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As the heart of the European Union, housing its parliament and many of its administrative offices, Brussels may seem like a city of serious business, a place for thinkers—and it is—but it’s also a city of serious flavor and culinary naughtiness: a place for eaters and drinkers with a taste for the less-than-healthy. While most of the EU commotion can be found in one area of the city, the foods for which Belgium are famous can be discovered everywhere: chocolate, waffles, fries (they’re originally Belgian, not French!), and beer, beer, beer. To indulge like a true Belgian, buy the chocolate from the supermarket, eat the waffles with nothing but powdered sugar on top, eat your fries covered in mayonnaise, and order a new beer each time—in a city where some stores boast over 700 varieties, and one bar (Delirium Café) holds the Guinness record for the most beers available at one time, it’s easy to pass years without ever repeating. After even a day, you’ll forget you ever associated Brussels with anything as healthy as those little green sprouts you probably never liked.
To sweeten the mind, Brussels has its share of worthwhile museums and cultural attractions. For the history buff, or even the casually curious, the EU Parlamentarium has an extensive, interactive (and free) exhibit where you can easily lose hours exploring with your own personal electronic guide that alternately explains displays in your ear or transforms displays into your own language when you pass by them. If you have an extra day or two, hop a train for daytrips to nearby gems like Antwerp, Gent, or Bruges, a medieval city that remained virtually untouched for 400 years before being rediscovered by war tourists on their way to Waterloo battlefield. Today, the city center exists almost exclusively for tourism, and you won’t believe your surroundings as you stroll an immaculately preserved city from centuries past.
My hosts in Brussels was Steven Willems, 35, who lives in the capital with his partner and their nosy cat. Here, Steven hints at the paradox of a liberal nation where LGBT rights are ahead of the US, but some find it difficult to be out in public.
Pictured: Maison de la Bellone in Brussels | Photo via Wiki Commons
Out Traveler: How long have you lived in Brussels?
Steven Willems: 11 years.
How long have you been out?
Let me think, it’s about 15 years since I told my parents, but it was earlier to my friends. It wasn’t an easy thing to do as I was living in a small town at that time.
How is it for a gay person to live in this city?
Quite OK. Of course being gay in a city is always a bit easier. I wouldn't say it is commonly accepted to walk around hand-in-hand with your boyfriend, but looking around you can see a lot of gay people. Gay nightlife is also very open. In Belgium gay people can get married and so on, but sadly enough discrimination still exists and I think a lot of people find it hard to come out at work, for fear of the impact on their career. But generally speaking, we have a lot of advantages here that are not possible in other countries like the US.
Two places a visitor should go with just one day here?
La Grande Place, which is considered the most beautiful square in the world. A visit after dark will show you why.And any bar, to try out the variety of beers. If you're lucky, you can enjoy one on a sunny terrace.
Your favorite restaurant in Brussels (and why)?
I'm not the kind of person with a favorite restaurant, because I like to try out new stuff. But Rue de Flandre in the city center has a variety of nice restaurants to choose from if you're visiting.
One thing every visitor needs to know about your city before coming here?
It’s food heaven: chocolates, beers, fries, and Belgian waffles!