Europe

First Foreign home country: Belgium

Did you grow up dreaming of studying a year abroad? When I was young that seemed the ‘cool’ thing to do and I wanted to do that so bad, but I wasn’t able to afford it. So when in 2007 I had the opportunity to do my cooking practice abroad for 2 months, I jumped to it with a student loan. I was planning to travel to Spain but my school mate Aino was searching for someone to go with her to Brussels, so I changed the plans and jumped on board to the plan of Belgium. This was a rough plan since I didn’t even speak French, yet we were about to start work in a French speaking restaurant in Brussels. Luckily Radisson SAS and Sea Grill were awesome places to learn how to cook and have fun. We were living in Youth Hostel Jacques Brel and it truly was a great first foreign home for us two Finns.

If you are young and looking for an easy feasible new travel destination, consider Belgium highly! All my best recommendations to this. I went with an attitude of “Oh well.. I guess there’s something interesting” and I loved my life for the 2 months in Belgium. It’s such a small country, packed with culture and history. Loads of fun parties and great people. And you can easily add destinations like Holland, Luxembourg or France to your holiday. Belgium is so much more than the beer and chocolate, that were advertised to us too before we went. But the beer and chocolate make it so much better. Here’s some of my experiences and recommendations:

BRUSSELS
– Eat well (We obviously worked in a 2 Michelin star restaurant, but there are so many great restaurants and bistros. Explore, eat and be happy!)
– Find the chocolaterie you love and buy loads! (We went around town testing chocolates. You can normally ask for samples on each store. Our testing resulted in Mary’s Chocolaterie being the best)
– Enjoy the beer! (I’m not a big beer person and I didn’t think I would fall for beers. But nowadays my summer is nothing without a Kriek on the terrasse)
– Party hard! (There’s so many clubs, pool houses, bars etc.. Start from the local Absinthe Bar or our favourite Celtica. At least back in the day bars stayed open as long as there were people)
– Eat bread, pancakes, waffles, cakes, dessert etc.. (Oh so many good things. Just like France)
– Be careful with wearing stilettos (I was in a season of stilettos and Brussels is full of old stone streets, not great for stiletto heels!)
– Shop, shop, shop, ’til you drop. (Big city, big opportunities)
– If you hear a lot of honking cars around you, walk your head high. You’re hot!
– Go to the movies (a lot of movies in English!)
– Tour the city and specially spot out the hot policemen! (Been a fan of Belgian policemen since 2007. Long story short: I got my purse stolen on the street of Brussels and started running after the dude. Policemen noticed me in my mini skirt running after him and caught him. And the night in the police station was like being in modelling Policemen heaven. I don’t know if you have to be hot to pass as a police in Belgium but MAN! mmmmmm-mm-mmm)
– Collect the sightings of all the pissing statues of the city! (Manneken Pis, Jeanneke Pis, Zinneke Pis)
– Visit museums, parks, galleries. Brussels is full of culture.

BRUGGE
This little city is an Instagrammers heaven. Unfortunately when I visited it, Instagram didn’t exist. YES! That’s how old I am, to all you young readers. It’s a small little city with fancy buildings, loads of fancy cars (Ferraris in every corner). To us it wasn’t anything special and we didn’t stay there for very long. But I’m known to not have an eye for history and fancy buildings. Brugge is an easy destination to visit by train. I think it was like 30mins away. And I promise you’ll get some great photos.

ANTWERPEN
We visited Antwerpen because I was crazy about Belgian dance music and my favourite band, Sylver, was playing there. We did find amazing shoes in Antwerpen and I loved the fact that it was more Flemish speaking than French speaking. I remember thinking to Aino, that I would like to explore Antwerpen better. So I have very fond brief memories of Antwerpen. So explore its and tell me more!

KORTRIJK
On the train again and on to another concert because of my 21st birthday. Milk Inc. was preforming in this tiny place. One of our colleagues in the restaurant actually was from Kortrijk, so he promised to take us around and come to the concert with us. We walked around a little bit in this tiny village and it was so idyllic. I remember thinking this place would be ideal to grow your children in. Quite funny now, since I’ve ended up in a small French village with my children. Not far away from the idyllic dream of Kortrijk. High recommendation to Bowling De Max: no need to book a hotel room to catch an early train, you can just play pool, bowling etc all night long until it’s time to go to your train.

2 months in Belgium. Obviously I had to cut out a lot of memories from here because they’re all long days working in the hotel restaurant with something like 40 men. I could have easily spent more time in Belgium and I truly still miss this country. It has a special place in my heart. I do think I will return to Belgium one day. If not for just the chocolates but for a small holiday. Such a great country and everyone should see this place!!

Child of the World. Language enthusiast. Wanderlust running in my veins. Making the world Merry.

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