Difference between revisions of "Belgium"
Revision as of 04:32, 5 July 2005
Belgium is a low lying country on the North Sea coast in Western Europe. With the majority of West European capitals within 1,000 km of Brussels, the seat of both the European Union and NATO, Belgium sits at the crossroads of Western Europe. Its immediate neighbours are France to the southwest, Luxembourg to the south east, Germany to the east and the Netherlands to the north.
Belgium consists of three regions, listed from North to South:
Flanders and Wallonia are each divided in 5 provinces.
These are the major cities in Belgium.
Belgium is a densely populated country trying to balance the conflicting demands of urbanization, transportation, industry, commercial and intensive agriculture. It imports large quantities of raw materials and exports a large volume of manufactured goods, mostly to the EU.
Temperate; mild winters, cool summers; rainy, humid, cloudy
Flat coastal plains in northwest, central rolling hills, rugged mountains of Ardennes Forest in southeast
Belgium became independent from the Netherlands in 1830. It was occupied by Germany during World Wars I and II and has many war graves near the battle zones. It has prospered in the past half century as a modern, technologically advanced European state and member of NATO and the EU. Tensions between the Dutch-speaking Flemings of the north and the French-speaking Walloons of the south have led in recent years to constitutional amendments granting these regions formal recognition and autonomy.
Brussels is home to an international airport, Zaventem (IATA code BRU), about 25 minutes from the city centre with the train or the number 12 airport express bus.
There are also small airports at Charleroi (IATA code CRL, 1 hour from Brussels) and Oostende (IATA code OST, on the coast, Tel: 059/55.12.11 - Fax: 059/51.32.51).
Virgin uses Zaventem airport, Ryanair uses Charleroi, and charter flight tour operators use Oostende.
There are high speed trains between Brussels, Cologne, Paris (Thalys), and London (Eurostar), as well as normal trains that run between all cities. Check out the website for SNCB/NMBS. If you are planning to travel around Belgium by train often, perhaps you should buy a "Go Pass". For 44 Euros (student price), you can buy 10 one-way trips anywhere in Belgium. Not bad considering most trips will cost you at least 7 euros.
Most European highways like the E-19, E-17 and E-313 pass through Belgium.
Belgium has an extensive public transport network with frequent operating buses and trams.
There are boat services to/from England and Ireland, e.g. from Ostend.
Belgium has three official languages: French, Dutch, and German. English is widely spoken by people under 30, regardless if you are in Flanders or Wallonia. You will find that some older people do speak English but it is less likely.
Belgium is a small country in the centre of western Europe, and therefore the cuisine is influenced not only by the surrounding countries, but also by many others. This is also emphasized by many foreigners coming to this country to make a living here, for instance by starting a restaurant. You can find all types of restaurants:
Belgium offers an incredible diversity of beers. The most well known are Stella Artois, Duvel (literally: the Devil, beware, 8.5%!), Leffe, Jupiler (plain standard beer), Hoegaarden (white beer). The names given to some beers are pretty imaginative: eg Verboden Vrucht (Forbidden Fruit), Judas, Delirium Tremens. Some really exquisite ones are the beers that are still brewed in monasteries, the most famous being the "West-Vleteren" beer: dark strong beer, delicious!
Belgium has many fine hotels, but the best are located in Antwerp, Brussels and the Ardennes region of Belgium.
The level of Belgian education and universities rank among the highest of the world. The other side of the medal is that Belgian students have to study for long periods.
The Belgian economy is slowly returning to pre-1999 levels, but has still a long way to go. Bilingual people will have the most chance to find work. Knowledge of the German language is always appreciated.
Most other cities are safe, but always use your common sense. Don't walk in empty streets. Don't show off your expensive equipment or jewelry, etc.
In the winter, like most other countries, only influenza will cause you an considerable inconvenience. No inoculations are needed to enter or leave Belgium.
There are a few sensitive points you really should take in consideration: - Most Belgians do not like to discuss their wages or their political preferences. - Talking about "Vlaams Belang" (which is the new name of the political party Vlaams Blok) or right-wing politics will spark very heated discussions. - Like The Netherlands, Belgium has a considerable Moroccan and Turkish community. Please respect their customs.
Belgium has a modern telephone system with nationwide cellular telephone coverage.