A love letter to Belgium.
Opening the mailbox and finding a card with a few nice handwritten lines and a captivating image always bring smiles to me. Even more, if I didn't see it coming. It is simple yet pretty valuable. I am a fan. Another unforeseen but regular joy delivery I receive is from Belgium, where every city I entered so far look like a postcard.
When places boast about being the best, it can be difficult to fulfill those expectations. But Belgium isn't loud about itself internationally as some other countries are, and I heard little about it before coming here. Because of that, I am continually surprised by its qualities now.
But like a postcard, the picture itself wouldn't cut it without the personal message; one thing is how a place looks; another is how it makes people feel. That is where the modest promotion brings benefit again, because in my experience, places big on self-praise sometimes linked the narrative with contempt for outsiders: In the Netherlands, I was told that "if it ain't Dutch, it ain't much," and I heard similar lines in a handful of other countries. While they might have world-class offerings and I see why some hail them as the one, dissing those born elsewhere or don't share their view isn't a path to international peace.
In Belgium, so far, I never experienced any hints of hostility towards me because of being a foreigner, or an alien, as some countries called me. Now, that might be individual to me, but after being reminded that "I am not from here" on and off since elementary school, a place where they don't make a big deal out of it feels great!
Ultimately, Belgium allows me to be there. I liked many countries in my time being abroad, but finding one that works for me turned out to be a challenge. I didn't find a spot for me in places where I spoke the country's language and had an awareness of its culture. But in Belgium, I was able to come without knowing much about either and I still feel welcomed. It is remarkable and fills me with humility and appreciation. And there's more:
Cities organize a lot of events, many of which are free of charge. Fancy an open-air concert in a medieval square? How about a movie screening in a monastery garden?
The outgoing nature is reflected in plentiful inviting streets to eat and shop and parks to chill and picnic. Opportunities to socialize and have good times are easy to find.
Another element that contributes to the positive vibes is just how effortless it is to get between these cities. The local train network is some of the best that I have experienced.
And when I need some time for myself and don't want to sit at home, I can cycle to solitude that looks this good:
Yes, it isn't just the cities; Belgium has rather pleasant natural settings, too.
The combination of safe bike paths, the ability to take my bike on a train, relatively good land access for more adventurous journeys, and the massive bike culture is extraordinary.
To finish, here are a few more Belgian scenes that caught my attention:
More to come in future posts. And since you made it all the way here: Would an unexpected postcard make your day better? Get in touch, I'll see what I can do; you might get one. (If I say you will get one, that's not unexpected anymore, right? You never know until you try.)
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