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Belgium Is About Blending In, Relaxing Like A Local

our_lady_of_antwerp.jpg
Antwerpen Toerisme & Congres
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Flickr
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Antwerp towers above the city of Antwerp, which is the most populous in Belgium.

  France, Germany and the Netherlands draw millions of tourists every year. Nestled in between those countries (and Luxembourg) is Belgium. KPLU travel expert Matthew Brumley says travelers who overlook this country miss out on an important part of European history and culture.

Emigration Point

Antwerp’s harbor was where millions of Europeans said goodbye to their home continent. One of them was a German scientist who arrived in town, renounced his citizenship, and boarded a boat for the United States.

“It was people like Albert Einstein who would purchase a ticket here in Antwerp and board these ships for places like New York, Philadelphia and Boston,” Brumley said.

More would follow, as the Nazis gained power in Germany.

In The Middle Of Conflict

The Nazis overran Belgium as they made their way into France. But they weren’t the first military force to march across the country.

“Just a 45-minute drive from Antwerp you find where the battle of Waterloo took place,” Brumley said. “A little bit further than that is … Flanders’ Fields, and the horrific trenches of World War I. [Belgium] has always been a highway where armies would go back and forth and battle it out, mostly between France and Germany.”

Getting There

Your best bet for efficient flying is to head to Amsterdam. It’s not a long drive or train ride from there into Belgium.

What To See

Look to Antwerp for great architecture. The Cathedral of Our Lady of Antwerp towers over city’s main square. 

In nearby Brussels you’ll find the headquarters of NATO. It’s also considered the capital of the European Union. (There’s no official capital, and the European Parliament meets in both Brussels and Strasboug, Germany.)

There are great places to relax, too.

“There are some great pubs here where you can taste some mouth-watering Belgian beers,” Brumley said. “[Belgium] is not one of those places that’s going to blow you away with stunning mountains or archaeological sites like in Rome, that date back 2,000 or 3,000 years. It’s more about taking it slow, enjoying the ambience of the place … just living like a local for a bit.”

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Going Places is KPLU's weekly exploration of travel, with Matthew Brumley, co-founder of Earthbound Expeditions on Bainbridge Island. Earthbound provides small group travel to clients including KPLU. Share your thoughts on Belgium, or suggest future segment topics, in the comments below.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.
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