Updated: Apr 13, 2021
My father has one brother and around 8 half brothers, this broadens the spectrum of people I have met throughout my life. One of these brothers is called Raul Estrada and, as my father, he has a travel agency, Viajes Crucero.
Because of this he has had the opportunity to travel the globe and meet outstanding people. He once married a Belgian woman called Karin Paquay, an extremely intelligent person and one of the people I look up to because of her mastery of different languages. In an opportunity I had in my travels through Europe I visited her country, specifically one city: Brussels.
This is what I learned from that quick trip which I hope through the magic of the internet gets to her and my cousin Fabrice. I haven't forgotten you and I never will.
Belgium 101 Arrival & Languages
When entering Belgium you are entering the euro zone, this means two things: the Euro is the used currency and a Schengen visa is required. Certain passports do not need this visa and have the greatest stay of 180 days, like the Mexican passport.
Belgium has three official languages: French, Dutch and Flemish. Sometimes you will hear German which is fairly popular among Belgians. English is also spoken throughout so don't you worry about that, if you speak French you will be just fine as Belgian French has petite differences to French, one of them being the numbers which I find much smarter than their Gaul counterparts (GO Belgium!).
Here are some important words to know in Dutch should the occasion arise:
Hi - hallo
Please - alstublieft
Thank you - dank u
You're welcome - graag gedaan
Yes/no - ja/nee
Goodbye - tot ziens
"But I speak English, why would I ever need these you gorgeous bearded Mexican?" Well my friend, people enjoy when you make an effort to speak their language. So go ahead and try! You might be surprised by yourself.
Belgium 102 Sights
As a European country Belgium has some classics you see around continental Europe such as castles, museums and canals yet Brussels offers a great deal for you to be able
to visit all, the 48-hour Brussels Card. This offers free access to almost all the museums, discounts in tourist attractions, restaurants and some chocolate shops (let us not forget chocolate in Belgium is a must try). It also has a way to add free transport to it STIB. Get them while they're hot, right in those links.
Sights you must check out are: the Royal Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the administrative office of the king (Belgium is still a kingdom) and the Palace of the Nation, both extremely close to Parc de Bruxelles which is filled to the brim with exquisite statues. If you are an art lover this is a must for you. And to top it the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula is just around the corner.
The symbol of Brussels is the bronze statue the Manneken Pis, located on the corner of Rue de l’Étuve and Rue du Chêne it depicts a young boy peeing. Many legends surround this statue, the one I heard in a bar was that a witch transformed a little boy into that statue as punishment for some misdeed. Remember to behave while you are in Brussels unless you want to become a tourist attraction.
My personal favorite part of Brussels is the city center, apart from the nice atmosphere buildings are adorned with famous comic book characters like Asterix & Obelix or Tin Tin. Since I was a kid I've always been a fan of! Love them so much I couldn't hide my excitement when I saw the paintings.
Second favorite part? The Atomium. This place has a 360 degree panoramic view of the city, was built in 1958 for the world expo, it has a museum and an art center. It was supposed to be a temporary attraction for the world expo but it became permanent because is one of the most visited places in Europe. Under it you will find the Mini Europe Miniature Model Park with 350 models that depict animated important events in the Old Continent. Walk through Venezia or witness the eruption of Mt Vesuvius, a perfect way to hype up any Euro trip.
Belgium 103 Belgian Manners
OK, this is extremely useful information to know. You don't want to insult anyone while you're traveling, after all whether we like it or not we represent our countries and people when abroad so heed my advice lad or lass.
In Belgium, it's consider an insult to you snap your fingers at someone and people do not react positively to personal questions, avoid those. When you meet someone shake their hand and avoid patting their back same goes for when you leave. In bars men tend to stand up when women enter, this one I am unsure if it applies in every situation a woman comes in the room but remember to do it.
Last but not least avoid shouting, yawning or putting your hands in your pockets in public.
Belgium 104 Food & Drink
As I mentioned before Belgian chocolate is a must when visiting Brussels but this isn't the only thing Belgians are known for, that's right, beer (eat your heart out Germany!) most bars offer a wide choice of those and craft beer is widely popular too.
Another popular Belgian dish are French Fries, I know I know, it has the word "French" in the title but contrary to that they are not French or at least that's how the story goes. It's unclear where exactly they originated but dare I say Belgium makes the best. This delicious side dish is best enjoyed with a steak, which happens to be one of Belgium's national dishes, steak-frites. Other great cuisine to try:
Moules-frites - also known as Belgium's national dish these are mussels cooked with onions and celery served with fries. Sometimes steamed.
Stoemp - a potato mashed with carrots or cabbages often served with sausages.
Boudin Blanc - a sausage where the meat and/or blood are mixed with breadcrumbs.
Guafres - the famously known Belgian waffles eaten as a street snack or a dessert they are typically sold by ice-cream vans.
So don't just stock up on beer and chocolate, there is much more to enjoy.
Belgium, a Window into Europe
It feels bizarre to write so much about a country that I have visited so little. Whilst writing this article I genuinely couldn't stop thinking about all the people I know from there that have given me a smile.
Whether it was watching my cousin Fabrice grow up from a baby to a 10-year-old kid (last time I saw him), my aunt Karin teaching me about the different regions of her home country or my friend Juju showing me all her musical talents I fondly remember Belgium and feel compelled to revisit every single time I am in Europe. I feel a deep natural connection to this place and I dare any of those who visit to not feel the same with the passing of time.
A great way to start any trip in Europe, Belgium will give you a nice appetizer of what is to come. Go ahead prepare for the best entry dish of your life, Santé mon ami.