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Belgium: Mixed Feelings About My Plan B

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I'm very conflicted about my feelings for Belgium and I've been trying to find the wonderful, friendly and unique country I once knew.

 

Let me explain a little. Belgium was my Plan B and started me on a life-long love for travel. I don't mean Plan B as my second choice because my first plan didn't work out. I mean I no longer wanted my first plan, which for me was going to a University in California for business. 

 

After the death of my parents, I needed to get away and be in a different environment and start something totally new. I researched a plan and chose Belgium to start a small business.

 

Here are some of my thoughts and experiences from that time, and since!

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Late Eighties in Belgium

When I arrived in Brussels, not only was I impressed at the art and the magnificent old architecture, like the Grand Place, I was even more impressed with the sophistication, intelligence and modesty of Belgians. They spoke 5 languages well and still cared and respected what others thought.  Whole groups would speak in English just so I could fit in, even if I was the only native English speaker in the room.  

 

After seeing Brussels, I knew I wanted to see more of Europe and luckily I did, becoming a traveling salesman. I was on the go for a lot of my 3 years in Europe, but Belgium remained a favorite country of mine and I went back several times during my stay.

 

Although Belgium has been on the tourist track for as long as I've been going there, they had retained what made them unique. Brussels was a friendly, warm, European big city with great architecture, people, beer, frites and chocolates. They were proud and welcoming.

 

And Brugge really was like a fairy tale land.  Brugge was a bedroom community, with a lot students and residents living there and working or going to school somewhere in Gent or Brussels. Brugge had this local charm, especially at night and weekends, when the day- trippers left and the locals came home.

 

2011 Belgium

Fast forward  to four years ago and I finally took  my son Peter to my favorite Belgian cities of Brussels and Brugge. I was so disappointed on that trip in those cities.  The EU bureaucracy seemed to have taken over Brussels and both the locals and the Eurocrats didn't seem to be enjoying it. The city seemed less friendly, happy and less unique. Even their Belgian waffle stands seemed like  ones you could get from a non-descript shopping mall anywhere. I love international cities, but somehow not this bureaucratic one Brussels has become.

 

After seeing Brussels,  I was excited to get to Brugge, but when we arrived there, I noticed most of the locals were gone and were replaced by residents who used the houses as part time second residences. Everything was so crowded, it felt more like Disneyland than a living city. I don't even think I met a local person while we were there.

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2015 trip to Belgium

So was my Belgium I knew from the 80's just a distant memory? I hoped not and decided to go to Ghent and Laarne this year and see if I could find some of what I remembered. I had heard  Ghent was amazing, like Brugge used to be. I decided I'd skip Brussels and Brugge altogether. I didn't quite do that though.

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CIMG0180I arrived in  Brussels because I  was transiting through. I had time to wait for a train, so I decided I might as well see the center of town, the Grand Place and eat frites. Maybe I'd  start liking Brussels again.  And honestly, I did for that half day.

 

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In the evening, off I went to Ghent. Let me tell you, the city didn't disappoint. It's one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen. Although there are still a lot of tourists in Ghent, the university there makes it a living vibrant city and the architecture and town squares are some of the nicest anywhere. The squares are full of people, especially at night. 

Castle at Laarne

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While in Ghent, I also went to the  nearby town of Laarne, because I wanted to see a smaller town and Belgian countryside. I ate some dessert that was as good as it looks (see above). It's a beautiful city-bus ride away from Ghent.  I highly recommend it for a few hours. Going for the dessert alone will be worth it.

 

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Race in Brussels

I thought my Belgian adventure was a success. I only had to transfer out of Brussels and take a bus to London. But, I lost my passport on that train to Brussels and no one at the at Gare du Nord Station would call the  train station ahead to help find it. I ended up being stuck in Brussels three more days. I had to get my new passport and then a ferry strike happened, blocking my way to England. I eventually found a route through the Netherlands. 

 

During that stay in Brussels, I saw all the things that disappointed me four years ago. I got a chance to talk to people and see if they felt the same way as me or if I was being unfair. And I was surprised: most of the people I talked to felt the same as I did, echoing my thoughts before I said them. EU workers and Belgians alike.

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Is Belgium worth going to? Absolutely! I'd recommend Ghent and a driving trip though the countryside and towns. As for Brussels and Brugge, maybe it's not fair to compare different times. There are some cities though, like Paris, that are just as magical as when I first went, but not those two. If you do or don't agree with me about Brussels and or Brugge, please share below. And did you like Ghent as much as I did?

 

 

 

 

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  • Laarne Dessert: Laarne Dessert
  • Belgium: Belgium
  • Belgium: Belgium
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  • Belgium: Belgiu
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  • CIMG0193
  • Belgium: Belgium
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  • Castle at Laarne
  • Belgium: Belgium
  • Belgium: Belgium
  • Belgium 1: Belgium
  • belgium2: Belgium
  • belgium3: Belgium
  • Laarne: Belgium
  • Plan B: Belgium

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