We were pretty happy to leave France. We were driving away from our French cottage at check-out time, on the DOT. See ya’, Dirty French Cottage!
It’s still so strange to put a different country in the GPS and it says we’ll be there in 3 hours. OK then! Leaving France AND an easy travel day! Win win!
We planned a 3-day stop in Belgium because it was about halfway to our next destination in the Netherlands. And we felt like it would be a nice chance to explore a new area. We were so glad that Belgium did not have any iconic tours, museums or other destinations that we JUST HAD to see. Honestly, France wore us out with all the stuff that we felt like we could not miss. There’s just no winning with those iconic tourist things. Either you do them and are exhausted and wonder why you aren’t enjoying it more, or you don’t do them and feel guilty and wonder what you’re missing. (Looking at you, Louvre!).
But anyway… we arrived in Gent and discovered our great Airbnb. This is starting well already! The niñas had to share a room, but they each got their own bunk bed set, and Haley used the sheets we bought to cover the dirty couch in Le Cottage to create a fort in her lower bunk. Privacy in a shared room! Way to FSO, Haley.
The Airbnb was really clean, quite spacious, in a good location and even had an elevator for our massive suitcases that barely fit in the car. We were pleased.
On our first evening we drove into the central area of Gent. It wasn’t as easy as driving into Paris because there was a lot of construction that Delores, our GPS, did not know about and did not know how to direct us away from. But we persevered on the parking and soon emerged from the garage underneath the cathedral.
First impressions: OMG we love this place! Gent is SO CUTE. It has canals and churches and sidewalk cafes and quaint old buildings. And not nearly as many tourists. You know what else we saw? Chocolate. So. Much. Chocolate. This is incredible! We also saw waffles, french fries and SMURFS. I did not realize that the artist that created the Smurfs is from Belgium. Now you know too. As a child I loved the Smurfs so Belgium scored big with that one. We had a great dinner in Gent and our love affair with Belgium began.
The next day we headed to Brugges, which was only a 30-minute drive. We found the main church and put that in the GPS, which then led us through what looked like pedestrian-only streets (I could not watch, I was so stressed we were driving into a market, like we did in Spain). But no fears needed. Parking garage under ground: check!
We just explored, wandering where our hearts led us. We eventually decided that it was time to eat the fries they are so famous for. We tried to use Google to find some french fry places but Google just doesn’t work very well with these quaint little towns and little stores that don’t establish themselves on Google Maps as much.
WARNING… CRUDE LANGUAGE AHEAD.
After a lot of walking, trying to find a frites place we wanted to eat at, we ended up back at the town square where we had started. By this time I was carrying around a salad I had purchased in anticipation of sitting down with the family as they ate their fries. At this point in our trip I am needing green stuff. #scurvy The girls and I had our water bottles and a lemonade too, which factors into the next part of this story. We finally find a frites place that looks good and it’s right on the main square. The girls and Dan go into the restaurant to order their fries and I get a table outside and sit with my salad and water. The guy behind the counter promptly tells Dan and the girls that they can’t bring their drinks into the restaurant. Even water? Nope.
So they come back out and they put down their water and lemonade, thinking he meant they can’t bring them into the restaurant itself. But outside on the table was fine. Haley and Dan went back inside, with nothing in their hands, while Zoe and I sat outside at the table. At this point, I was kind of hiding my salad and water bottle behind my purse. Dan and Haley went in to order the fries. Here’s how that went:
Dan: We’d like three of your finest bowls of frites, please and I’ll take a Coke Light, too.
Owner Guy (pointing outside to me and Zoe): She cannot eat that salad at my table.
Dan: But we are ordering fries.
Owner: But she cannot eat her salad here.
Dan: But you don’t sell salads and she needs a salad. (slight exaggeration there but not entirely untrue, I could use a few more salads in my life)
Owner: No, she can’t eat it here.
Dan: Nevermind. Cancel the order.
As Dan walks towards the door to leave, he says over his shoulder that the policy is stupid.
Owner (screaming at the top of his lungs from 0 to 60 in a split second): You’re stupid, get out of my restaurant you mother fucker!!!
(He was not Belgian and had a strong accent but spoke English well enough to shout profanities. He was also slamming things around in his quest to make the situation even more blustery.)
Not lying, that’s exactly how it went down. Several customers were sitting at tables, too. He blows up at us, who just want to give him money because I had the audacity to have a salad at one of his tables..? And the place was NOT busy, so it wasn’t like there was a run on tables. None of it made any sense.
Dan and Haley come out of the restaurant with wide eyes. I heard the yelling and asked if that was for us and Dan said, “Yep, I feel kinda special.”
OKEY DOKEY then, let’s move along. No frites here!
Dan pulled out the only weapon he had at his disposal: Google Reviews. As we sat in the square he fired off a nasty review, and we learned that it was one of many many reviews with similar sentiments about the service. Lesson learned, always ask Google. If they do have something on the business, it’s best to know before going.
