The move to Brussels is a big step, but big steps are what expats are all about. We’re a pretty fearless bunch, always itching to get out there and experience. That sense of wanderlust is what took me off the beaten path and into Flemish Brabant.
Thankfully, as you may have guessed already, ‘there’s an app for that’: the ‘Become a Local’ Bucket List (www.bucketlistflemishbrabant.be)! There’s no, ‘Here’s a city, or a nice monument to stop by.’ No – there’s a bucket list, full of fun, sometimes quirky, things to do away from the hustle and bustle of Brussels. It’s your one-stop ticket to discovering Flemish Brabant’s hidden gems, those secrets only locals know.
So how does it work? The bucket list contains pastimes that locals enjoy on a regular basis. Click a bucket-list tile for additional info (Time for the next trip… What strikes your fancy?) or to tick them off your list (I’m one step closer to becoming a local!). It’s perfect for tracking your progress and testing your skill and expertise as a true (g)local.
Naturally, this can’t be done in a single day. Over the course of a year, I’ll be putting my best foot forward to explore as much of Flemish Brabant’s highlights as I can, using the bucket list as my guide. After all, locals don’t become locals overnight… If you’d like to read about my previous experiences with bucket list challenges 1 through 15, you can check them out here, here and here.
Challenge 16: Taste a sandwich with cream cheese
A little birdy told me to head for Beersel to try one of Pajotteland’s famed ‘cream cheese’ sandwiches. With that in mind, I visited 3 Fonteinen, a restaurant praised for its local Belgian dishes and fantastic selection of Lambic beers.
Now, I’ll be honest… I had no idea what to expect. My experience with cream cheese had, until then, been largely limited to Philadelphia on bagels and artichoke dip. I was in for quite a surprise.
Cream cheese at the 3 Fonteinen – and in the Pajotteland in general – is closer to quark or ricotta. It’s fresh and light. It also turns out that it’s the perfect thing to eat on a sultry summer day. Spread on thick pieces of rustic country bread and topped with radish slices and chopped green onions, this local treat is out-of-this-world delicious! Hats off to 3 Fonteinen for introducing me to what is now one of my favourite summer treats!
Challenge 17: Visit a brewery
Belgium has no shortage of breweries, and Flemish Brabant is no exception to that rule. My goal was to try a few local beers I’d never tried before. So, I ended up in Tildonk, at the Hof ten Dormaal farmhouse brewery.
Let me tell you – if you’re down for good beer, quirky ingredients, and witty names, you can’t do better. The brewery sources its ingredients straight from the farm and constantly comes up with innovative brews from common, local staples. There’s the ‘Witgoud’ made from Belgian endive, the ‘Tempelhof’, an imperial stout that’s a punch in the face, and an IPA with a cracking-good title, ‘The Politician’, with the clever subtitle, ‘I promise you…’.
Brewer Andre never thought he’d end up doing anything like this, but I promise you… He was born for it!
Challenge 18: Learn the language
For a native English speaker, Dutch is an acquired taste. Especially when learning those g’s and vowel combinations like ‘oei’, you may go through a period of contorting your face into some truly hilarious expressions. But don’t give up! While you’re entertaining yourself and others, you’re also getting an inside look at the local culture.
The first lesson to learn when learning Dutch is that the Flemish adore proverbs. The first course I took involved an entire class dedicated to learning adages about falling through baskets, gnawing on bones and lots of allusions to fish or poo. Throwing in a proverb or two when practicing your Dutch is a sure-fire way to score points with the locals.
Challenge 19: Get acquainted with a local hero!
You might not know it, but there are loads of local heroes in Flemish Brabant. For example, Georges Lemaître (Leuven) inventor of the Big Bang Theory, Eddy Merckx (Meensel-Kiezegem), five-time winner of the Tour de France, and… Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
Bruegel is one of the preeminent artists of the Dutch and Flemish Renaissance and is famous for painting people and landscapes in the countryside around Brussels. He focused on the daily life of peasants, making him not only an artist but a 16th century visual historian of sorts.
In fact, one of his piece’s, Netherlandish Proverbs, uses people, objects and animals to depict literal translations of some of those funny proverbs I mentioned above.
Challenge 20: Follow in the footsteps and/or tracks of a local!
Once I’d ‘met’ Bruegel, it only made sense to trace a few of his footsteps. Perfectly tailored for the task, the Bruegel Trail helped me do just that. I didn’t pass any peasants, but from the views it was abundantly clear that little of the landscape has changed since Bruegel’s time. Fields of green and gold and orchards full of ripening fruit are still part of the landscape’s tapestry. And despite its proximity to ‘civilization’, the walk is surprisingly quiet.
I took my husband and kids along. There’s a great treasure hunt for kids on this walk, which makes it the perfect family art, history and nature outing!
Flemish Brabant, a definite to-do on your own bucket list
If it’s not on your list, it should be. Flemish Brabant is full of treasures good for the soul. If you are interested in hearing more bucket-list adventures, stay tuned to the Brussels Times.
However, if you just can’t wait, check out the ‘Become a Local’ bucket list (www.bucketlistflemishbrabant.be) and sign up for the newsletter. You can stay up-to-date on what’s happening in Flemish Brabant and get tips from genuine local ‘heroes and heroines’ of Flemish Brabant.