"The same vociferous neighbours!"

Meet our readers from abroad! Today, we present Mario Bartel from New Westminster, Canada, who explains what Belgium and Canada have in common. "We're underdogs often overshadowed by much larger and more vociferous neighbours!"
Mario Bartel: "Our two-year-old son Oscar has been quick to adopt the Flanderian love of cycling"

"I am a journalist in the Vancouver area, born and raised in Canada. It is my wife who has a bit of Belgian blood coursing through her veins, second cousins who live near Ghent. When they sent a standing invite to visit and learn a bit more about her Flemish roots, we took them up on the offer!" Mario writes us through mail.

"Getting off the Thalys train from Paris we immediately felt "home;" not only because of the family connection but because Belgium, and particularly Flanders, feels a bit like Canada. We're underdogs often overshadowed by much larger and more vociferous neighbours; the US here, France and Germany in your neck of the woods. We're also countries that share a history of cultural and language tensions that are often played out in the political realm."

"We should have our version of the Ghent Light Festival!"

Mario discovered flandersnews.be during that holiday. "Flanders doesn't get much international attention, so being able to check in on flandersnews.be is a good way to keep abreast of things happening there, stories and issues that are of importance to residents but give an insight to what makes an area tick for those of us looking in from the outside, for instance the recent passing of singer Luc De Vos."

"De Vos' name would get a blank stare here, but it's fascinating to read about his career and the impact his death had in Flanders. I also love seeing the coverage of Ghent's Festival of Light and I wish we could have a similar event in our area!"

As a journalist, it is in my DNA to connect with communities through the news. I check out flandersnews.be every morning to catch up on the day's events, issues of interest and unusual quirky items that remind me of our visit, and wet our appetite to return.

Paterberg and Kwaremont

The visit made Mario and his family long for more. "We were completely smitten by Flanders' beauty, Ghent's architecture and history, the city's canals and those in Brugge, the friendly people, the fabulous beer and chocolate and, of course, the cobbles."

"I am a cyclist and one of the highlights of our visit was a chance to visit the Ronde van Vlaanderen Museum (in Oudenaarde) and then ride some of the legendary climbs like the Paterberg and the Kwaremont. It was freezing cold and raining. In other words a perfect day for riding in Flanders!"

Don't miss our next story "Deloise and the chocolate factory" next Thursday!

Katie Bartel is exhausted by her climb up the Paterberg.