We’re three weeks in, and I know I still walk like a tourist – self-doubting, struggling to find street signs and metro terminals.
But we’re three weeks in, and slowly but surely, I’m learning the shy but sweet Belgian culture.
It’s not flashy like Paris, proper like London or spicy like Barcelona. Brussels has too many personalities to fit a category, and all of them are subtle.
I’ve only met one Belgian who was born and raised in Brussels; he is an 80-year-old fellow Sunday market goer. I never caught his name, but he said he’s seen the capital of Belgian, and apparently Europe, change a lot over the past eight decades.
But he said three things have remained constant, unwavering Brussels pillars: beer, waffles and comics.
I’ve gotten a taste of Belgians’ love for these three necessities over the past few weeks. It’s hard to find a bar in town that doesn’t serve ten or so Belgian beers, and if you’re lucky, a trappist beer will always be on tap. Last weekend was a crowded, crazy beer festival held at the Grand Place. There were twenty too many shouting Canadians for us, so we made our own beer festival at one of the city’s best known bars, Delirium. After tasting the incredibly diverse brews, it’s easy to see why Belgians treat their beer with as much affection as a family member.
Also dear to the heart of any Belgian, or let’s be real and say any Brussels tourist, are waffles. Brussels and Liege waffles are generally hailed as the best around, through apparently they’re very different. I can’t speak to the Liege waffles yet, but I can tell you Brussels waffles are unlike any I’ve had. They’re also diabetes waiting to happen. Prepared with a yeast-leavened batter, these gems are lighter, thicker and more crispy than the Plaza 900 waffles I grew accustomed to freshman year. People more knowledgable than I have weighed in on the best waffles in Brussels, and by the time I leave, I’ll hopefully have tried most all.
Hopping on the comics strip bandwagon was a little harder for me, mainly because they’re not something you generally put in your belly. After witnessing the Brussels Comics Fest last weekend, however, I’ve got to say the level of cartoon-dedication here is impressive. A Macy’s Thanksgiving Day styled balloon parade in the morning gave way to a spectacular lights show at night, both of which celebrated the history of comics in Brussels. As a TinTin fan growing up (he was a journalist, you know), it was fun to see a celebration of something so classically Belgian.
I’m far from a Brussels native (nearly 60 percent of those in Brussels are foreigners, so at least I’m not alone), but I take comfort in the knowledge that I’m a fan of the three things my 80-year-old, Brussels-born friend said were most classically Brussels: beer, waffles and comics.