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April 16th, 2024

Belgium, officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a country in northwest Europe.  The country is bordered by the Netherlands to the north, Germany to the east, Luxembourg to the southeast, France to the south, and the Norther Sea to the west. Belgium is part of an area known as the Low Countries, historically a somewhat larger region than the Benelux group of states, as it also included parts of northern France. The capital and largest city is Brussels.

Belgium is a sovereign state and a federal constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system. Its institutional organization is complex and is structured on both regional and linguistic grounds. It is divided into three highly automous regions: the Flemish Region (Flanders) in the north, the Walloon Region (Wallonia) in the south, and the Brussels-Capital Region. Brussels is the smallest and most densely populated region. Belgium is also home to two main linguistic communities: the Flemish, which constitutes about 60 percent of the population, and the French, which constitutes about 40 percent of the population. There is a small German-speaking community, making up around one percent of the population, exists in the east.

Since the Middle Ages, Belgium’s central location has meant that the area has been relatively prosperous, connected commercially and politically to its bigger neighbours. The country as it exists today was established following the 1830 Belgian Revolution, when it seceded from the United Kingdom of The Netherlands. The name chosen for the new state is derived from the Latin word Belgium, used in Julius Caesar’s “Gallic Wars”, to describe a nearby region in the period around 55 BCE. Belgium has also been the battleground of European powers, earning the moniker “the Battlefield of Europe”, a reputation reinforced in the 20th century by both world wars.

During the course of the 20th century, it possessed a number of colonies in Africa. Between 1885 and 1908, the Congo Free State, which was privately owned by King Leopold II of Belgium, was characterized by widespread atrocities and disease; amid public outcry in Europe, Belgium annexed the territory as a colony. The Belgian colonies gained independence between 1960 and 1962. The second half of the 20th century was marked by rising tensions between the Dutch-speaking and the French-speaking citizens fueled by differences in language and culture and the unequal economic development of Flanders and Wallonia. This continuing antagonism has led to several far-reaching state reforms, resulting in the transition from a unitary to a federal arrangement between 1970 and 1993. Despite the reforms, tensions have persisted: there is particularly significant separatist sentiment among the Flemish, and the government formation period following the 2010 federal election set the world record at 589 days. Unemployment in Wallonia is more than double that of Flanders, which boomed after the Second World War.

Belgium is one of the six founding members of the EU, and its capital, Brussels, is also the de facto capital of the European Union itself, hosting many official seats.  Belgium is also a founding member of the Eurozone, NATO, WTO, and more.  Brussels also hosts the headquarters of many major international organizations, such as NATO. 

The Belgian flag’s vertical tri-colour design was inspired by that of the flag of France. The Belgium flag’s yellow, red, and black colors each represent the lion seals of several of the country’s founding regions: Red – Hainaut, Limburg, and Luxembourg. Yellow – Brabant. Black – Flanders and Namur.

Diesel price:   €1.74 and up a litre; about $7.01a gallon

Currency: The Euro

EU plate Letter:  B

Beer:  So many kinds: Stella, Jupiler and what is known as the BEST beer in the world:  In De Vrede

While we have passed through Belgium twice on our European escapes, we have never stopped to see or do anything.  The first time was in June 2022 on our way to Scandinavia for the summer and then just recently enroute to Luxembourg.

The EU map on our door is now as complete as we are able to get it!

As mentioned recently, we have posted ads to sell Minou; we are getting good response from the ads we placed on the most popular French site, Le Bon Coin and have begun answering inquiries.  We will to get an up to date inspection done before selling and plan to do that as soon as we cross border.  We hope to have people come look at in Reims, the first quite large city near where we are entering France.  (We had to choose a city in order to place the ad.)

After leaving Holland in the rain, we drove south towards Brussels hitting rush hour traffic on Antwerp’s ring road and then again approaching the ring road of Brussels.  Our first stop was to pick up some of the abovementioned beer; it’s very hard to get and you have to order it ahead and pick it up at the brewery near the coast.  However, Doug found a guy on FB marketplace selling 24 and he managed to get him to sell him just eight most of which we plan to take back with us for gifts.   By now it had stopped raining but was quite grey outside and damp.

We cannot drive into Brussels so we had a plan to park and take a train or Uber.  Enroute to this guy’s house to get the beer, Fran saw free parking on the way into his town.  We drove back, parked and called and Uber instead of walking 1.5 km to the tram.  This started out as a good idea until we got past the city’s inner ring road; there was terrible traffic and it was raining again.   What should have taken 25 minutes took nearly 50 minutes.  On the way into the city we saw:

The European Parliament:

A large Ferris wheel:

Anyway, we made it to the city centre.

First, like anyone who visits Brussels, you have to see the Manneken Pis – it’s corny and overrated but it’s a thing you do like see the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen.

Manneken Pis (Dutch for ‘Little Pissing Man’) is a landmar 55.5 cm (21.9 in) bronze fountain sculpture in central Brussels. It depicts a naked little boy urinating into the fountain’s basin. Though its existence is attested as early as the mid-15th century, Manneken Pis was redesigned and put in place in 1619. Its stone niche dates from 1770. The statue has been repeatedly stolen or damaged throughout its history. Since 1965, a replica has been displayed, with the original stored in the Brussels city museum.

