibly picturesque little village is just a bit edgier. From the floating footpath on the river Dyle to the 360-panoramic skywalk built into St. Rumbolt’s Tower, Mechelen is full of surprises. There’s even a fantastic brewery, Het Anker, located just behind the Continue…

Stoofvlees and Frites

So what is typical Flemish food? I have to be honest, I had no idea. So Tourism Antwerp arranged a little lunchtime food-venture for me at Brasserie Appelmans, a great little cafe perfectly situated in the shade of the Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal.

When the very friendly waiter came to take my order, I tore my eyes away from the towering wall of buttresses and stained glass and ordered in the only way I could, “Make it as Flemish as possible.”

“OK,” he smiled, “one order of…” And then I heard a series of syllables which took me a few minutes to decipher.

It turns out I was getting stoofvlees and frites. It looks easy enough when you see it in print, but in spoken form, it’s a bit difficult to wrap your ears around this dish.

Stoofvlees is sometimes translated as Continue…

Tomorrowland and Suikerrock

I thought, in addition to our post on Sfinks, we should mention a couple of other festivals here in Flanders to give our visitors an idea of what this oft-overlooked part of Europe has to offer. Two of the larger, more famous festivals include Tomorrowland and Suikerrock.


Tomorrowland is one of Europe’s most popular dance and electronic music festivals. The festival, which is known for its fantasy themes and crazy sets and costumes, takes place in the almost implausibly named Flemish town of Boom, located south of Antwerp.

This year’s lineup included: Afrojack, Skrillex, Martin Solveig, Paul van Dyke, Sven Väth, and David Guetta, DJ Magazine’s 2011 top-ranked DJ. It also marked what is expected to be the final performance of Swedish House Mafia. This festival is so popular that tickets sold out worldwide in less than two hours.


Suikerrock (Sugar Rock), which takes place in Tienen just east of Leuven, is a well-established rock/pop festival which has been running for 25 years.

The 2012 lineup featured several American favorites including Alice Cooper, ZZ Top, and LMFAO as well as a hugh list of top European artists, such as Status Quo, Mika, Texas, and Belgian band Triggerfinger. (Damn, I should have included Suikerrock on my trip, I didn’t know ZZ Top was playing!)

Clearly, Flanders may be small geographically, but this little region has A LOT to offer.