As you may know, our 4th international Symposium is coming up in Brussels, Belgium, from 1-3 October. There are many reasons you should join us at the Symposium, from the list of defense leaders who are speaking to the participation of EU/NATO SOF representatives to the networking opportunities, including an NSCC/NSHQ reunion…
But in this blog, we’re focusing on one very specific factor: the location! And more specifically, why attending this event with your family, friends, or other loved ones will earn you big time cool points and lifelong memories…
There’s tons to do, so bring the crew!
We tell people this about all of our events: bring your families! We’d love to get to the point where enough people listen to us that we could have a paralleling Spouse or Family program going on during our Symposium events, but for now we just want to share ideas on how they can occupy the event days.
There are so many things to do in Brussels right around our Symposium venue… here’s just a few we recommend:
Visit a Museum (or two or three):
If you’re a museum person or not, there’s some pretty awesome ones in Brussels:
- Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History: Of course we have to plug the military museum! We’re especially excited to see that there is a new permanent exhibit focused on WWII that just opened this May.
- Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences: If you want to go back even further into history, check out this museum… it has the largest dinosaur gallery in Europe!
- Train World: Want something a little more unique? Check out the highly rated train museum and its educational and interactive exhibits.
Get Chocolate…or Waffles…or Chocolate Waffles!:
It’s hard to think “Belgium” without thinking about Belgian Waffles. There are ample opportunities to try them hot and fresh all around the streets of Brussels. You can walk to any of the street side vendors and walk away with a delicious treat. If you want to do something more formal, there are all sorts of walking food tours you can look into for a combination of learning and eating.
Try the beer:
OK, if you didn’t think of “waffles” first, you definitely thought of Belgian beer! Belgium has a long history of creating different styles of beer, so if you’re of age and a fan of beer, you would be remiss not to try some! One of the top rated bars in the area for beer is the Delirium Cafe. It’s awesome because it’s something like 7 bars, all combined into one “compound.”
We’re hosting an informal NSCC/NSHQ Reunion there on the night of 3 October, so you definitely need to make sure you stay for that.
Visit historical landmarks:
Brussels has a variety of historical landmarks, one of the most recognizable being the iconic Atomium.
“The Atomium was constructed for the first post-war universal world exhibition (EXPO 58) The nine spheres represent an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. They represent the faith one had in the power of science and moreover in nuclear power.”
Stay in BEL an extra day
Earn double points with your family or friends by building in an extra day trip at the front or back end of the Symposium. There’s a number of easy day trips from Brussels that are very worthwhile, and are easily accessible by train.
- Ghent: Ghent was a prominent hub in the Middle Ages, so it’s certainly a historical landmark. Top sights to visit include Gravensteen Castle, UNESCO Heritage Site the Ghent Belfry, or the Vrijdagmarkt–aka the Friday Market.
- Bruges: If you saw the 2008 Oscar Nominated Film In Bruges, you know this is a beautiful town on a canal in the Flemish region of Belgium. It’s full of history and architecture, and certainly worth a day trip. Plus, you can enjoy Belgian beer in Vlissinghe, the oldest pub in Bruges (500+ years!!).
- Antwerp: Antwerp is the second largest city in Belgium, and it’s known for its cool art scene. It has both historic and unique modern architecture. This is also a great city to visit if your crew is into shopping–there are fashion boutiques, art galleries, and more!
- Ypers: Ypers is a somber and moving city that played a huge role in WWI. It’s a town that “saw the loss of a generation of soldiers on the front line, known as the Salient.”
The Flanders Fields museum is a moving and immersive experience and the Menin Gate Memorial pays homage to 55,000 soldiers and hosts a Last Post ceremony every evening.
- Bastogne: The 75th Anniversary of WWII’s Siege of Bastogne, which was part of the larger Battle of the Bulge, is also coming up in December of this year. There’s a War Museum, battlefield, and other historical landmarks in the area.
Make a Weekend of It!
What we truly recommend (if you can swing it) is that you stay for a weekend on either end of the trip. Any of the recommended day trips could easily be turned into a weekend, or if you want to take advantage of the ease of border crossing in Europe, there’s a few neighboring countries with a lot to offer:
This amazing country is a quick train ride away, and Chelsea and Stu just recently visited these three awesome spots on a trip to visit with Dutch SOF:
- Amsterdam: Easily one of the most famous cities in Europe, Amsterdam lives up to that fame. It’s grid of canals, cobblestone streets, and the insane bicycle commuters are all a sight to see. Don’t miss the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum, and if you can rent a bike and ride outside of the city to see the countryside and some windmills, you won’t regret it!
- The Hague: Many may not realize that The Hague is the actual capital of The Netherlands. In a short walk around town, you can see all of the governmental buildings and castles–all of which are picturesque. Stu and Chelsea almost missed the train back to Amsterdam just taking in the scenery!
- Gouda: You’ve probably heard of Gouda (pronounced “How-Dah”) cheese, but maybe you didn’t know that it comes from a town in Amsterdam called…Gouda! There’s a cheese market there every Thursday that is quite the cultural (and tasty) experience. Just watch out for the birds…
Germany is famous for many things, one of the coolest of which is Oktoberfest! And guess what time of year we’ll be there…
- Munich: Oktoberfest in Munich this year is from 21 SEP to 6 OCT… so you could try to visit it on either end of the Symposium. Even if you can’t get into a tent (it’s a complex and competitive process), it’s worth it to drink in the beer gardens and watch the impressive “beer maids” carry 12 huge glass steins of beer in one hand.
- Stuttgart: Stuttgart’s version of Oktoberfest, called Cannstatter Volksfest, also takes place on the backend of the Symposium. This is a great alternative (and some argue better event) to Oktoberfest, and it’s even closer to Belgium than Munich.
- WWII Sites: If the beer scene isn’t for you, Germany is home to many WWII sites that would be amazing to visit. From Nuremberg to Wewelsburg Castle, this site lists some of the top places to visit around Germany to commemorate WWII.
France is also the home to many amazing WWII sites, as well as more cities and regions than we can mention that are worth a visit! Here’s just a taste:
- WWII Sites: This year’s 75th Anniversary of D-Day at Normandy has brought thousands of visitors to its beaches this year. Our own Rick Lamb went for the 5 JUN jump, which you should definitely read about here if you haven’t yet!
The beaches of Normandy are just one of the many places you can visit. This site lists other spots, from Ste-Mère-Eglise and Utah Beach to WWII Cemetery.
- French Mediterranean Coast: The French Coast has a variety of beautiful cities, from Cannes to Marseille to Saint-Tropez, all of which are popular vacation destinations in their own right. If you want to hit a different coast, there are also beautiful locations on the Northern Coast of France. Check them all out here.
- Paris: Lastly, we wanted to shed some light on a sleepy, lesser known village in the heart of France…. Ha! If you haven’t been to Paris, this could be your chance! There’s something for everyone, from wine connoisseurs to art fans to foodies. There’s really too much to mention, but if you don’t have an awkward photo in front of the Eiffel Tower wearing khakis capris and a strange polo like Chelsea does…. Now is your chance!
We’re excited to see you all in Belgium, and we hope you can bring your family or friends and stick around Europe afterwards! Learn more and register for the event here: