My philosophy on travel is when a friend invites you to stay with them, you accept. I love traveling to places where I know someone; it makes the whole experience so much more fun and meaningful. I love seeing a place through a local’s lens. I’ve been to Capetown, Istanbul, LA, SF, Seattle, Korea with the guidance of a friend or family member. Trust me, it’s the best way to travel.

When my friends from Antwerp, Belgium invited me to their city, I happily accepted. I had never been to Belgium before and to be honest, it wasn’t really on my list of must-see places. I found out that this tiny country is rich with culture, food, and history. I still can’t believe how underrated it is. Antwerp is a small city so you can see it in one day. From Antwerp, you can go to Paris in 2 hours, Amsterdam in 1 hour, and Brussels in 40 minutes.

The food alone should lure you to Belgium which is known for their beers, waffles, fries, chocolates and bread. One of my favorite Trader Joes products is speculoos. I found out that it’s actually a Belgian spiced cookie that’s popular during Christmas time. My friends, Julie and Dominique took me to a “brown bar” which was really just a cozy pub. I’m not a big beer drinker but I loved the Karmeliet. I do have to say, Belgian beers are really good and might’ve converted this wino to a beer drinker!

One thing that really stood out to me is that everyone speaks 4 languages. There are 3 official languages in Belgium: French, Dutch and German and everyone speaks English.  Where I’m from (America), you would be lucky to find someone who can speak 1.5 languages. I learned that most of the media comes from America: music, tv, movies and not dubbed like other European countries. I don’t know if was specific to Antwerp or my friends, but they all spoke with American accents. They knew American pop culture like ugly Christmas sweaters! I felt like I was in a European country with American friends.   

This was also a special trip because it was during Christmas time. I went to all of the Christmas markets, sampled a lot of gluwein, and ate my body weight in speculoos cookies. It also snowed there which apparently doesn’t happen very often so it was the kind of European Christmas you dream of. I don’t know what it is about the Christmas markets in Europe but they are really special. They put you in the Christmas spirit like no other.

Antwerp will always hold a special place in my heart because my friends opened their homes to me. I spent 5 days there living like a local; wandering the streets sans gps, sitting in a coffee shop, meeting locals, and eating the local cuisine (stoovflees). I definitely want to explore the rest of Belgium.

My friend Dominique’s @airbnbantwerp

How boho chic is this living room?

The room I stayed in

The sunny hallway with all the travel books

Grote Markt

Belgian fries are so good!

I asked the locals and Frituur no. 1 is the best!

Brabo Fountain

The not so secret street of Vlaeykensgang

Wandering the streets with my friend Dominique

Shooting photos for my friend’s sunglass shop Amazing Gaze

Sampling Belgian beer at a Brown Bar

Antwerp Central Station – yes, this is the train station!