Belgium is a very pretty country and has a lot of history. Belgium has constantly been a battle ground during many, if not all of the major European Wars. As a history lover I was happy to be in the country and just get taken in by all the history. History is why I am in awe with Europe. It is amazing to me to walk down a cobble stone street that has been there for hundreds of years.
I find Belgium to be a very easy country to travel. The train system is simple and most people speak English or at least understand it. Once you know what IC (inter-city; or something like this, the actual words are in Flemish) stands for and the other acronyms it is easy to pick your train. If you are trying to get to a town that is about 15 minutes away by train you may want to avoid the trains that have an "L" next to them. This means they are local trains and will take you on a two hour milk run through every tiny village before ending up at your destination.
Of course if you do accidentally get on one of these trains, do not panic! It is important to remember that train's make stops and you can easily get off at the next stop and hop on another train. If you plan on traveling by train a lot within Belgium I recommend getting something called a Go Pass (again, I do not know the Flemish equivalent, but as mentioned the majority of people speak/understand English). The Go Pass has I think 10 trips on it and you simply write in where you are departing from, where you are going and the date.
Note to everyone, make sure you fill it out before you get on the train! My friends and I were not really sure how to fill it out and as a group on the train we figured out how to fill it out. However the train ticket man saw us filling it out on the train and fined us money because he thought we were trying to scam the system. He yelled at us in Flemish, which we did not understand and told us it would be 12 Euros, then his boss came up and said no 17 Euros. At the time I wasn't really thinking this was strange, just feeling a bit embarrassed. After I got over the shock of it all and thought about it I realized I should have asked why it was suddenly raised to 17 Euros. I came to the assumption that they knew we were foreigners and just felt like charging us more for our incompetence. Live and Learn!
The Belgian country side is beautiful, it is full of little towns and fields and sort of reminds me of driving across the Prairie Provinces.
It was a nice relaxing sight to see after being on a plane for 8 hours and having no sleep. Also the train was relatively quiet and I did not have to share a seat, so I kept my suitcase with me.
Throughout most of Belgium and especially the areas I visited the language spoken was Flemish. To put it simply Flemish is like a combination of French and Dutch, or at least that is what it looked like to me. My French vocabulary is quite good, although I can’t speak it very well. My Dutch is basically non-existent and when combining the two it just looks complicated. I tried looking for Flemish phrase books before I left and did not find anything.
I also found that Belgium was a relatively inexpensive country to travel in, especially in comparison to other Western European countries. The currency used is the Euro, but I found that the tax was already incorporated into the price on the menu or price tag so what you see is what you pay and you weren't surprised when there was a 21% sales tax added to the price (I'm looking at you France).
I drank a lot of tea while I was here, of course. I have noticed that milk and cream are not usually served with tea in Europe (I noticed it in the Netherlands, Belgium and France) so I drank my tea with just sugar throughout the duration of my trip. I am also used to drinking English Breakfast (my preferred tea) but another tea related fact I noticed is that the tea offered here is usually called Yellow Label tea. It is a black tea and to me tastes just like English Breakfast. When I got home to Canada I went to the grocery store to see if I could find it and I did!
So during my stay in Belgium I stayed at the Irish College in Leuven with other classmates as I was attending a school program. The town is very nice. It is a university town, so there are a lot of students but also families. There are lots of places to eat, and lots of different ethnic foods. Beer is the thing to drink in Belgium, I myself have never been a big drinker but I did have some strawberry and cherry beer. The cherry beer is called kriek. This was the first time I had ever had a beer. This shocked some of my peers. Cherry Beer, to me, tasted like fruit punch, where as the strawberry beer had a bit more of that beer taste to it.
This is the garden outside my room at the Irish College. I forgot to take pictures of my room but it was a loft style with 4 beds as I had roommates.
After settling in, some of my classmates and I went out and explored the town. Like I said it is a very nice town, it is a decent sized town and has a hospital, police station and many stores like H&M and Zara. European H&M’s are so much better than North American ones.
I had quite the exciting second day in Belgium, first day in Leuven and it was great exploring the town. It is definitely a place I may stay again if I do not feel like staying in a busy city.
Labels: 2013, Belgium, Europe, Leuven, Travel