Belgium is an uniquely interesting country. There are more than 800 beer kind made in here; country has one of the lowest proportion of McDonald’s restaurants per inhabitant in the developed world; it is the birthplace of tallest man in Europe; it has more comic makers per square meter than any other country in the world; even Neanderthal skulls were first discovered in Belgium.
And yet, the thing that surprises the most is that this, one of the smallest countries in Europe, has three national languages: French, Dutch and German. On one hand, it is a bit confusing to live with three languages in a small country. On the other hand, it is super interesting to explore country with such a various cultural heritage.
In addition to this, Belgium can be divided into two completely differents parts, according to the languages its residents speak (well, except the German-speakers – there are too few of them to form a region). This is how we get Wallonia Region, a French speaking Southern part of the country, and Flemish Region, were Dutch speakers lives.
It is two months since we moved to Belgium, to a small student town Louvain-la-Neuve in Wallonia Region. There are more than 8 months to go, but we have already experienced quite much of Belgium that we can make a small resume of what to expect, if you’re planning to move to this part of Europe. Hope that you will find it useful, Dear Reader!
Things that we love about Belgium
Belgium has everything what true wanderer could ask for. So let’s start with the things that are the most important for people who want to explore and experience.
Belgium is a wonderful strategical place for travelling and exploring Western Europe. This country has surprised us with its short distances between cities and other countries. While in Belgium, you can reach 5 Western Europe capital cities in 3 hours! What is more, Luxembourg, Netherlands, France and Germany is in about 100-150 km away from Brussels.
In addition to this, Belgium itself is rich with places to visit and they are all easy reachable1. What is more, there aren’t toll roads here and it is a well developed system for travelling with the trains. In fact, if you choose to travel with trains, weekends are the best way to explore this country – with weekend ticket2 you can travel as much as you want.
To sum up, the best thing about Belgium is a broad opportunities to explore the cultural heart of Europe. Amsterdam, Paris, Luxembourg, Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, small French, Belgian and German towns – everything is near here.
Local and Flea Markets
Market squares in Belgium serves their name properly. I believe that markets brings coziness and liveliness to town’s life. Happily, during our first day in Belgium (it was Saturday) we were pleased to find a local market in the main square of our little town. I have to say that we were a bit sceptical about our temporary-home-town at the beginning, because it seemed a bit small and a bit empty by the time we got here. However, when we went for a walk and entered the main street which led us to main square, we changed our minds instantly.
Later on, we acknowledge that Belgium is country not only for local, but also for flea market lovers. Each Sunday there is a flea market somewhere around going on and some of them, like our favourite one in Brussels, is open each and every day (since 19th century!). So if you love retro stuff, Belgium is definitely for you!
Belgium has more than 800 types of beer and more than 180 breweries. And those types are for various tastes. Our favourites are blanch (wheat) beers and here we found a great variety of them. Also I enjoy Belgian cherry kriek and other berry and fruit beers very much. And if there is a party to attend, shop shelves are full of usual type of cheaper, but really tasty lager beer.
However, we aren’t the ones who could talk about Belgian beer as an experienced beer-tasters. My point is, that Belgium is a beer country and it is a very good thing for all the beer lovers.
Parks and forests
Another thing that I love about Belgium is the green areas in the cities and towns. It is so nice to have several options, even in the smallest town, where you can relax, go for a walk or go jogging. For example, we have 5 parks and small forest in our small town with a special trails for jogging, a lot of benches, nicely preserved ponds.
Things that we don’t love so much about Belgium
Belgium is awesome, but as any other country in the world, it has some moments that are a bit unexpected to foreigners. However, those which we have experienced mainly applies to Wallonia, region which became our temporary home.
Internet is area where Belgium is living a bit in the past. The first thing that we went to buy after our arrival, was prepaid mobile card, which we intended to use mainly for mobile internet. When we entered one of the main mobile carriers shop, we were unpleasantly surprised to see that country is still in the age of Nokia 3310. In other words, for 10Eur/month plan we could have only 100 MB. Ironically we have more free MB in foreign countries from our usual carrier.
After some wanderings we managed to find a carrier, where mobile plans were a bit more for modern times, but still nothing special: 500 MB for 5 Eur/week. It was our first time in a while, when we had to calculate mobile internet in megabytes.
French and just French language
Another strange thing is about signing contracts. If you aren’t a French speaking person, 9 of the 10 times you will have to sign a lease contract without knowing what is it written in there. It is quite strange when one of the biggest real estate agencies in country doesn’t have bilingual lease contracts. We used Google Translate, but sadly, we still had losses due to not understandable contract.
So, basically, if you don’t know the language, it’s your problem. Well, I understand that, if you move to some random small town where foreigners aren’t such a usual residents. But common, it’s university town!
But despite this, major part of Belgians are good English speakers. There is no problem to understand each other at the restaurant, train station or shop.
Most of the gas stations in Belgium don’t have price billboards, where you could see information about gas prices before entering. In addition to this, prices between gas stations varies even up to 0,13 Eur per liter, which I consider as quite a big difference.
Confusion with the languages
When this kind of small country has three national languages you can’t avoid the confusion. Southern part of the country is all in French – from billboards to road signs, and Northern is all in Dutch. It takes some time to get used to that.
Laundry shops are at the peak here and washing machines are not such a popular thing to have as we could want it to be. To illustrate this, we have dishwasher in our apartment, but we don’t have a washing machine. In my opinion, it would be more practical, if the situation would be reversed.
Belgium is an uniquely interesting and beautiful country. In my opinion, it is a perfect destination for a person who seeks to explore cultural heart of liberal Europe. Here you will taste, see and experience the things that Western Europe is famous for.
Yes, in my opinion it has several points that a bit lack of logic, but they are small and not significant details. Anyway, each country has those! But if you are looking for a place to broaden your cultural, travelling and taste horizons, Belgium is the country for you!
What is your opinion or experience about Belgium? Share it in comments!