Beer, Bikes, and Frites: An Aussie's Love For Belgian Culture
Could you tell me about your background?
I am a 37-year-old married Australian currently residing in Brussels with my wife. I was born in Sydney, Australia, but our family moved to a large country town named Wagga Wagga when I was around 12 years old. My father purchased a farm there and bred Poll Hereford cows. Growing up on a farm gave us fantastic experiences and instilled traits such as resourcefulness, tenacity, and a good work ethic in myself and my three sisters.
My educational background is as a Registered Nurse, and in addition to clinical nursing I have worked in the Medical Sales and Regulatory sectors. In relation to writing, I have no educational or vocational writing experience to speak of. My most recent position in Australia required me to write, but the content was extremely detailed, scientific, and didn’t allow for any real creativity or expression.
A work opportunity for my wife resulted in us moving to Brussels just under twelve months ago. We envisage that our time here will be for around three years and have fallen head over heels in love with the place so far. Prior to moving to Brussels, we lived in Canberra, the capital city of Australia, for the past 8 years. As a city, Brussels is a complete contrast to Canberra and we have been doing our best to savor all that Belgium and Europe has to offer.
Was being a writer something you aspired to be from a young age?
No. I really hadn’t written anything since I left university, and even when at school honestly never considered it as something to do. I am thankful that moving to Brussels has been the catalyst for me to start the blog and that I have this newly found creative outlet. I am sure that even when we return home to Australia, I will in some way keep up writing in some form or another.
What made you decide to write about your Belgian experiences?
The first reason was to simply document some of the main things that we experienced while we were on this adventure. Modern life exposes us to so many sensory stimuli on a daily basis that sometimes we can easily forget some of the things we experience and do. I felt that writing the blog would be a great way to keep a digital diary so that we can reflect on our time here in Belgium in the future.
Secondly, I felt that the blog could also serve as a great way for friends and family to keep abreast of our movements and experiences while we were away from Australia. Being on the other side of the globe means that we are geographically distant from our loved ones, but things like the blog and Skype mean that we still have a real feeling of connection to each other.
The final reason is that Belgium, in my opinion, is the unpolished diamond of Europe, and as I became more acquainted, I felt more compelled to spread the word. Each week I learn a little more, uncover another great aspect, and feel it is my duty to help promote the great things about this underrated, quirky, interesting and diverse place.
Have you written about your experiences in other parts of the world?
No, this is the first time I have written about my time abroad. One regret of past travels throughout the world is that I have only photographs to remember my trips. I wish that I had kept journals to really capture the feeling, experiences, and memories of my travels. I am confident now that if we have the opportunity to live abroad in another country in the future that I will write another blog there.
When writing an article about Brussels, what are your main themes?
The name of my blog is Beer, Bikes and Frites, so naturally the posts tend to revolve around Belgian Beer, bicycles and the world famous Belgian frites. That said, the blog is home to many posts about local culture, restaurants, museums and also some travel that we have undertaken whilst here in Europe. Thematically, I always try to give a little history about the topic, keep it very down-to-earth and use my relaxed style of writing to capture the attention of the reader. As I am writing I try to think about how I can, through words, create pictures in the heads of my readers, so they too can in some way better relate to our experiences. I also just try to write about things I like, and that makes writing such a pleasure for me. It would be easy to focus on many other topics, but I feel that for the pieces to be authentic that it must come from the heart, so I just write about things I have come across and really enjoyed. I want the blog to be a place of positivity, so I refuse to write or include anything on the blog that is negative.
What has been the most memorable experience of your blogging adventures?
The most memorable and surprising thing is how much I have enjoyed being creative with my words when writing the blog. It has been a real awakening of my creative side and I am so happy that the once dormant part of me is now active. I have been humbled by the extremely kind words and comments that both people known and unknown to me have shared on the blog. To know that people from all over the globe from Taiwan to Mauritius to Mexico have enjoyed the blog is really satisfying.
What are your top recommendations for things to see and do in Brussels?
My top 5 things to do in Brussels are:
- Go and have a prawn croquette at the Brussels institution Mer Du Nord/Nordsee at Saint Catherine. It is one of the best places to eat and is located on a square right in front of the beautiful Saint Catherine church.
- Have a Belgian beer at the classic bar A La Mort Subite. The building is stunning, staff is quirky and friendly and they have a decent beer menu. Ask for a Geuze, a spontaneously fermented sour beer native to the Brussels area.
- Walk around the Parc du Cinquantenaire, which is a fantastic 30-hectare park not far from the EU/EC hub of Brussels. Grab some frites from the nearby Maison Antoine friterie and enjoy the park. It is a great green oasis in the middle of the city.
- Go to the Jeu De Balle flea markets in the Marolles area of the city. It is one of the last true flea markets in Western Europe and is a place you can find a gem in the rough.
- Visit the Victor Horta museum, and feast your eyes on the Art Nouveau genius that he was. Brussels is littered with stunning Art Nouveau buildings and all are very unique, functional and beautiful. A walking tour that lets you take in some of the best examples is a great thing to do.
Your ultimate day in Brussels includes…?
Without sounding too corny, I would have to say that the title of the blog captures my ideal day. A nice bike ride with my wife on a clear, sunny spring day, followed by a few Belgian beers and a serving of crisp, crunchy frites with Andalouse sauce would be perfect.
As an Australian, what has been the most unexpected aspect of living in Europe?
The most unexpected thing was how well people from nearly every European country we have traveled to speak English. Even Paris, a place renowned for very few English speakers, was full of people willing to speak with me once they heard my awful ‘French with Aussie accent. In addition to being unexpected, it is also a little embarrassing, as most Australians only speak English yet Europeans normally speak 3 or more languages.
What’s next for your blog?
As I mentioned earlier. the blog is primarily a digital journal for myself and friends/family back home. That said, it has proved to be quite popular with over 4500 views, and 235 active followers since I started it less than 12 months ago. It seems that others are enjoying what I am writing, so the plan would be to continue to publish posts and build my audience. I currently have no financial or commercial partners with the blog, but would be open to expansion opportunities with the right partner. I also would like to expand to undertaking freelance writing for Belgian-based tourism organizations. The most important plan is to continue to have fun, because if I am doing that the blog will have a constant supply of content.