French Fry Museum
While Dan was pounding out his Google Review, I was doing some research of my own. By the time he was done with his review that will surely
have no affect whatsoever close the restaurant, I had set my sights on a french fry museum. A french fry museum!? What fun is this! Supposedly Belgium invented the french fry so of course there should be a french fry museum. There’s a bit of a debate about origin of the french fry. Netherlands and Belgium both like to claim ownership. To make matters more confusing it has french in it’s name. Belgium says that is because the American soldiers in World War 1 were offered these delicious treats as they marched through Belgium. The Belgians spoke french so the soldiers named the food “French Fries”. All I know is that a french fry museum sounds fascinating and guess what: Google reviews says that the french fry cafeteria in the basement is delicious. And bonus!!… they don’t call you a “mother fucker” either. Thanks, Google, we are in!
Off we go, only about a block or two away. Have I mentioned that we had great weather? Y’all, we have been so lucky on the Sherman Euro Road Trip 2019. We have had great weather for almost all of the things we needed to. It makes such a difference. Of course, we planned our timing to be here when we had the best chance for it, but if you know anything about the weather in northern Europe, it still takes luck.
The french fry cafeteria in the basement of the museum did not disappoint. We ordered a huge amount of fries, we tried all kinds of sauces (and the nice worker lady threw in a few extras for free) and we chowed down. For probably HALF the cost of the “MF’ing Fry Guy” on the town square. Happy Shermanos. We discovered joppie sauce is one of our favorites, which is what the lady gifted us. It’s like a sweet curry. Wow is it tasty.
Now we have full bellies, it’s time to check out the museum. The niñas were fully engaged in this one! Can I just say that there is a LOT to learn about the potato?! And it’s an amazing food! Dan can tell you from his Potato Hack Diet that it really is a superfood and this museum confirmed that.
We checked out the 4 floors of potato and french fry information and left with a new-found appreciation for the tater.
Brugges Canal Tour
Next stop on our Meandering Around Brugges Tour: a canal tour. We saw a lot of people on little boats cruising through the canals and I wanted to be one of those people. In between Dan and Haley sneezing from allergies, we took a quaint tour and learned a little more about the city.
With bellies happy and Worldschoolers’ quest for odd museums and small boats satisfied, we headed home to our comfy Airbnb and called it a night.
For our last day in Belgium we headed to Antwerp to check it out. I wanted to see a different Belgian town and also see some of the diamond shops. Another 30-minute drive away, another parking garage (smallest one we’ve ever encountered) and we are there. We found the pedestrian street which is pretty much the main street between the gorgeous train station and the church. It was about a few miles long and we walked the length of it.
Antwerp is bigger than Brugges and although it’s very pretty, it’s not as quaint as Brugges or Gent. It does beat them in the American Fast Food category, specifically for their Five Guys restaurant. We love Five Guys so we had burgers there. We didn’t order the fries, though, because it just felt wrong (even though their potatoes were from the Netherlands that day. True story, they tell you where the potatoes are from each day). Happy with burgers, we explored the streets, window shopped at all the diamond stores, bought more chocolate (how much chocolate can one person eat in a day??? Answer: a lot) and took pictures of the pretty church and plaza.
We saw hands in a lot of places around Antwerp. Honestly, the best way to learn about a town is to go into the gift shop and see what images are all over their products. From there, you can look up stuff to see the significance. Everything had hands on it so we asked our friend Google what’s up.
Antwerp Hands’ are one of the well-known regional products from Antwerp. The name of these little treats refers to a folk tale about how the city got the name Antwerp.Source: focusonbelgium.be
According to legend, a giant called Druon Antigoon exacted a heavy toll from any seafarer crossing the river Scheldt in Antwerp. If the sailors refused to pay the toll, Antigoon mercilessly chopped off one of their hands. A brave Roman soldier called Silvius Brabo battled and killed the giant. He then chopped off the giant’s hand and threw it in the Scheldt; and the Dutch term ‘hand werpen’ (throw a hand) eventually became ‘Antwerpen’ (Antwerp). This is how a hand became the symbol of Antwerp, and many years later, the inspiration behind the famous delicacy from the city on the Scheldt: the Antwerp Hands.
The famous Antwerp Hands biscuits have existed since 1934 and were the result of a competition to devise a culinary specialty for Antwerp. The dough is made from butter, sugar, eggs, flour and planed almonds.
That was our last day in Belgium and we were sad! We wished we could spend a lot more time there. It was really lovely and such a nice change from France. I daresay it could be one of our new favorite countries that we have visited (not lived, because living is a different category!).
With only 3 days there I did not expect to like it so much, and never planned to like it enough to get a Starbucks mug from there. Not all countries make the list for a Starbucks mug (looking at you, DR) but Belgium was worth it so I got one.
Thanks for an awesome visit, Belgique. We love you!