top of page

Fort Huy

Belgium has no shortage of interesting places. And though we’ve already begun on “second tier” sites, I still haven’t been able to sit down and talk about the first tier. But I’ll get to that.

I probably would have never heard about the village of Huy if it weren’t for Groupon advertising Mont Mosan amusement park. Huy is famous for some things though: notably it was settled by the Romans after their taking of Gaul, it’s got a huge fortress, and there’s a big nuclear power plant just around the bend on the Meuse River.


Huy is also the beginning of the famed Peter the Hermit’s preaching tour, where he heard the news about the Crusade and decided to gather up poor people throughout Europe. They proceeded to go about beating up and killing Jews and looting their shops, and then, having arrived in Asia Minor months later, most of his followers were themselves slaughtered by Turks. He himself did manage to make it to Jerusalem, so well done there.




From what I saw, it's easy to say that Huy should be on your list of things to do in Wallonia, no doubt about it.


For our brief stint to Huy, we had four destinations: Mont Mosan, the church, the fort, and the old town. So, I’ll run through those in order.


Mont Mosan

The advertisements make Mont Mosan appear like a zoo, but you might be forgiven for considering it an amusement park. Really, it’s some kind of bizarre hybrid that’s quite perfect for kids ages 2 to 9. They’ve got a ton of kiddie rides, playgrounds, and a smattering of animals which mostly consist of rodents.



The place opens with a big Dinos-Alive exhibit, complete with moving robotic dinos that share habitats with some ostriches and turtles. Then immediately to the rides. You can either pay for the rides individually (2 euros a ride) or pay for a ride pass for 12 euros. Most rides the kid can bring a parent on with them, so even if they’re on the smaller end they can typically participate.



Then there’s a walk around with the larger circle of alternating exhibits of playground, rodents, and rides.


The shows

They’ve also got a few fun shows.


When we were there, we got to see the otter/sea lion show and the parrot show.


The otter and sea lion swim around in their little arena, flipping balls, dancing and whatever. That turned out to be my son’s favorite show. Part of the “big stunt” was to get three kids from the audience (chosen beforehand, as they were ready with life jackets on) to get into a boat that would be pulled around by the sea lion.


Showing off the seal at Mont Mosan


The parrots do stuff like ride mini-bikes and scooters and drive little remote control cars. As the handler was trying to get a parrot to count numbers called by the audience and ring the bell that many times, another parrot kept sneaking down to do it for him.


A parrot on a bicycle

Price

12 euros per person (both kids and adults); 12 more euros for the unlimited ride pass. You can also get combo tickets with the cable car (see Getting Around Huy below).


Collegial Church of Our Lady and Saint Domitianus

This massive church sits right underneath the Fort—which made me think of Dinant, as it’s laid out in a similar fashion—and itself looks like a castle. The main tower, for instance, looks like a huge keep where you might lock up some unfaithful queen, as they often did in castle towers like that.


Collegial Church of Our Lady and Saint Domitianus

The Gothic Collegial Church of Our Lady and Saint Domitianus was completed in 1536 and looks more like a castle than many castles do. It boasts a series of really beautiful stained glass windows. The side windows are fine enough, but the rose window is where the true beauty is at: it captures some kind of inexplicable soft glow. I couldn’t really capture it on camera, so sorry for that. You’ll just have to take my word. But I’m not alone in appreciating this beauty, as it even gets its own name, “Li Rondia”, and a place on the “4 Wonders of Huy” tourist list put out by the village tourism office.



In the crypt below, there’s an exhibit of “treasures” for 3 euros. I didn’t see it, as I just gathered it’s mostly just a bunch of gold and fancy cups for mass. Oh, and also a few reliquaries, for St. Mark, St. Domitian, and St. Mengold. But you know what they say about relics.


We heard several songs chiming out from the 49 bells up top during our visit to the village. One Beethoven’s 5th, and some other famous pieces. The bells make for delicate chimes for true song playing, presenting quite a mystical feeling while walking around.


