Belgium is about the same size as Maryland, but it has three official languages: Flemmish/Dutch, French, and German. When I was in the Flanders (Flemish speaking region), the ticketing agent at the train station gave me a slight glare when I spoke to her in French – oops. I thought French would be more polite than English, but that’s not the case. If you’re in a Flemish speaking region, you speak Flemish and if you’re in a French-speaking region, you speak French… even if all of the languages are official in all of the regions. The only place both Dutch and French fly is in Brussels – where everything is bilingual, including the road signs.
My first stop in Belgium was Bruges to visit Brigit, one of my college roommates. Bruges was beautiful and seeing a familiar face was nice, too! The city center is a UNESCO world heritage site; Gothic architecture from the medieval times made me feel like I was walking through a different time.
Brigit was off to Geneva, and I was going to explore Brussels. In such a small country, I was lucky enough to have two hosts! Pieter, who stayed with my family in Minnesota for a few days while touring with Up With People, greeted me at the train station in Brussels. Guidebooks can give you a good idea of how to get around a city, but nothing compares to exploring with a local.
We went up to Antwerp for a day and were greeted by the pouring rain. We wandered when it picked up a bit and ducked in and out of cafes to avoid the worst of it.