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Biscuits, beer and bands
Chocolate !" "Belgian fries!" "Good beer there!" "Nice waffles!" These are a few of the things I hear when people find out I'm from Belgium. It is true that the country has a great culinary heritage but there is more to see (and taste) than that.
For one, Belgians love bizarre stories and take pride in odd monuments. The two often come together. Head to the centre of Brussels, the capital, and you will find many tourists agglutinated, like flies on garbage, around a bronze statue of a small boy peeing. There are many myths revolving around the Manneken Pis (literally "the small boy pee" ) but the most famous is probably the story of a 14th-century boy, Julianske, who saved the town from a plot to blow it up by urinating on the explosives.
A little further down the street is UNESCO World Heritage La Grand Place, which is the heart of Brussels. The Grand Place will take you back to the 17th century with its tall antique facades. Why not enjoy the historic buildings while eating biscuits from one of the best biscuit makers in the world, Dandoy, just down the street.
Located on the Grand Place is the Brussels Town Hall. It is said that the architect, realising the building was asymmetrical after construction, jumped off the 96-metre-high tower.
From there one might climb the Mont des Arts, passing by the beautiful Musical Instruments Museum and finally arriving at Brussels Park where free concerts are held during weekends all summer.
Belgium is the stage to many music festivals of eclectic and different styles. The capital holds the Brussels Summer Festival in August for a period of ten days in the heart of the city. It is the occasion for citizens and tourists to spend warm summer nights outside enjoying music and beer.
In the more residential part of Brussels, on the Place Flagey, you will find the best fries of the capital at the "fritkot" Frit'Flagey that you can enjoy sitting by the peaceful ponds of Ixelles.
After visiting the capital, one must see Bruges, often called the Venice of the North, and its scenic views. Bruges is a must for all medieval architecture enthusiasts and chocolate lovers. The town centre has been part of UNESCO World Heritage since 2000 and is worth a visit. Take a boat on the canals and discover Bruges historical wonders. If looking for a place away from the noisy and busy streets of Bruges, you could visit one of the town's numerous parks while enjoying a picnic.
Not far from Bruges is the Jerusalem of the North, Antwerp, famous for its diamonds and its zoo. On arrivalby train, make a right outside the station and you will find yourself in the Antwerp Zoo. Opposite the station, just underneath the Antwerp Diamond Bourse, are the best falafels in the country. Many kosher bakeries are to be found in the area (mostly around Pelikaanstraat) and it is hard to resist the Jewish delights, especially from Kleinblatt on Provinciestraat. Antwerp is a great destination for shopping addicts and is the fashion capital of Belgium;it is also home to the second largest port in Europe.
Don't miss out on wandering in the old town, one of the most beautiful in Belgium.
At a glance
India has direct flights to Brussels. Eurostar offers great connections from London. The main Belgian cities are connected to Brussels by railway and usually have direct trains several times an hour. Train journeys generally do not exceed an hour and the SNCB (national Belgian train service) offers combined services with certain resorts and parks (eg: train ticket + entry to the Antwerp Zoo, museums, adventure parks, etc. ) and tickets can also include rental bicycles that are located outside Belgian train stations
When to go:
Spring and summer, May to August. Summer is the season when culture blooms everywhere in the country with festivals, summer activities, outdoor cultural events, etc
Belgian fries, chocolate, mussels and beer are a must but many different kinds of international cuisine restaurants can be found in the big cities, from Indian to Bulgarian
There is a wide range of accommodation from small budget youth hostels to the luxury five-star hotels. Budget accommodation is usually very decent
What to bring back:
Dentelle de Bruxelles (Brussels lacework), although ensure it is made in Brussels for the good quality one. Chocolate and beer (can also be purchased at the airport and train stations but expect the price to go up). Diamonds from Antwerp or a mini Manneken Pis.
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