Fort Huy

Fort Huy is a massive complex that sits over the village, looking across the rooftops at the view of the three reactor nuclear site not far away. There’s been a castle in Huy ever since the Romans settled here in the first century AD.


The fort has both served as a protection and a plague for the residents of the city. For much of its term, it served as an important point in controlling traffic and trade up and down the Meuse (mostly textiles for much of history). But in the 1600s, King Louis XIV made his famous foray into the Netherlands, which included using the famous Musketeers, and where the real D’Artagnan made his claim to fame at the walls of Maastricht (there’s a statue of him there, too, because why not make statues of the heroes of your enemy).


F

Anyway, point is that because there was a fortress here, the village saw themselves coming under siege after siege during the nine years of fighting between France and a long line of belligerents that were too unlucky to live during the era when France didn’t take no shit and certainly didn’t surrender.


So, after the wars were over, they were quite happy to let the Fort fall into ruin. And then the Dutch moved in and built a new fort! Yay. So, the one currently there is from 1818. They mostly used it as a prison, and it was put to maximal use by the Nazis when they housed about 7000 prisoners there during the course of World War II.



The fort museum is dedicated to that last period. They’ve cleaned up a few of the rooms to make them presentable—some prison cells and toilets—polished up a chapel room and a multimedia exhibit, and installed a bar on the rooftop, because why not?


There is also a WWII-themed escape game, which could be cool. Because damn, doing an escape-from-Nazis game in an actual Nazi prison is pretty next level gaming.


Price

4.50€ for adults, free for kids under 6.


Getting there

There is the cable car (see below), or you walk up. There’s a paved path coming up from the river, and a nature trail that begins on Rue Sous-le Chateau at about here. We went up the paved path and down the trail, which is what I’d recommend, as the trail is a bit rugged and feels like you’re going into the deep woods. Which you can, as there is a hiking trail the continues on from there.


Old Town Huy

I was actually impressed with the old town. It consists of four or five streets that have, out of convenience, left up their Christmas decorations for year-round fun. Many of the streets are pedestrian only, and they’re all lined with cafes, restaurants, and shops. I don’t know, the Flemish keep saying how poor the Walloons are, but life still seems quite lively everywhere I go.


Huy Grand Place

The village is a bit smaller than Dinant, the main tourist thing to see in Wallonia, but there is a great deal of similarities. They both have castles (Dinant’s is a WWI museum though), big churches in front of the castles, cable cars, and rivers. Dinant is very much touristified and all the restaurants can easily fit in the tourist trap category. Huy is equally pretty (especially if you like the nuclear chic of the skyline), but as it really isn’t on the tourist map, you can trust the restaurants a little more easily. Have a meal in an old town square featuring a 15th century fountain and church and hear… actual French being spoken.


The main difference with Dinant is the massive nuclear skyline view from the fortress. It's one of two nuclear plants that have by and large protected Belgium from skyrocketing energy prices. As thankful as I am for that, it does kind of kill the medieval skyline look (as does the misplaced apartment towers across the river).

The nuclear skyline of Huy

Getting Around

My biggest bit of advice. I wish I had realized this when we went. There is a cable car that goes from across the river, to the fort, and then all the way up to Mont Mosan, with a stop right next to the amusement park. So that’s a really cool way to see the village. Had we known about it, we’d have parked in the old town and taken the cable car up, no doubt about that.


More info about the cable car, or telepherique, can be found here. You can buy tickets at any station at one of their electric kiosks, which has English as an option. So, no need to worry about fumbling around with your sub-par French skills, no thanks Duolingo. Basically it’s 6 euros one way, 10 for two ways.

Man eating baguette

Brussels has no shortage of lunch options. Plenty, as the regular traveler might see, fairly expensive. But there are ways to eat well and cheap in the rip-off capital. In recent times living here, I’ve discovered a more “local” kind of lunch (here I’m using local very liberally), the baguette sandwich.


