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belgium [2011/11/15 11:19] (current)
mpan created
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 +===Belgium===
  
 +Somewhat scattered info, mostly about Flanders. ​
 +
 +==General==
 +
 +  * Official languages are Dutch, French, and German, but you'll be mostly fine speaking English in cities. Actually, in Flanders people usually prefer English to both French and German.
 +
 +  * There are some ING Direct ATMs around, but other than that I couldn'​t find any US bank partners. BNP Paribas is not a Bank of America partner in Belgium even though it is a partner in France.
 +
 +==Places to go, and getting around==
 +
 +  * Most people arrive via Brussels, but if you have more than half a day to spend it might be worth checking out a different city instead. Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges are all ~1 hour away by train or less. There are tourist maps of these plus some useful tips at [[http://​www.use-it.be|Use-It]]. (They tend to have kind of a chatty tone, which was OK with me; ymmv.) Liege and Charleroi are also within ~1 hr. For the train it's best to get a ticket before boarding. Some ticket machines take cash, but for the others you need a bank card/credit card with a chip. (Anyway during the daytime most stations have a staffed ticket window.) There are also intra- and inter-city buses/​trams,​ many run by De Lijn. You can pay the fare upon boarding, or you can buy a pass card at "​Lijnwinkels"​ in train stations in major towns. The cheapest cards are 10 rides apiece. Once you've arrived at a city, the city center is usually compact enough to get around in on foot. 
 +  * Brussels has some nice museums (Palais des Beaux-Arts, Magritte museum, comics museum, musical instruments museum) and frequent classical concerts. Otherwise the standard sights are probably the Grand-Place and the Manneken Pis. If you come on a holiday, the Manneken may have clothes. Further away there'​s the Atomium (giant body-centered-cubic unit model).
 +  * Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges are all pretty nice just to walk around in (nicer than Brussels for this, imho). Antwerp'​s museums include the house/​studio of Peter Paul Rubens; the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, though it's being renovated until 2017; a new art museum, "​MAS",​ and a fashion museum. The train station is an architectural classic (actually there was a children'​s choir performing in the entrance hall when I was there).
 +  * Bruges has lots of nice views, especially along the canals (expect to see plenty of tourists there). It has yet another nice art museum, the Groeninge museum, as well as a fries museum. In December there'​s an ice sculpture festival near the train station. ​
 +    ​
 +  * If you are in Belgium for work chances are you are going either to Leuven or to Liege. I haven'​t travelled around Liege, but if you're headed for Leuven, it's an easy 20-min train ride from Brussels. The astro department is across town, and then some, from the main train station (in fact it's in Heverlee, the next hamlet over). One way to get there is to take either bus 2 or bus 616 from the train station to Arenberg III. Bus 2 comes more frequently but is slower. (In principle you could walk, but it's over 2 miles. Don't try to take the train all the way to Heverlee -- that might be slower than walking.)
 +   * Leuven also has a nice historical city center with a very ornate city hall, a big Stella Artois factory, and a bunch of sculptures including a huge bug stuck on a huge needle and a guy pouring beer into his head. Many of the bars are on the Oude Markt, just off the main square to the southwest. Tends to be livelier during the week (Monday-Thursday) as most of the students go home on weekends.
 +
 +==Snack food==
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 +  * Waffles: There are 2 kinds of waffles -- Liege waffles and Brussels waffles. Liege waffles are denser and have pearl sugar mixed into the batter; the sugar caramelizes while the waffle cooks. Brussels waffles are softer and lighter and usually larger in area. They don't have pearl sugar, so they typically come with a dusting of powdered sugar.
 +
 +  * Chocolate: Seems like every town except the smallest hamlets has at least one Leonidas and one Neuhaus shop and probably some indie shops as well. In general Leonidas is viewed as clearly better than supermarket chocolate but a notch below Godiva or especially Neuhaus. That said, supermarket chocolate (Galler, Cote d'Or, Jacques) is none too shabby either and is pretty inexpensive. In Brussels there are a bunch of flagship shops on the Place du Grand Sablon (actually very close to the original Le Pain Quotidien). In Leuven there is a nice shop called Tartufo not too far from the main train station. Walk out of the station toward the city center -- that is, immediately cross the ring road and take the Bondgenotenlaan. Take the first street on your right and walk almost to the next intersection;​ Tartufo is on the left side of the street.