Manneken Pis is one of the best-known symbols of Brussels and Belgium, inspiring several legends, as well as numerous imitations and similar statues both nationally and abroad. The figure is regularly dressed up and its wardrobe consists of around one thousand different costumes. Since 2017, they have been exhibited in a dedicated museum called Garderobe MannekenPis.

We then walked over to the Grand Market Square – this was the main thing we wanted to visit as the other sites are churches, museums and palaces – we’ve done enough of those!  It had some beautiful buildings.  So it is appropriately named we think!

The “gilded manors”

It of course rained most of the time we were walking around and we were feeling damp so we found a “Friterie”.  Our plan in Belgium was to try the four things they are famous for:  fries, chocolate, waffles and beer.  So today, first thing was going to be fries.  We went inside and up the stairs where we each ordered “classic” fries in the cardboard cone and a drink.   The weird and annoying thing was that if you wanted ketchup, you had PAY another €1.50!  And there was no vinegar option for Fran.  They were very good, thick cut fries but we can’t say the best we’ve ever had and they were pricey.


French fries are served as a common side dish to burgers, fried chicken, grilled steak and also, fried fish. The world’s most favourite potato fritters also have cultural variants. In Belgium, fries are often eaten with cooked mussels or with a fried egg on top. The United Kingdom is famous for its fish and chips. Poutine, a famous Canadian dish, includes French fries and cheese curds topped with brown gravy. Fries, or French fries, are one of the most popular side dishes in the world. They find accompaniment in dips, mayonnaise, ketchup, and even vinegar.


Despite its name and popularity, the French fries are not French. The origins can be found in Belgium, where historians claim potatoes were being fried in the late-1600s.

According to Belgian lore, poor villagers living in Meuse Valley would often eat small fried fish they caught in the river. During the winter months when the river froze, fishing would become an impossible task and forced villagers to find other sources of food.  This is when the villagers turned to the root plant, potatoes, slicing and frying them just like the way they prepared fish.

American soldiers were first introduced to the fries while they were stationed in Belgium during World War I.


According to an early 19th century manuscript written by then-US President Thomas Jefferson, he talks about a dish called ‘Pommes de terre frites en petites tranches’ (Potatoes deep-fried while raw, in small slices). Some historians have claimed that this recipe came from the French chef, Honoré Julien. By 1850s, this recipe gained so much popularity that it became a mainstay in several American cookbooks as ‘French Fried Potatoes’.

In 2014, Belgium sought to give French fries a cultural heritage status. According to a 2014 report by Reuters, “Belgian fries are traditionally sold, in a paper cone, in a “fritkot”, generally a shack or trailer. There are some 5,000 of these in Belgium, making them 10 times more common, per capita, than McDonald’s restaurants in the United States.”

“To become recognized by the United Nations’ cultural arm UNESCO, they need to be endorsed by a minister of culture, and Belgium has three of them,” it added.

“The government of the Flemish speaking region of Flanders recognized Belgian fries as an integral part of national culture this year, and the French- and German-speaking communities are expected to debate the issue next year.

By now we’d had enough of the wet and cold and found a taxi to take us back to Minou.  As we hope to have potential buyers looking at Minou on Monday, we are pushing a little faster than usual to get through Belgium so since the city of Ghent is not far, we pushed on.  Finding parking was a challenge and after four spots, we did find some pay street parking finally outside the low emissions zone and walked into the centre of this medieval town.  The main square, Poeljemarkt, had this strange permanent canopy/shelter in the centre of the square where we got out of the rain but not the wind.

We viewed the city hall:

The Botermarkt with its bell tower:

The huge Church of St. Nicholas – only because we walked right by it:

The Post Office building in Korenmarkt (another square):

So here is where we checked off getting Belgian chocolate – there are a lot of chocolate shops and we just chose a random one and went inside to browse.  We each chose a chocolate bar and then got a bag of assorted chocolates.

We’ll leave the waffles till tomorrow.

It was raining still most of this visit and we were once again cold, so we walked back to Minou stopping to pick up a few things for dinner.

Fran found a wild camping spot in a small town north of here (Waarschoot) to spend the night.   It was a huge parking lot outside a sports centre with soccer fields and was pretty empty.  We parked at the far end to be out of the way and although a soccer game took place around 8 in the field behind us, they were all gone by ten and it was a quiet nice.  There were of course no services but we didn’t need any.  We did have to turn the furnace on twice to keep comfortable.

Tonight we watched “In Bruges” in preparation for tomorrow’s sightseeing plans.

Today we drove through one tunnel with Minou, five with the Uber and one in the taxi back to Minou from Brussels.

So far, the traffic in this country is terrible and we hate it.

Wednesday morning we awoke to clearing skies (but it didn’t last) and went to visit the Adegem Canadian War Cemetery not far from where we spent the night.