And okay, it's nothing new. Just I didn't discover it because I'm over forty and am quite capable of slapping together a sandwich for myself. But sometimes it behooves one's sensory experience of the world and the city if you just cave and go out for lunch once in a while.


And for visitors/newcomers to Brussels: Don’t be fooled by croques and paninis—more on those at the bottom. Rather, experience a properly savory sensation. It might not be Quick, but it’s still a real Belgian fast food experience.


There is, of course, Panos, but there’s hardly anything unique about that chain. Support your small businesses, not the corporate soul-eaters that will slice up your passions and serve it between two slabs of inspired dough.



Rue de Namur
Rue de Namur, where our sandwicheries are

A note about baguettes

I love baguettes. I’ll get that off my chest right now. My wife is currently on a run of not eating any bread, so I’ve stopped buying them for the house. But that means, I need to fill up my carb-hole from somewhere else. And why not from sandwiches? I’ve never really been keen on paying money for sandwiches, so perhaps this is what has prompted my culinary exploration.


Choosing a baguette in a grocery store can be challenging. In France, they apparently have “baguette purity” laws or whatever, but in Belgium there tends to be more of a free for all in baguette ingenuity. If you want a real crunchy French baguette, you either have to ask for a “pain Francaise”, or a “baguette croustillant”, or look for something similar on the label.

For a fresh baguette, hit up a “boulangerie”, or time your visits to Carrefour Express appropriately (guilty admission—Carrefour baguettes are banger, for some odd and mysterious reason).


A place to sit

On Rue de Namur, there is a weird line of coffee shops and sandwicheries (I’m writing this from the Golden Bean, a Luxembourgisch company), which has a really terrific standard coffee. Rue de Namur is a short stretch of pavement from the Royal Palace to the ring road that, because it's a main avenue connecting Ixelles and the old town, is a non-touristic stretch that also has a massive concentration of coffee shops and sandwicheries. The coffee shops here all stress “No laptops on weekend”, which I suppose means laptops are more than welcome during the week for us socially disadvantaged folk, so here I am.



Interior of Golden Bean coffee shop in Brussels


A sandwich for all seasons

In Brussels, the true, meaningful “Brussels sandwich” is made from one of those lovely baguettes. Some places prefer the “crusty” baguette, others prefer the soft style—and some places have a range, but don’t trust that bread to be as good—and here you just have got to experiment from place to place.


Don’t expect the over-stuffed sammich that Americans love. These are much more delicately balanced, and perhaps err in the favor of the bread lover over the meat lover.


Now, specifically on Rue de Namur, there are two sandwicheries of note. There is JeanBon (a local chain), closer to the Porte de Namur metro station, and La Burrata, right up from Place Royale. Solid options for any visits to the Magritte Museum or the Musical Instruments Museum.



When I discovered these sandwicheries, they were through my usual tactic. I’ll look up an area and type into Google maps. Then I’ll peruse the reviews and finally make up my mind. Google maps has definitely revolutionized traveling, and made it so, so easy to figure things out for those savvy enough to wield the tool appropriately.


La Burrata

One of the most common style of sandwicherie in Brussels is the Italian variant, which makes me believe that Italy must be the motherland of sandwiches, despite claims to some earldom in the United Kingdom. Sandwiches from Italian shops cost anywhere between 5-10 euros and are usually pretty basic: a baguette, maybe some ricola, some slices of meat, and cheese.



La Burrata prides itself on its burrata—basically a globby ball of mozzarella and curd cheese—which is made in the shop, so it’s extra fresh and cheesy. It’s a very industrial looking shop with tall ceilings and lots of stainless steel. There’s a few tables there, but it looks like a place they might butcher animals in after hours, with seating only an afterthought.


I did one of my main tactics of choosing the spiciest-sounding thing on the menu (also a common tactic of mine, and also, don’t expect anything actually “spicy” in Brussels, unless it’s doused in samurai sauce—more on that in a later blog). That was the Piccantino, composed of burrata, salame piccante, and rucola. The salami was just the perfect amount of spicy (for a slice of salami), the baguette was lightly and beautifully crusted, and the sandwich, despite being so basic, was perhaps one of the most exquisite layering handheld food I’ve ever had. Will definitely go back.


