Belgium is a small country situated at the cross roads of Western Europe.
Belgium became an independent country in 1831. Leopold 1st ascended the throne on 21st July – and we still celebrate with a national holiday on that date. The flag has three vertical stripes: black, yellow and red.
With an area of 30,528 sq km to support a population of 11,035,948 (according to the 2012 census), it gives it an average density of 361.5 people per sq km. As 97% of the population live in the cities, the rural areas are pleasantly dotted with small, often attractive, villages. Of a total population of 11million just under 2 million live in Brussels with nearly another million in Antwerp.
There are 66.5 kms of sandy coastline on the North Sea, and borders with the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg and France. The northern part is flat and fairly industrialised, the central part has pleasant rolling hills and in the south are the wooded mountains of the Ardennes. The highest point at Botrange is 694 metres. The River Meuse crosses Belgium West to East, with the towns of Namur in the west and Liege in the east. The capital, Brussels is well north of this, with Antwerp, the second largest city near the coast.
The climate is temperate, but the weather can be very changeable. Summer months are mild and pleasantly warm, and winter brings about fogs and frequent snowfall. It rains all the year round with an annual average precipitation of 30 to 40 inches. The hottest month is July when temperatures can go up to 23 degrees Celsius and the coldest month is January dipping to about 0 degrees Celsius. The Ardennes in the south tends to have colder winters, often with heavier snowfall. You can expect thunder storms in Summertime.
Belgium was occupied by Germany during World wars I and II, and there are still artefacts relating to the war. The battle of the bulge took place in the Ardennes. You will find the odd rusting tank by the roadside, carefully labelled, signs and war memorials – and most poignant of all the war cemeteries.
Since then, Belgium has prospered as a modern, technologically advanced European state, with the headquarters of NATO and the UN both in Brussels.
However, there are divisions within the country, although the motto is “Strength though Unity”. In the north, the Flemish part, they speak Flemish, 60%, which is closely allied to Dutch, and in the Walloon south area they speak French, 40%. There is also a small German speaking part .There is some friction between the Dutch and French speaking areas, and they now have formal recognition and autonomy. Brussels is officially bilingual, French and Dutch.
75% of the country are said to be Roman Catholic and 20% Protestant.
The country is ruled by a Federal Parliament, but they also have a King and Queen. Parliament has a Lower House Chamber of Representatives and Upper House Senate. The country is divided into three administrative regions – Brussels, the Flemish Region and the Walloon Region, the two latter regions in turn are further divided into 5 provinces each. Further, there are 43 smaller divisions, the arrondissements, 19 of which are in the Brussels Region. It is bit confusing in that one of the Walloon Region provinces is called Luxembourg, the same as the small country by that name bordering Belgium.
In Belgium, like most of Europe, one drives on the right, and the currency is the Euro. Telephoning from other countries requires the prefix 32 or 0032. The Internet TLD is .bec and for internet addresses like eBay one simply adds /be.
Life in Belgium is good, with a median age of 42.8 years and life expectancy at birth of: male: 76.62 years and female: 83.08 years, which are mid range for Europe. Medical care is good, but there are important differences in obtaining it.
Belgium is a great country to live in and correct procedures will save you a great deal of time and hassle. For living purposes, the local Town Hall is where you will find the information you need, the forms you require and all the details necessary for your new life. Help is readily available, the local people friendly, the weather kind.
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