Thursday, December 19, 2013

It is not only waffles or chocolate

Belgian food is just amazing. Besides chocolate, beer and waffles, Belgian cuisine is not really known worldwide but it's very diversified and good. Belgian cuisine, like any other European cuisine, had been influenced by other food cultures of its neighbors.

At least, one of the cliches about Belgium is more than true. Our chocolate is amazing. White, milk, dark, with peanuts, speculoos, strawberries,... you can find everything. Since chocolate is really popular in Belgium, you can find many industries and local factories that you can even visit. But chocolate is not only pure chocolate. Go to any restaurant in Belgium, and you'll be able to find all kinds of chocolate desserts, like ice-cream, chocolate mousse, chocolate flan, chocolate cakes, brownies or chocolate crepes and waffles. Talking about waffles, there's another true cliche about Belgium. To be totally honest, I had no idea Belgian waffles were worldwide known before I came here and everybody started asking me about them. There are different kind of waffles. You have the Brussels Waffle, which is just a big regular waffle and the Liege waffle (remember where I come from?), that is crustier and sugary. With any of those, you can put as many and as different things as you want.

I've also talked about beers. I don't want people to think that Belgian people only drink beer or drink it all the time. The only thing is that beer arrived in the late 1800s in Belgium with little local factories and, since then, it has never left the country. We have many kind of beers, from the normal to the "Brown beer", or beers with cherry, peach, grape or whatever flavor.

Besides that, there's still a lot to discover about Belgian cuisine. Our principal meals are focused on meat and potatoes. The typical dish from my region is "Boulettes à la Liégeoise", which are meatballs with a sauce made out of local syrup and raisins mostly. They're served with "French" fries, that are not French at all actually, and salad. Something else that is really good is "Salade Liégeoise3, which is a mixture of green beans, potatoes and bacon, with a little creamy sauce. We also have the typical steak fries, very popular. In Belgium, we eat more meat than we eat fish, but one of the most popular dishes is still Mussels with fries. You can have mussels with all kind of sauces.

For some food that are from Belgium and that you can find here, I recommend the "Speculoos", that is really good. With that, we also do Tiramisu and all kind of cakes. We even have a Speculoos Jelly, if I can call it like that.

There are even way more specialities than what I've talked about but I'll let you guys find out if you come to Belgium once. Bon appétit! :)


SSR: "Les Diables Rouges" in the World Cup


Belga

I've heard many people making fun of our National soccer team, which is kind of understandable. But I just wanted to remind people that 2013 has been an amazing year for those that we call "Les Diables Rouges" (literally translated to The Red Devils). This year, they've been from 20th to 11th world ranking, according to the FIFA. The team won 10 places during the last year and 30 since December 2011.

This year was the year of all the promises. It is true that the Belgian team is not a very experimented team and not used to big meetings and to a lot of pressure but I have faith in them. They are a bunch of young guys, very motivated, that want to offer their country some kind of satisfaction, which they already did. Many of our players play, during the year, in the German, English or Netherlands championship, which are known to be really good European teams (Germany is even the 2nd country on the international scene, behind Spain, European too). This year national ranking was the best since the creation of the FIFA, in 1993. They also qualified for the World Cup and have actually a chance to go far in the championship. They are the best team Belgium has had for a long time, probably since the World Cup in Mexico in 1986 with the Belgian team that lost in the semis against the future champion, Argentina.

In Brazil, The Red Devils are going to meet Algeria, Russia and South Corea in their first group. I think they will be able to pass this group, probably in the 1st place, and join the final eight, with those countries being respectively 26th, 22th and 54th world FIFA ranked.

I know many people were surprised when they heard that Belgium qualified for the World Cup and I have to admit that I was surprised myself at the beginning of the season, when I saw how good our team was but people need to know and to admit that Belgium has evolved and is one of the big soccer nations now. They're way before France (ranked 20th). I think those guys can go far in the championship and, even if they don't, they're still the best national team I've ever known and I will cheer them.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My Belgium

Little country,
Sunny, windy, snowy or even rainy,
Where everybody is always smiling
You're really fun to live in.

Some people don't even know you,
That you exist or where you are,
I want to introduce them to you,
And make them realize how nice you are.

I do love travelling
But I will always come back to you
All the good food you're offering
Makes me miss you!


Sunday, December 15, 2013

How to drive in Belgium

Today, my post is to help you understand what are the differences between driving in the U.S. and driving in Belgium (and in most of European countries). I hope that's going to help you and answer your questions.
video
Sorry for my accent.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Liège

Liège by night
Liège is the third biggest city in Belgium after Brussels, the capital city, and Antwerp, with 1,087,729 inhabitants in 2013. Liège is situated in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium, from which it's the economic and cultural capital. It is built on the Meuse River, that you can see on the picture. Liège used to be pretty much the economic center of Belgium, but that situation changed in the 1950's when the economic power went from Wallonia to Flanders. Throughout history, Liège has been the center of revolutionary movements, and has often rebelled against the religious power in place. But this is not what I'm going to talk about. I want to talk about it how it is now, so that my classmates know how I live my life everyday back in my country.

Yeah, you might already have heard about Liège, thanks to the Liège waffles (that are really good, by the way) but Liège has a lot of other things to offer. The city has an important artistic life as well as architectural heritage. The Prince-bishops' palace, built in the 10th century, is a must see. It houses both the provincial government and the law court. Religion has had a huge impact on the city, culturally but also on an architectural point of view. Even if the St Lambert's cathedral, the most impressive and popular one, was destroyed, many impressive churches and cathedrals still stand in Liège. The city also offers a lot of museums, mostly about the typical life or the culture Liégeois (as you probably figured out, the name of the inhabitants of Liège) used to have. You can also find art galleries and an aquarium. Liège also has a good university with many research programs and a nice campus.

