I’m starting a new three-part series about common misconceptions from an American perspective. While there are more than three misconceptions, I’m choosing to focus on the ones I’ve noticed as a tourist and as a local. The second of this three-parter focuses on country-hopping

Tuesdays in Belgium

When talking about her travelling adventures, the grandmother of my ex-boyfriend always used to remark “Tuesday in Belgium.” I honestly can’t remember the context of this phrase and whether she meant it positively or negatively, but I took it to mean something rather adventurous as I thought it would be a luxury to spend a “Tuesday in Belgium”, and so the image I concocted was of people who could afford “Tuesdays in Belgium.” In my mind these were mainly elderly bespectacled men and women with mid-Atlantic accents (think Frasier Crane).

Ralph, dear, it’s Tuesday. We should go to Belgium!

Just another Tuesday in Belgium. Jeeves, where’s my car?

Margaret, I can’t make it to bridge practice today because it’s Tuesday and I’ll be in Belgium.

I’m fortunate enough where I can now actually spend a Tuesday in Belgium quite easily due to the proximity of the Netherlands to Belgium and thanks to our public railway system. This phrase has therefore morphed from adventurous and luxurious to normal and ordinary, if not undesirable.

Yawn, just another Tuesday in another Belgium.

I don’t have time to visit all of Belgium as I’m only there on a Tuesday.

By golly, I guess it’s just a quick in and out this Tuesday in Belgium.

The point? I now see “Tuesday in Belgium” for what it really is. A phrase loosely taken from a 1960s film “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium” about a whirlwind tour through Europe (yay Wikipedia). And also an expression for not really getting the full experiences from the places we’re visiting.

The common whirlwind European vacation

Vacation time is a hot commodity in the States and having three weeks or more vacation is a luxury. Most people have two weeks paid vacation and are able to accrue some extra holiday based on tenure. With only two weeks vacation, it’s not really an option to plan a Europe trip without it being a whirlwind tour. The goal is to see the highlights in 7-10 days. This is quite understandable and up until I moved to Europe, I was severely guilty of planning a “Tuesday in Belgium” vacation. In fact my first European vacation was a 10-day cruise with only one-day excursions in 7 different cities.

Hello Rome Colosseum! Oh, my 10 minutes are up? Goodbye Colosseum! Onto the Berlin Wall!

This is the norm for most Americans, but I’m going to challenge this norm.

Goodbye Tuesday in Belgium and Hello, Monday thru Saturday in Belgium

My biggest “a-ha” moment was learning that Europeans like to spend their summer holidays for several weeks in one place. Granted it’s easier to achieve when the average vacation time is at least three to five weeks which affords an opportunity to take it easy and get to know the area and its people. For the Dutch, one week of holiday is never enough. Two weeks is pushing it and three to four is ideal. That is definitely a luxury that most Americans don’t have.

Recognising that this isn’t a realistic luxury for most Americans, I still believe that a vacation doesn’t have to be a “Tuesday in Belgium”. And I encourage integrating the European perspective into an American timetable.

Let’s say we want to go to Europe and experience the following activities and/or sites:

  • Visit Roman ruins and/or the Eiffel Tower
  • Eat delicious fresh-baked croissants and/or Italian al dente pasta
  • See the Alps
  • Go to a fancy vineyard
  • Relax on the Mediterranean pebbled beaches

Instead of planning one or two days in Rome, Paris, Innsbruck, Tuscany or Palma de Mallorca and trying to cram all of these cities (and countries) into a 7-10 day holiday, why not see if one country can provide all the essentials?

After some research, the older bespectacled man looks at his older bespectacled wife and declares: “After some research, Georgette, it seems that we can just go to France and enjoy everything we’ve set out to enjoy! …Jeeves, where’s my car?”

In this scenario France can fill all of these must-see/must-do items and while it might be less “exciting” to stay in one country, the upside is that there’s more time to take it easy and escape the workplace hustle and bustle. It affords us time to explore more of a country than what’s on the back-cover of an airline magazine, whilst energising us instead of draining us from the constant plane-hopping.

Lyon is home to the some of the oldest Roman ruins outside of Rome and also houses a replica of the Eiffel Tower (if the real one is too far); on the border of Italy and France, there are some outstanding Italian restaurants, and of course in every village there will be a delicious pâtisserie around the corner;  on a clear summer’s day, there’s nothing more relaxing than swimming in the lake at the bottom of the alps in Aix-les-Bains; what’s more sophisticated than going to Bordeaux for a lesson in wine growing?; and the shores of Cassis  capture the picturesque Mediterranean town perfectly.

Of course this is not realistic for every European vacation list, but I do think it would make the holiday a bit richer if the must-see/must-do list can be found in one country versus several. I understand the “Tuesday in Belgium” mentality, but it’s a misconception to think that the vacation needs to be a full whirlwind tour in order for it to be fulfilling.