NAME: Davina Dhondt (28)
BORN IN: Ghent, East Flanders
CURRENTLY LIVING IN: New JerseyDavina: As a young girl I moved around a lot, probably because of the gypsy blood running trough my mothers veins. My grandfather was a circus artist, hence the name of my travel blog ‘Latcho Drom‘ which is a phrase in gypsy language meaning ‘goeie reis’ in Dutch or ‘have a safe trip’ in English. I lived a year in Australia where I worked as an au pair and travelled around. And just when I thought I would settle back in Belgium, my husband got a job in New York this year in May. So I followed him in the adventure! I’m still waiting for an employment visa for myself, but in the meanwhile I keep on discovering the area.
What do you miss most about Belgium?
My friends and family, of course. I really miss hanging out with them! Luckily the world got a bit smaller thanks to things like Skype and Facebook. But even after a short time being here, I already miss tons of food. Although New York is a big mash up of cultures and you can find all kinds of stuff here, I’m missing things like freshly baked bread in thin slices, peperkoek, chocolate of Côte d’Or, ‘preparé’ (minced raw meat, in some regions called ‘filet Americain’ which I don’t get since Americains don’t like to eat raw meat), good Belgian fries (Americans don’t get why we put it twice in a fryer) with a ‘frikandel’ and ‘special sauce’ (mayonaise, ketchup and onions). I also miss decent cheese, mainly it’s just cheddar cheese over here. I would die for a simple slice of young Gouda or some blue French cheese! Recently I found a shop where they sell speculaas and hagelslag (chocolate sprinklers). I was so happy!
On your visits back to Belgium, what’s the first thing you do?
Gain lots of weight by eating everything I just mentioned. Hang out with friends and family and stroll around on the cobblestones in Ghent.
What are the top 3 things people should see or do in Belgium in your opinion?
I guess I’m biased on this one, but you should definitely visit Ghent. In July you can experience the third biggest festival of Europe (after the Oktoberfest in Germany and Las Fallas in Spain): ‘De Gentse Feesten’. Every 3 years there is also a beautiful light festival during winter time too. Next up: 2018!
If you like nature you can go to the Ardennes where you can visit the smallest city in the world: Durbuy! Or you can go to Spa where the ladies can enjoy a spa and the boys can go to the Francorchamps race circuit. Dinant, La Roche, and Bouillon or some other nice cities in de Ardennes. My favorite time of the year to visit them is during the fall when the leaves of the trees turn into beautiful red & yellow colors.
Belgium also has a lovely 67km coastline with a few nice spots like Duinbergen (near Knokke-Heist) and De Haan. They are both smaller then other places at the coast and at both places you can still see the typical old coast villa’s that survived the big apartment buildings.
When I tell Americans that most Belgians like eating waffles as a snack or dessert with nothing on it, they look at me as if I were a traitor
Favorite cafe in Belgium?
I like going to Café Romain in Ghent. It still has that old brown café feeling but you can see people of all ages and from different backgrounds. The café is named after Romain De Coninck, an actor and play writer and it’s right next to the venue where he played a lot: De Minardschouwburg. Even today you have a big chance of seeing a play over there that is written by him. In front of the theatre and café you can see a statue of Romain. Also go to Café Charlatan in Ghent if you want to go out till sunrise, again a place with a lovely variety of people. Every room in the café has different drinks and different dj’s playing different music.
Your favorite restaurant?
This is a difficult one! I like Belga Queen in Ghent a lot (there is also one in Brussels). Not only superb Belgian food, but also a stunning old medieval house. You should ask for a seat on the first floor with a view on the Graslei. I you want to eat at one of our many Michelin star restaurants here’s a tip: go for a lunch menu! Prices can be pretty okay.
Can I add another one? In the beautiful city Kortrijk you can go to Table d’Amis, it has one star (but my guess is not for long!) and a good price quality. The place is very romantic and quiet, set in an old beguines community (‘begijnhof’.)
My personal little heaven on earth is called ‘Vosselare Put’, about a half hour away from Ghent. On hot summer days you can swim in the river Leie here, surrounded by waterlilies, ducks and lushes of green
Favorite outdoor area?
My personal little heaven on earth is called ‘Vosselare Put‘ in Astene, Deinze. It’s about a half hour away from Ghent but totally worth the trip. On hot summer days you can swim in the river Leie here, surrounded by waterlilies, ducks and lushes of green! The water is clean since it’s a closed arm where no boats are allowed. In Ghent I also recommend you to rent a Minerva boat, you don’t need a boat license. Sail on the river Leie from from Ghent to Astene with captivating views of the country side, passing idyllic places like Latem and Deurle.
A typical Belgian dish is and one of my favorites is ‘witloof met hesp in de oven’. This is a chicory rolled in ham with some cheese sauce placed in the oven. Normally you eat this with mashed potatoes. It’s mainly a winter dish and will definitely heat you up! Chicory is the most eaten vegetable in Belgium since you can eat it in so many different ways. It makes a great salad with some mayonaise and some apples!
Your favorite Belgian expression?
‘Het regent pijpenstelen.’ It literally means ‘It’s raining pipe stems.’ One you can use a lot in Belgium…
What advise would you give to anyone visiting (or moving to) Belgium?
Although Belgians love to show off with all their language knowledge, they really appreciate it if you try to speak the local language and it can be a big step ahead for making friends. Belgians can seem distant at first but just give them a chance. Join them for a beer or tell them you know fries are Belgian, not French. They’ll instantly loosen up!
What’s the funniest assumption you have heard about Belgium while abroad?
In America they’ll eat waffles with all kinds of stuff like tons of chocolate and fruit. They even eat chicken with waffles. When I tell them that most Belgians like eating them as a snack or dessert with nothing on it, they look at me as if I were a traitor.
In Bali a guy thought Belgium looked similar to Bali because of all the cocoa trees and palm trees we must have. When I asked him where he got that idea from he reacted surprised: “How else do you make all that great Belgian chocolate?”
“I’d like to share my 15 minutes of fame with… Wasbar”
I love Wasbar! It’s a place where you can do your laundry and enjoy a coffee or have a bite to eat at the same time. I enjoy the retro feeling and the food is superb! On Sundays you can go there for their big brunch buffet, a bit pricy but really worth it. There’s are two Wasbars in Ghent, one in Kortrijk and one in Antwerp. They also have their own blog Trekjeplan.com where they give tips and tricks. Not only on how to do your laundry, but also on travel!