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Continuing my series of trip reports from past years, I wanted to give a bit of report on a trip my son and I took a few years back to Europe.

Getting to Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog

We had gotten there in a bit of a roundabout way. First, we flew Southwest from Cincinnati to Chicago Midway airport. Then we took the subway from Chicago Midway to downtown and then from downtown Chicago to O’Hare airport. From O’Hare we flew Icelandair to Copenhagen (connecting in Reykjavik). We spent a day in Copenhagen and then took a train and a bus to Billund Denmark. We spent a day at Legoland and the Lego House before flying to Brussels. In Brussels, we rented a car and did a bit of driving. We wanted to see as many countries and country borders as we could, so we drove south to France, Luxembourg and Germany before heading up to Baarle-Hertog and Baarle-Nassau.

We were coming from the south, so we took then N19 and then N119 roads to the Dutch border. From Brussels, you’ll take the E19 to the N144. There is public transportation (Bus 132) that comes from Breda. If you’re in Brussels, Antwerp or Rotterdam you’ll need to get to Breda first and switch to the 132.

What are exclaves and enclaves?

An enclave is a piece of territory that is completely surrounded by the territory of another sovereign entity (state or country). Think of the countries of Vatican City, San Marino or Lesotho. An exclave is a piece of territory that is completely separated from the rest of its country’s land. Many exclaves are also enclaves. There are also semi-exclaves (an exclave except for water on one or more sides) or pene-exclaves (where the only CONVENIENT way to get to it is through another country). I am a sucker for geographical oddities like this – which is why I visited the pene-exclave of Point Roberts a few years ago.

In the case of Baarle-Hertog, Belgium and Baarle-Nassau, Netherlands, these crazy enclaves and exclaves date back to the medieval times and treaties and land swaps between the Lords of Breda and the Dukes of Brabant. Currently, the two towns sit about 5 miles into the Netherlands from the Belgian border.

a boy holding a toy in front of a street sign

So most of the town and all of the surrounding area is part of Baarle-Nassau (the Netherlands, in light yellow in the below illustration). However, there are 22 Belgian enclaves that are part of the commune of Baarle-Hertog. 15 of them are in the main part of the city and the remaining 7 are further outside town. With me so far? Just wait, it gets MORE complicated!

Because inside several of the larger Belgian enclaves there are Dutch COUNTER-enclaves, marked N1 through N7 on the illustration.

a map of a city

Exploring the town

We got into town in the late afternoon. We parked our car in a city parking lot and explored on foot. Baarle-Hertog and Baarle-Nassau are definitely best explored on foot – in fact, at one point we saw 2 huge trucks stuck on the road because they were trying to pass each other.

a two trucks parked next to each other

You really only need a couple of hours to explore — it’s not that big and there isn’t that much to see. The main attraction, especially if you’re a map geek like me, is the crazy borders all throughout the town. The borders are so complex that they are painted on the roads, sidewalks, and buildings. Here you can see one building with two front doors – one in Belgium and one in the Netherlands.

a building with glass doors

With the advent of the Schengen Zone, things have gotten much less complicated I’m sure. There are stories that I have read from history that there were situations where the Belgian and Dutch laws were different for things like taxes or bars. So closing time is say, midnight in the Netherlands but 2 a.m. in Belgium. So at midnight, all patrons have to move over to the Belgian side of the bar.

We were there a few years ago but I’ve read that the different country restrictions with COVID-19 have also caused similar types of situations. I believe I’ve read that there are shops with a front door in the Netherlands and the back door in Belgium, so they made a law that your tax domicile and official registration was wherever your FRONT door was located :-).

a brick building with a sign and a tree

As you can see, in addition to house numbers, buildings typically put their country’s flag next to the numbers, as another indicator of what country they are officially located in.

Having dessert

We weren’t super hungry but wanted to celebrate a bit, so we decided we would stop at a local cafe for some dessert.

a person eating dessert at a table

Of course, we wanted to eat at a cafe that was right on the border, right? Thankfully in this city that is not very difficult to find!

a man sitting in a chair outside

Here I am, eating ice cream in two different countries at once!  It was a very fun experience and a highlight of our trip.

Have you ever been here, or to any other geographical oddity? Leave your experience in the comments

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