Liège has also a lot to offer for teens. It has 3 movie theaters, 2 malls and a lot of street-opened stores. Actually, we could call the city itself a mall. You can find all kinds of stores for everybody, from clothes to designer shops and traditional cafes. It also has a very animated downtown center, with many bars opened to teens. There's always a park to hang out in, a party to go to, shops to go shopping in or just some typical events. For example, the Christmas market on the principal plaza has become with the years a very famous market in Belgium, with a lot of artisanal and original gifts for all your family. If you want to spend your Sunday as a true Liégeois, you're welcome to come to "La Batte", which is a huge market taking place along the river with a lot of cultural things to buy or to eat and a very typical ambiance.

Buses from all over the province end up in the center so it's a really easy city to get to. The train station, "Liège-Guillemins", which is pretty amazing too, connects Liège with every other big city in Belgium as well as with Paris, Maastricht, Amsterdam and so on. The station was built by Santiago Calatravo, a spanish architector and was officially inaugured on September 18th, 2009. Liège has also an airport (really small, I have to admit, but with flights mostly to the rest of Europe), located out of the city, in Bierset.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Having three languages: good or bad?

So, as I already told you, the most amazing thing about Belgium is that in such a small country, we have three official languages. Dutch is spoken in the North part of the country, French in the South and a little community speaks German in the very East part of the country. I personnaly am a Francophone so French is my native language but I can also speak Dutch. Most of the Belgians are at least bilingual in two of the official languages, some are trilingual and besides, most of them also speak English. Brussels, the capital city, is officialy bilingual. All the constitutional and judicial system are trilingual. That can be confusing sometimes but I think that's awesome.

Why did I say that having three languages could be pretty bad? Well, let's go back two centuries ago. At that time, Belgium was still under the Netherlands empire but they had grown up apart and so didn't have the same culture at all. The Belgian revolution that stroke out in Brussels because the Belgians were feeling that the Netherlands were using discriminatory measures against them led to the separation of the Southern parts of the empire, now known as Belgium. In July 1830, Europe agreed on Belgium's independence and it became a French-speaking laicist monarchy.

That's when the problems begin... Everything was in French but only a very few pourcentage of the population spoke it, the aristocracy. Walloons (in the South) spoke a local Walloon language and Flemish (in the North) spoke a local Flemish language. The Flemish still felt very disadvantaged regarding the Walloons (that they thought spoke French too) and started to claim their rights. The Belgian government slowly accepted some rights, from the press, government and school in Dutch too to giving Belgium two official languages. It also made the North officially Dutch-speaking, the South officially French-speaking and Brussels bilingual. German became an official language after the German reunification but there's never really been problems with the German-speaking part.

There has never really been a Civil War in Belgium and, even if there are still tensions between Walloons and Flemish, I don't think there's gonna be one. The problem is that, after WW2, the South was the main source of economy and now the process is reversing so some radicalist Flemish political parties are claiming the Dutch-speaking part independence but I honnestly don't think it's going to happen, or at least not during my lifetime.

Sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belgium#History
http://www.infoplease.com/encyclopedia/world/belgium-history.html
http://www.academia.edu/1056036/One_nation_one_language_The_case_of_Belgium
and my history class from last year in Belgium.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A need to share what I know

Our English teacher asked us to go to the library and pick up a book that is somehow related to our subject. I found a book about Europe and I was lucky that this book had a section about Belgium. I read it and I was amazed how many things I didn't agree with. I know I'm not an historian or anything but I've grown up over there and studied a lot of the history of my country and what I know didn't match the book. This book is quite an old book and things have definitely change too but I felt like I had to bring some more information to my American friends.

First, you have to know that Belgium is a little country in Europe (yep, not a province of China) and its neighbors are the Netherlands, Germany and France. Those neighbors give Belgium its official national languages, French, Dutch and German (German became an official language in Belgium after the reunification of Germany). Its capital city is Brussels and is a bilingual region. Because of its location it has often served as a important commerce crossroad but also as an European battlefield. Belgium has belonged to a lot of empires and finally became independent from the Netherlands in 1830, after a revolutionary war against Guillaume d'Orange.

Belgium is a divided country, between the two major communities of Walloons and Flemish. They have always fought for supremacy and have often claimed their independence. But, on the contrary of what you can find in the book, the Walloons back in the 1830's and later, didn't think they were superior to the Flemish because everything was in French, from school to the judicial system. Actually, none of the communities spoke French, this language being reserved to the rich people and so, even the Walloons, at the time, were not favored neither.

I thought it was interesting to find a book about my little country in the library of my high school but when I read it, I was a bit disappointed because what it said wasn't completely correct.
"Global studies: Western Europe" on Amazon

Friday, November 22, 2013

Why Belgium?

I wanted to write about Belgium because this is where I come from and I love it. I'm an exchange student here in the U.S. and I can't even remember how many questions (and how many silly questions too) I've been asked since I came here. I found out that a lot of people actually didn't know my little country and had no idea where it was. I also found out that, if they did know it, all they knew about it were the Belgian waffles, beers or chocolate. I want to make them realize that this is not it. We have so many other things, mostly cultural, that we can be proud of and that more people should know about.

I'm hoping that by the time this blog is over, my American friends and teachers won't have any more questions about Belgium. I'm planning to post different articles that will talk about Belgian culture, our weather, the capital city, the people, the way of living,  and maybe some posts about Europe in general. I'm planning to answer every question I've been asked and talk more about them.