Photo by Jeremy D. Larson
As you do when you break free from the tethers of email, I left an auto-away message on my Gmail that read, “I am in Belgium of all places.” When I arrived in Belgium, I met with Tom Pieters who was organizing my stay through Tourism Flanders. “I noticed your auto-reply message. Why did you say ‘of all places’?” It was hard to convey to him what was both a little joke and my thoughts on Belgium pre-visit.
As I type this, I’m on a train back from Bruges, passing through farm fields with scattered cows and small brick cottages with stucco roofing. Since I first arrived in Belgium, I’ve felt the country and my home state of Wisconsin have a lot in common; they’re both most stereotypically known for beer and food that’s horrible for you (cheese and waffles, respectively). And while I begrudgingly take pride in my squeaky-ass cheese curds, there’s always a sense of “Hey there’s more to Wisco than cheese.” In my time here, that’s generally the subtext of Belgium and I suppose anywhere you travel: look beyond the brochure.
Another reason I’m here is to experience Flanders (the Northern part of Belgium that contains Brussels, Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, and Leuven) as a Festival. Just the northern part of Belgium plays host to more than 280 festivals throughout the summer. Some are smaller, local festivals in small towns, while others include Rock Werchter drawing over 85,000 people a day. After almost a week here, walking around by myself, drinking some of the best beers I’ve ever had, talking to some mall punks while Rise Against is playing, being in the middle of a Skrillex pit, watching Patti Smith at an amphitheater in the woods, I haven’t seen a brochure that accurately captures the quiet and the loud of Flanders (it’s like a Pixies song!). Even if this little recap of my time serves as a new brochure, look beyond and go and see for yourself.
–Jeremy D. Larson