BELGIUM THE COUNTRY AND ITS PEOPLE

 The country and the people of Belgium are both rich in contrasts. From the verdant  Polders of the north to the rolling hills and deep river gorges of the south. The population numbers about 10.2 million. Flemish speaking people. French speaking people. To the east an enclave of people whose daily language is German. Each with their own traditions, differing, though often complementary. Even though Belgium is a relatively small country covering some 30,502 square kilometres, there is a great deal to see and experience.

Belgium has a long history. Occupied by the Roman general Julius Ceasar. In medieval times the domain of King Clovis. Ravaged by the Scandinavian hordes on more than one occasion. The line of the Counts of Flanders was established in the north of the country, the Lotharingians claiming sovereignty in the south. Economic and cultural prosperity flourished under the Dukes of Burgandy followed by a period of rule by the Spanish. The era of the Habsburgs until occupation by the French laid down the foundations of what now is The Kingdom of Belgium, independence being proclaimed on the 21st. July 1831, when, Leopold of Saxony-Coburg, was worn in as the first King of the Belgians. At this time King Albert the Second is the ruling monarch.

The cities, towns, and villages of Belgium provide a fascinating vista of history and the present day. Wonderful market squares with early examples of merchant and guild-houses. Superb cathedrals and churches. Domestic architecture and public buildings. Meandering rivers,long, wide, canals, still heavily used as a means of transport. Fine holiday destinations along the North Sea coast are much visited. A very fine network of auto-routes make car travel easy to most locations throughout the country. Of particular note; the auro-routes are illuminated throughout the hours of darkness. Good rail services are the norm with connections available to other major cities throughout Europe. Zaventem, the national airport situated just a few kilometres from the centre of Brussels provides everything the international traveller by air would expect to find in terms of both facilities and routes.

Brussels is the capital of Belgium. Within the context of the European Union founded in 1958 it is the focus of EU. activity. An historic city there is much to see including, The Grande Place with its superb 17th. century guild houses. The legendary Manneken-Pis attracts an endless stream of admirers. The cathedral of St.Michael. Numerous small streets and byways filled with interesting buildings, shops,street markets, bars, and restaurants.

Talking about restaurants good food is a national preoccupation. Nowhere in Europe is it easier than in Belgium to eat well. Everything from lofty establishments starred by Michelin, to small family run bar where the

patron prepares lunch for his family and extra portions for the happy customers. Belgium specialities include: Waterzooi, a delectable combination of chicken or fish with vegetables, herbs, and cream. Carbonnade, beef simmered slowly in beer. Stoemp, a humble, but deeply satisfying dish of a potatoes mashed with vegetables and served with such delights as, local sausages, cote de porc, boudin noir and boudin blanc. There are also many regional specialities with wild game and salt and freshwater fish, lobsters and various kinds of shell fish. Not forgetting of course Moule et Frites. The date when the season commences for this treat eagerly looked forward to as an important annual event.

Beer is the another diadem in the crown. No other country in the world has so many distinctive beers. Literally hundreds are available mainly in bottles, but also on draught. Every style from very light, blond Wonderful Abbey beers still brewed in continuation of long tradition by brothers in holy orders. In Belgium beer is a serious business, to drink, to cook with, to talk about, to lay down in dark cellars to mature, but primarily just to enjoy in the company of some convivial friends. beers, to dark, rich brews of alarming potency. Unique is Lambic fermented in open vats through the action of wild yeasts.

Belgium chocolate delights not only the Belgians, but the world. Renowned for their exceptional quality , looking at the window displays in chocolate shops in the capital and thoughout the whole country, gives pleasure to the eye, and temptation to the taste buds. Chocolate is an important feature of everyday life, for personal enjoyment, and a welcome gift for others. Praline, chocolate filled with an almond based cream, was invented by Jean Neuhaus in the year 1912. The shop founded by his father, a confectioners and pharmacy , dating back to 1857, can still be seen today in the Galerie de la Reine, resplendent with its original draws, cupboards, and fittings. Chocolate is the quinessential taste of Belgium.

Belgium is at the heart of Europe and those who visit it find themselves returning time and again to renew the acquaintance.