JeanBon

My next trial was JeanBon, which is a much more “Belgian” sandwicherie, with more experimental sandwiches, like “The Brusseleir”, “The Forestiere/Mushroom”, or “The American” (which is about the least American thing I could describe a sandwich).

The place has a much more inviting and boutique feel than La Burrata, despite actually having little to no interior seating space (about two/three tables depending on how you count). As a charcuterie, the place prepares its own sausages and sandwich meats.



I went with the Google maps recommendation of “The Brusseleir”, but now I realize I should have gone with “The Brusseleir De Luxe”, or at least I should have read the friggin’ menu first. The Brusseleir is composed of meatball, emmental, rucola, tomato and mayo. The Brusseleir De Luxe has meatball, tomme de savoie IGP, rucola, egg, truffle mayo, and balsamic syrup. Now that does sound “delux”, and the difference is only 60 centimes.

Whatever, the Brusseleir Basique was still good and tasty. Served on a softer baguette than I would have preferred, I’d still be happy eating it again. But sandwich to sandwich, I’d probably have to go with the piccantino I had at La Burrata. I will definitely return to try some other varieties though.


Croques and panninis in Belgium

Of course, any sandwich blog in Belgium needs to mention these savory atrocities.  

You will often find on menus this tourist bomb of a dish, the “croque monsieur”. For one, it is not a traditional Belgian dish, but French, invented to perhaps swindle tourists out of their cash at fine Parisian delicatessens. Indeed, it is French for “grilled cheese sandwich”. Made with cheap bread, cheap cheese, and cheap sandwich meat ham, it is nothing to faun over, nor is it anything to pay the outrageous 10-20 euro price that you often see in Brussels.

But, if you really insist on gaspillaying your money on these croque of shits, know what you’re ordering.


  • Croque monsieur – Grilled cheese sandwich with ham

  • Croque madame – Same, but with a poached egg. Inspired, perhaps, by the Egg McMuffin

  • Croque mademoiselle – Vegetarian version with cheaper cheese, cucumber, and lettuce, and because it’s “vegetarian” it usually costs a couple more euro

  • Croque Bolognese – Same as monsieur, but with tomato meat sauce

And of course, the Italian version of the croque of shit, the panini. Also just a grilled cheese sandwich, but usually on a mini-baguette. Though, sometimes they’ll have tomatoes or something they’ll throw in to help burn the roof of your mouth.

Just avoid them. Neither are really Belgian (I know, my advice to take an Italian sandwich from Italian sandwicheries might come across weird in that light), and neither are any good.

So there you have it. Enjoy your lunch and bon appetit!

All I wished to know as a new parent moving to Belgium


schools in Brussels
A nightmarish AI rendition of happy families in Brussels

So you've moved to Belgium with your Dear Little One, or whatever we're calling them these days. Congratulations are in order! Have a beer! You've come to a very confusing place, but on the plus side, it's also an incredibly great country to have a kid in, because they've really thought out the amenities here. From free childcare to lots of great playgrounds and parks, Belgium is, in general, a great place to raise a kid. There's a reason for those high taxes, after all.


When I first moved to Brussels, it was overwhelming. Not least because we were two full-time working parents. Then on top of that, the commune insisted on you doing a whole bunch of other stuff to "make your time in Brussels easier". Which is Brusselaar for "make it more complicated". But with this handy guide, hopefully you can ease in better than I did.


Which Brussels school system to choose?

This is only the beginning of the confusion that is the Belgian school system, as both Flanders and Wallonia have their own, non-integrated systems, and Brussels is just a mismatched free-for-all.


We chose the French system, so I can only provide personal advice based on our experience with that system.


