NAME: Bram Reusen (30)
BORN IN: Turnhout (Antwerp province)
CURRENTLY LIVING IN: Charlottesville, Virginia
Bram: “My teenage years in Geel, a small city just east of Antwerp, were nothing less than fantastic. I had plenty of friends, played soccer (football) and went out on the weekends. But deep down I always felt an urge to travel, so a year after finishing college I went to Australia for nine months. On that solo trip, I met my future wife, a girl from the United States. Caroline and I eventually went back to our respective countries but stayed in touch, seeing each other only a few times a year. After going through the (long) visa process, I moved to the USA on a fiancé visa about three years later, in the spring of 2014. Now, after living in Vermont for about two years, we’re living in Charlottesville, Virginia. I’m working as a freelance writer, photographer and travel blogger so I spend my days hiking, writing and photographing.”
What do you miss most about Belgium?
I’m pretty adaptable and flexible and tend to look at everything from a positive perspective. This means that, as I focus on my life here in the United States, I generally — on a day-to-day basis — don’t miss a lot about Belgium. That’s not to say that I don’t miss anything from time to time, though. There are specific times when I definitely miss Belgium a lot. Examples are birthdays, Easter, Christmas and events back in my hometown that I know all my friends are at. I definitely miss my close family most of all. Second, the food. I truly miss eating a simple ‘boterham’ with freshly baked bread from the local bakery.
On your visits back to Belgium, what’s the first thing you do?
Eat! Whenever I go back to Belgium, my mom stocks up on and cooks my favorite food. There’s some truth to the saying that you only appreciate things when you miss them and that definitely applies to classic Belgian dishes. There’s nothing like my mom’s ‘stoemp’ with sausage, homemade fries and beef stew, and meatballs in tomato sauce.
What are the top 3 things people should see or do in Belgium in your opinion?
Many people, including Belgians themselves, don’t realize how much there is to do in this tiny country. After living abroad for a couple of years and now focusing on travel, I look at these kinds of things with a totally different perspective than I did back when I still lived in Belgium. I think that visiting Bruges is pretty much the best thing you can do in Belgium — at least for first-time visitors. Ghent is a superb option as well, particularly if you’re looking for a less-known historic city. Second, I would definitely also recommend visiting one of the hundreds of breweries, or a typical “brown café”, and sample a few of the iconic Belgian beers. Third, a bicycle ride through Flanders Fields is one of the most unique things you can do in Belgium. Dotted with war cemeteries, remnants of trenches and memorials, this is a great place if you want to learn more about the First World War.
A bicycle ride through Flanders Fields is one of the most unique things you can do in Belgium
Favorite Belgian cafe?
It may also be a tourist hotspot, but I truly love visiting ‘t Brugs Beertje in Bruges. If you’re looking for an authentic ‘brown café’, this is one of them. Filled with wooden chairs and tables, its walls decorated with glasses, beer signs and images, ‘t Brugs Beertje is one of the absolute best spots to grab a Belgian beer. They serve more than 300 different beers.
Favorite outdoor area?
This is an easy one: the Grand-Place in Brussels. I truly think it’s the most beautiful square in the entire world. I’ve been to a lot of other historic places in Europe, but nowhere else is the architecture this imposing. Brussels may not be my favorite Belgian city, but the Grand-Place all by itself makes a visit an absolute ‘must’. There’s a reason this is a Unesco World Heritage Site!
Favorite food and drink?
My favorite food changes constantly but it’s typically something simple like fries and beef stew or vol-au-vent. The longer I go without eating those dishes, the better they seem to be. When it comes to drinks, absolutely nothing beats a Belgian abbey beer. My personal favorites are Chimay Bleu and Maredsous 10.
I love the atmospheric annual Christmas markets in Belgium’s historic cities. Each decently sized town has its own Christmas market, but I especially love those in Antwerp, Brussels and Bruges, all gorgeous cities filled with beautiful architecture. (editor’s note: don’t miss the Christmas market in Durbuy either!)
A white Christmas in the U.S. pales in comparison to Belgium’s (Europe’s) atmospheric Christmas markets. I’ll take a Christmas market over a white Christmas anytime!
How (and where?) are you spending the holidays this year?
As I mentioned before, Christmas is one of those few times I really get homesick. Since I’ve been in the U.S., I’ve only been back in Belgium for Christmas once. Caroline and I are in the process of figuring out how we’re going to ‘do’ the holidays in the future, as neither of us lives close to home now, which isn’t always easy. In both the U.S. and Belgium, Christmas is celebrated with close family, gathered around a decorated Christmas tree, and spent eating lots of great food (traditionally turkey in Belgium and a roast in America). What I do love about the Christmases I’ve spent in the U.S., all of which were in Vermont, is the thick blanket of snow that covers the ground this time of year. In much of the country, it is in fact a white Christmas every single year, which greatly adds to the holiday’s charm and coziness. Still, however, an actually white Christmas pales in comparison to Belgium’s (Europe’s) atmospheric Christmas markets. I’ll take a Christmas market over a white Christmas anytime!
What’s your favorite Belgian custom?
My favorite Belgian tradition is without question Sinterklaas. On December 6 every year, Saint Nicholas brings gifts to children, which was one of my favorite days of the year as a child. Sinterklaas is also what the American Santa Claus is based off of—it’s a unique tradition in the Low Countries and definitely the one I love most.
What advice would you give to anyone visiting (or moving to) Belgium?
I would advise someone visiting Belgium to be prepared to be surprised! I notice that most people don’t expect much from Belgium and Belgians, which opens up a huge opportunity for pleasant surprises, fun experiences and great memories. I would tell people to expect a wealth of beautiful architecture, lots of mouthwatering food and friendly people. On a more practical note: don’t forget to take an umbrella and/or rain coat.
What’s the funniest assumption you have heard about Belgium while abroad?
People abroad still seem to think that Belgians speak French. As much as that bothers me, I always take the time to explain the linguistic situation in Belgium— and try to avoid politics, though, as that’s way too complicated, even for a native Belgian. Additionally, no one seems to understand that fries are not French, but Belgian. That’s another something that I tend to point out. It’s something we should be very proud of as Belgians.
I’d like to share my 15 minutes of fame with…
WEP, a Belgian-based organization offering cultural exchange programs, language trips, volunteer projects and more. They helped me set up my first solo trip to Australia six years ago and I totally recommend them if you’re looking for an immersive holiday or long-term adventure.