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

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

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.

Antwerp

You know a city is good when, within the first ten minutes, you find yourself wanting to live there. To me, Antwerp is certainly one of the most appealing cities in Europe. Somehow, it manages to exude an air of sophistication while remaining totally unpretentious. Locals are friendly, helpful, and incredibly down-to-earth. The stunning old city center, a maze of cultural and architectural highlights, is worth the visit alone.

Just the short walk from Antwerp’s monumental train station via the Meir to the Grote Markt feels like a short course in European architecture. From the phenomenal Baroque buildings that mark the entrance to Leystraat to the Rococo Paleis op de Meir (which houses the Chocolate Line) to the beautiful Renaissance Stadhuis, it just keeps getting Continue…

The Shock-o-latier

If Marie Antoinette and Willy Wonka had a love child, that would be Dominique Persoone. In the land of chocolate, the so-called “Shock-o-latier” is half rock star and half master chef. And his mouth-watering works of art are literally sold in what looks like a museum.

As soon as you enter The Chocolate Line in Antwerp, it’s clear this is no ordinary chocolatier. Looks a little like Napoleon’s kitchen? That’s because it actually was. Apparently, if it’s good enough for Napoleon, the Princess of Orange, and King Leopold II, it’s just about good enough for Persoone’s chocolate creations Continue…

Sfinks Festival in Boechout

The principle reason Tourism Flanders invited me to Antwerp was to cover the Sfinks Mixed music festival in Boechout. Sfinks bills itself as a festival “for young and old, families with children and adventurous music lovers… an exploratory excursion into enriching cultures.”

Starting in 1975, Sfinks Mixed began as a small folk festival in a local school park. Since then, it has grown into a three-day multicultural smorgasbord of musicians with a few circus performers and cultural acts thrown in to spice things up in the open areas.

Even approaching Sfinks, the world culture atmosphere is obvious. A small market for visitors has formed outside the gates with a funky Bohemian multi-culti vibe which hints at what’s to come. A man dressed in Touareg garb hawks silver jewelry to tribal teens and grannies with bongos Continue…

Flanders is a Festival

Belgium has a special place in my heart. Why? Because it was the first foreign country I ever set foot in. (OK purists, I had been to Mexico, but that was only 15 minutes from where I grew up, so that doesn’t really count.) In my mind, Belgium represents the beginning of my international travels.

So I was thrilled when Tourism Flanders invited me to attend one of the events in the “Flanders is a Festival” summer series. I chose Sfinks, a multicultural music experience in Boechout just outside Antwerp. In addition to inviting me to Sfinks, Tourism Flanders is graciously hosting me in Antwerp as well as Mechelen to allow me to highlight some of what makes Flanders so incredibly unique. Don’t worry readers Continue…