The cemetery is located to the east of the village centre of Adegem and is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. 1,155 deaths are commemorated, including 45 unidentified.  The cemetery was established during the war and was established at the request of Canada. The aim was to bring all hastily dug soldiers’ graves together in one place. In May 1945, there were already more than 800 soldiers who had been given a final resting place in Adegem. Most of the graves belong to soldiers who died south of the Scheldt, but some were also transferred from elsewhere in the country.

Among the identified victims there are 838 Canadians, 234 British, 2 Australians and 2 New Zealanders. An unidentified British sailor who died during in WWI was also buried here. In addition, the cemetery has 33 Polish and two French graves. The cemetery was protected as a monument in 2009.

We parked on the side of the road and walked in.  This was pretty moving as we walked past reading names and ages – so many were SO young; we stopped at the Guest Book and signed our names and then walked back past the memorial.

We were quite impressed how well maintained this site is (as were the other cemeteries we’ve seen) and while we were there, there was a fellow mowing the lawn between the grave makers.

It was now about 9 am and we drove on to Bruges.  This city has no low emissions zone but we were lead to believe from comments on park4night, that we would not want to drive to close to the centre.  Fran found two day parking lots and the first was very small and we could not fit; enroute to the second one, we found free street parking on a boulevard that would work.  Again it’s raining today on and off and we grabbed our umbrellas (they have been getting a lot of use the past few days) and walked the 1.5 km into the centre of town.

Now this has to be our favourite city in Belgium; two fantastic looking main squares in the centre, the belfry in one (part of the movie we watched last night), many canals and lots of cute streets to wander, which we did looking for our Belgium souvenir.

The Belfry of Bruges is a medieval bell tower. One of the city’s most prominent symbols, the belfry formerly housed a treasury and the municipal archives and served as an observation post for spotting fires and other dangers.   It is made up of three building layers: the bottom two square sections in brick were built in the 13th century and the top octagonal lantern tower made of limestone was built in the 15th century. 

A poem by Hendry Wadsworth Longfellow, titled “The Belfry of Bruges,” refers to the building’s checkered history:

In the market-place of Bruges stands the belfry old and brown;

Thrice consumed and thrice rebuilded, still it watches o’er the town.

A narrow, steep staircase of 366 steps, accessible by the public for an entry fee, leads to the top of the 83 m/ 272’ high building, which leans 87 centimeters to the east.

The sun came out for a while but again, it didn’t last.

Here we had our Belgian Waffles.  There are lots of take away places but because it was so damp we preferred to eat inside.  We found a cute little place and ordered waffles and Belgian hot chocolate.  (see above)

It was so yummy we ordered another; this time with bananas.

We walked around some more, did find a souvenir.   We then strolled around the town to see some of the canals:

and finished off our visit with a stop at Monk’s Bar where the on tap menu was long:


We each had a half pint and then walked back to Minou in the rain.

Fran found us a €5 aire for the afternoon/night and after a few navigating issues due to road closures, we made it.  There are only eight spots here and we’d read they can fill up fast but there were only two other vehicles here so we got in, no problem.  For $5 you get a spot with power, free dumping of black and grey and you can pay to get fresh water.  It’s right next to a canal.

We spent the afternoon beginning to clean out Minou and packing away stuff getting it ready to show it.

We have one more spot to visit before leaving Belgium and that’s Flander’s Fields.  All the Canadians reading this will remember learning this poem in school written by physician and poet, John McCrae:

In Flanders Fields
  In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow, 
         Between the crosses, row on row,
       That mark our place; and in the sky
       The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

    We are the dead. Short days ago
   we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
       Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
            In Flanders fields.

    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw the torch

be yours to hold it high.
       If ye break faith with us who die
  We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

From 1914 to 1918, Flanders Fields was a major battle theatre on the Western Front during the First World War. A million soldiers from more than 50 different countries were wounded, missing or killed in action here. Entire cities and villages were destroyed, their population scattered across Europe and beyond.

The cemetery here is American and commemorates 411 service members of which 368 are interred. The Walls of the Missing inside the chapel venerates 43 missing service members.  Unfortunately, it was only cemetery we visited that was not open 24/7 and we were way too early, so we didn’t hang around.

We left and headed to the border with France.

In Belgium we drove 284 km / 177 mi.

All of our photos for these few days can be found  here.

Other than the weather, we enjoyed Belgium for the most part, especially Bruges, and their specialty foods!  We hated the traffic congestion around all the cities.

Fun facts about Belgium:

  1. Brussels South Charleroi Airport is the most punctual airport in Europe
  2. Cricket is thought to be a Belgian invention, not British
  3. Belgian men are the second tallest in the world
  4. The big bang theory originated in Belgium
  5. Belgians invented the Body Mass Index (BMI), the saxophone and plastic
  6. Belgians pay amount the highest tax rates in Europe
  7. The first skyscraper in Europe was built in Belgium
  8. Belgium has the highest divorce rate in Europe
  9. The level of international presence in Brussels is second only to New York City
  10. Belgium has been producing chocolate for almost 400 years
  11. The city of Antwerp is the diamond capital of the world
  12. Belgium is the world’s leading exporter of – what for it – billiard balls