Whichever school system you choose is up to you. From what I understand, the French schools are more focused on out-dated educational systems and also have a lot more diversity since immigrants to Belgium are usually from French-speaking areas of the world, while the Flemish ones have more modern styles and theories in place, and since nobody speaks Dutch outside of people in Belgium, the Netherlands, and South Afrikaa, it's pretty white.


That said, with the French ones, they speak French, and the Flemish ones, your kids will grow up speaking Dutch. Whichever is better is up to you. If your career goals involve staying in Belgium, moving to Holland, or you want your kid to grow up and work in import/export, or related fields, then choosing the NL system would be beneficial. If maybe you think a French future in finance or manufacturing is for them, then maybe French. If your plan isn't to stick around Benelux or even this part of Europe, then probably French is more international.


That all is to say, there are pros and cons to each… We chose French because we're not going to be sticking around, so we want our kid to have the more international language. But I personally have nothing against Dutch other than it sounds like how Willy Wonka oompa loompas might speak if they were real, or perhaps like a drunk German trying to speak English with a Scottish accent.


I kid, I love Dutch.


But in all seriousness, this is a question that you'll have to answer at the very beginning of your childcare journey and your kid's education, since it literally impacts them for the rest of their years in Belgium.


Beginning with the crèche

The beginning of your little one's journey begins at a "creche", or nursery. They are all over the place. The state run creches are free for Belgian citizens for babies from 6-months of age, and I think there is a nominal fee for non-citizens. We chose a private crèche ourselves because reasons.


 
Brussels tour and audio tour

Take my voice tour of the Upper Town in Brussels and learn all the ins and outs of the history, architecture, and beer gardens of one of the prettiest historical old town parts of the city.


With the Voicemap app, take a GPS-guided tour with my voice in your ear telling you all the notes you can handle. And even if you're not in Brussels, you can enjoy!


Check it our here.


 

How to find a crèche? We used Google maps and typed it in. Then dove into all the reviews. When we found one nearby with better reviews, we brought our little bossman there. He wreaked havoc, hating every minute. At 2, he was completely not prepared to be abandoned by mom and dad, especially after all the pampering during covidtimes he got.


The creche's policy was to have the parent there for an hour in the morning for a week, and then wean the kid off. First just staying for an hour and taking the kid home, transitioning to staying for an hour and leaving the kid, and then gradually building up to leaving the kid for longer periods of time. But since he was screeching every time I left, and they'd call me an hour later telling me to pick him up, that wasn't working. It got so bad that he'd just start shrieking when we got there. So obviously we had to change the place.


I found another crèche, Nos Bulbes, whose head madame, Grace, is absolutely brilliant with kids. Which is good because she has several of her own. But our guy immediately fit in with almost no trouble at all. Completely night and day. And she can handle a bit of crying, not resorting to calling the parents immediately. So, if you need a crèche in Etterbeek, there you go.


The crèche systems are pretty much year-round, with limited breaks. So you don't need to worry about figuring out what to do with your kids.


The Belgian school calendar

If you're an American coming to Belgium, be prepared for a world of confusion. But at least if you're a working parent, it isn't so bad.


There are two systems of schools in Belgium, one in Wallonia and one in Flanders. And in Brussels, the city gets both, depending on which system the school is in (the Dutch, often labeled "NL" or the French system). Just to be annoying, there was no attempt to line up the vacation days between the systems.


I've had a family where they have one set of kids going to a French school, and their cousins going to a Dutch school, and they never got to vacation together. But whatever, not like the kids could talk to each other.


Also at work, keep in mind scheduling: some parents need off some days, others on other days. And when you're working here, employers are even legally required to give a nod to parents first in regards to vacation time. So if your vacation time is holy and you prefer to vacation when it's popular for kids to go (also known in resort parlance as "peak season"), then get a kid. That'll make your life easier, believe me. But if you're single, then enjoy all the huge discounts at vacation resorts across the world and just take your leave off during peak season.


Flemish (NL) system:

Starts on September 1.

