Flanders is the Dutch-speaking northern part of Belgium. It is wedged between the North Sea and the Netherlands in the north and Wallonia and France in the south. This region has an immense historical and cultural wealth which is made visible through its buildings, its works of art and its festivals.
Nowadays, Flanders is one of the three federal regions of Belgium (the other two being Wallonia and Brussels). This means that it has its own government, a parliament and separate laws. Oddly enough the capital of Flanders is Brussels, lying in another federal region. But Flanders has travelled a long historic road before arriving at its present situation. For most of its history it was united with the Netherlands, which is still the closest partner. It was separated from the Netherlands and united with Wallonia as early as the 19th century, and the marriage is at times an unhappy and also dysfunctional one.
All roads (highways, main roads, ...) are free in Flanders. Some tunnels can ask for a fee to pass it (fe. Liefkenshoektunnel in Antwerp)
Roads are pretty good and signalisation is pretty good too. Older cities can appear to be a maze of one-way streets. Often it is better to park your car in a parking and continue on foot. Towns are not big in general.
The national train-company is called NMBS. Trains will get you to most cities.
In cities you will find busses, trams and metro from De Lijn(The Line). The same ticket is valid for 90 minutes for one zone. You can buy multiple-ride tickets (Lijnkaart), this is cheaper than buying a ticket per ride. These tickets are valid in every Flemish city.
In Hasselt public transportation is free!
The official language of Flanders is Dutch. Belgian Dutch, the official standard variety, has some vocabulary not used in the Netherlands and a distinct, soft accent but it is still standard Dutch. Nearly all Flemings with the partial exception of senior ones are capable of speaking standard Dutch, and while a tourist is not expected to speak the local language, knowing a few words or phrases in the standard language will be highly appreciated.
Most people know English at least moderately. French is learnt in schools by everyone, but not everybody is fluent in French, and addressing the locals in French could offend some of them (for political reasons), so English is a better bet.
There are many music festivals organised throughout the summer. The bigger ones happen in a small village, because there is lots of space and not many neighbours to complain about the noise.
Some of the famous ones are:
Pukkelpop (Near Hasselt) is still an independent festival organised by youth movements. They figure big names but try to have alternative groups too.
Rock Werchter (Near Leuven), owned by Clearchannel features all big commercial bands.
Maanrock (in Mechelen) is one of the larger free festivals. It's inside the city.
Marktrock (in Leuven) has many different stages with different kinds of music all over the city. Most music is popular music, though there are many small bands playing there. The main stage is the only stage not to be free. Every time you enter you pay a small fee (5 euro in 2003).
Sfinks (Near Antwerp) is a world music festival. It has a really nice atmosphere. There is a lot of side animation, like a big market.
Openluchttheater Rivierenhof (Near Antwerp) isn't really a festival, though it has big bands all through the summer. Usually they "pick up" artists that have a few days without a gig.
Werchter Classic (Near Leuven) boasts classic rock bands, but has been featuring artists that had their break-through only recently. It's mostly a re-use of the Rock Werchter facilities.
Graspop (Metal music), Rythm 'n Blues, Dranouter (Folk music), Cactus festival, Rock Ternat, Rock@Edegem ... (there are too many to sum up)
The festivals organised in towns are often free and very nice. They stay away from commercial music and have good bands playing combined with small local bands.
Flanders has some nice music bands with some internation fame(dEUS, Das Pop, Zita Swoon, Soulwax,...)
Flanders is very safe. You will find that people are usually very helpful.
In towns, you should of course beware of usual things (pickpockets in tourist places) but outside Brussels, everything is safe.
Flemings don't like to talk about their income or politics. You must also avoid asking people about their views on religion.
The Flanders-Wallonia question or dispute and the high number of separatist and extreme-right votes in Flanders are controversial topics and you must avoid asking people about their views on these as well.
Do not speak French with the Flemings, it is regarded as disrespectful. Speak either Dutch, English, German or something closely related to Dutch.
Giving tips shows that you were content with the service given, but you are certainly not obliged to do so. It is sometimes done in bars and restaurants. Depending on the total, a tip of €0,50 to €2,50 is considered generous.