My husband’s job has had us traveling for a while. We were fortunate enough to stay in Okinawa for eight years, but it has been almost a decade since we lived in the United States. Strangely enough, my children don’t really remember living in America, and one of them hasn’t lived there, only visited. Sometimes it is really hard living far away from family and when that happens, I try hard to remind myself of the good things about being far away.
1) The People
I have not met a single local person who has not been kind and understanding. I don’t speak much Dutch, and as I am horrible with learning new languages, I don’t imagine I will learn much more than I know now. I am able to read more Dutch than I speak, and that is mostly due to similar words used in English. Fortunately for me, most places I go people speak English. What’s more, they don’t make me feel bad about not knowing their language, they just want to help.
My husband and I wanted to live in Europe so that we would have the opportunity to show our children everything. While my husband saw some of this stuff when he was a child, it’s all new to my daughters and I. Belgium is beautiful on its own, but it’s location in the middle of several other countries allows us to drive for a short period of time and see a couple countries. We have driven around Germany, to Paris, and the Netherlands. On one LONG road trip we drove to England and up to the Scottish highlands, though next time we decided to fly to Scotland.
3) The Countryside
Of course traveling to other countries on a road trip is fun, but Belgium has plenty to see and share on its own. Driving down a road here, I feel like in am in an old movie. The roads are lined with tall trees; the nature has been preserved as much as possible. It’s almost as if the roads were new. Additionally, there is so much farm land near where we live, we are fortunate enough to drive through open spaces everywhere.
One of the classic markets here is of course, the Christmas markets. From the end of November through the beginning of January, there are Christmas markets all around. As nice as those are, I am just as excited for the weekly markets. At first I thought it would be like the farmers markets that were around during the summer and fall where I grew up, with local farmers and people with small home businesses bringing their fresh fruits and vegetables, homemade jams, and candles to sell to people who wanted the freshest food. Here, the markets are just as much of a business as anything else is. I’m not sure if any of the fruit and vegetable vendors grows their own, but they pull up in large trucks open to reveal a well-stocked stall, easily opened and closed to display a large variety of foods. More fun than the food, are the clothing stalls; one stall will be stocking conservative clothing my Grandmother would have worn, and right down the way will be jeans worn by a mannequin, and cut almost low enough to still use the bathroom while wearing them. There is very little middle ground between them. The ugly sweater stall is a favorite of mine; large, thick sweaters with ghastly designs, each for 5 euro. I will wear an ugly sweater in the house to stay warm.
5) The Food
Ah, the food. My favorite part of traveling anywhere is always the food. I loved living in Japan for the sushi and fresh fish. When we visited England, I had fish and chips at least four times (and I’m thinking of returning just for good fish and chips). In Belgium, for many people it’s the beer; I am not a beer drinker however. Instead, I live for the frites, and chocolate. Don’t let anyone fool you, fries came from Belgium, and they make them wonderfully. Even the frozen bags from the store taste great. But the chocolate, the chocolate is a miracle. I had had Belgian chocolate before, but coming here, it is wonderful. The chocolate shops are wonderful, filled with the best chocolate I could imagine. However it is not just the chocolate shops. There is a quality that is legally required of all chocolate here, meaning even the candy bars at the corner store are amazing. I am very excited that tomorrow, I get to go to a chocolate class at one of the stores here. I have no idea what we are learning, only that it has to do with the process of making chocolate, and I get to take some home. I think it will be my favorite class I have ever taken.