1 week off at the end of October/beginning of November

2 weeks off for Christmas/New Year

1 week off for Carnival (usually mid-February)

2 weeks off for Easter (April)

2 months off for Summer

Repeat


French system:

Starts on the last Monday of August

2 weeks holiday at the end of October

2 weeks holiday for Christmas/New Year

2 weeks off for Carnival (end of February)

2 weeks off for Spring (beginning of May)

Almost two months off for Summer

Repeat


And there's a German system on top of that, but you'll likely not live in that area unless you're commuting to work in Germany and want to pay higher taxes for whatever reason.

But do you see how those don't really line up at all?


And, of course, yet again on top of all that, the various international schools maintain their own schedules.


To find the up-to-date schedules, go here.


Beginning "real" school

The "real" school system starts with the maternelle at 3 years old. This is absolutely free for everyone, though if you want your kid to partake in after school activities, it'll cost a nominal fee for snacks.


Our kid loved his maternelle. He made friends, learned to count, and even started to write his name. I loved picking him up and seeing him chat away in French with his friends, despite me knowing very little of the language. Not because I hadn't tried, but because I'm an idiot. And also, that working full-time thing I mentioned.


At this age, your kid isn't yet required to go to school, and if you want to take them on off-season vacations, you're free to do so. But this changes at 3rd Maternelle, as attendance becomes mandatory, and parents need to submit doctor's notes for any absences. After 3rd Maternelle they graduate to "ecole primaire" (which is the American equivalent of elementary school).


Signing them up for maternelle

There are two ways about this. Most maternelles have an open period that typically begins in the February of the year. You can call them directly, or come in and talk to them (assuming your French/Dutch is good enough).


Otherwise, you need to sign up on https://irisbox.irisnet.be/, which is really what you should do first to get your kid into the system. The easiest way to be able to sign into Iris Box is to get an Itsme account, which you can only do if you have a Belgian bank account (which you can only get if you have a job based here (with a few exceptions).


If you don't have a Belgian bank account, there's still a couple of other ways to do it. All those options are through CSAM here. You'll want to create a security code either by email or app, but to do either you'll first need a login which you get at the commune. Write everything down legibly on cards because nobody speaks English there and it will be easy to have little cards to just show them what you want after your initial "Bonjour" and complete language brerakdown a la Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds.


Breaks

As I said, as a parent, you don't have to fear breaks. Except for the summer break, that one's a doozy.


For all the other breaks, each neighborhood and town has on offer "stages" and "pleines" (and the Dutch have their equivalent as well), and if your kid is in the system, it's super cheap. Then there are private places sprinkled throughout the quartiers that also offer stages and pleines to the general public, but usually cost between 100 and 200 euro.



A boy at a Brussels playground
Vato climbing at a playground in Brussels


The signups for these are generally one month before the actual break. Your child's school will send home a pamphlet with information about available activities and registration deadlines. If your kid doesn't show up with one, ask the school about it. For those in the city of Brussels proper, you can stay up-to-date here.


Stages

"Stages" are what we would call "camps". They are usually more activity/learning-oriented, and can range from teaching your kid about music, maths, sports, or even going on a ski trip. These may or may not cover all day, so for those with younger kids, that's especially important to keep in mind.


Pleines

"Pleine de jeux" is Belgian French for "playground". So a "pleine" can be understood as "play day". It's more about just keeping the kids active throughout the day. Something akin to an all day long "garderie".


After school care

If your kid is going to maternelle, and you work all day during the week, then likely all you need is to arrange the "garderie" with their school. That is merely a form of unstructured free time for your child to play with other kids while under the supervision of school staff until you can pick them up.


As they get older, especially after 6 years of age, you'll find more and more options opening up (this goes for stages as well as extracurricular activities). But unlike with American schools, where everything happens all at once right at their school, you might have to do some digging throughout your neighborhood or town to find the different activities that might interest your kid. So in some ways, I miss that one-shop-stop for your kids that our US schools are, but on the other hand, there aren't any active shooter drills here in Belgium, and they aren't remotely necessary. So it's like a trade off.




bottom of page