Belgium

For those living in Europe, Belgium is a great destination that is close, easy to get to and not too shocking on the budget given similar costs of living. For those living outside of Europe, Belgium is not usually a main destination but its proximity to just about everything else in Western Europe, plus what it has to offer in terms of culture, fine arts and cuisine, makes it a great candidate for a side trip for both the luxury traveller and the backpacker looking to for a place to clean up and relax for a few days. If art is your thing, Belgium really does have a lot to share, including the recently opened Magritte Museum in Brussels, which boasts som 200 works of art by surrealist painter Rene Magritte, and the new Herge Museum in the nearby university town of Louvain-la-Neuve, which displays the work of the famed Tintin creator. The country also shows off its ability to have a good time by hosting a number of festivals throughout the year, including a jazz marathon, a beer weekend, a rock festival, the Festival of Wallonia and a year-round thriving nightlife in Brussels. Belgium is also very proud - and rightfully so - of its seemingly endless markets, including the Antique market at the Place du Grand Sablon in Brussels on the weekends or the Bruneaf antique market in March. Several traditional Christmas markets dot the country throughout the holidays, as well, making a trip here during the most wonderful time of the year that much more wonderful. Finally, for those looking for something a little more decadent to sink their teeth into, the country is home to fantastic food and drink so be sure to work a little harder before you get here so you can enjoy more guilt-free the pleasures this tasty culture has to offer! ~ WBB Staff Writer


Buttering Buns in Belgium and the Netherlands

Bike tours in Europe abound“Try some Chamois Butt’r,” said Barbara, with a knowing chuckle. “It’s for your buns, though, not your bread!” I was instantly all ears about this special cream that cyclists claim has magical powers when it comes to easing sore butts. Barbara had taken pity on me after watching me ever so gingerly get on and off my bike. It was day three of a week-long cycling tour through Flanders, a region encompassing parts of Holland and Belgium, and my derriere had begun to protest in earnest. I gratefully applied the supposed wonder balm and hopped back on my bike, hoping for the best. I don’t know if it was a psychosomatic response or whether it was the fact that my rear end had become sufficiently calloused, but the stuff actually worked. And I no longer needed to engage in what I called the “one cheek on the seat” style of riding.

A sore butt was the only complaint I had during my European cycling trip - a trip awash with many memorable sights and experiences. As I had never been on a cycling adventure, I chose my destination based on a few factors: flat terrain (no Pyrenees for me!), plenty of historic sites and picturesque scenery, a country with a reputation for good food and a notably cycling-friendly populace. My decision to go with Austin Lehman Adventures was a no-brainer, as the company is top rated and offers an extensive selection of bike tours throughout the continent.

I began my journey in Brussels, a cosmopolitan city that oozes charm from its pores with a mix of modern and traditional elements and French, Flemish and German influences. Among its many districts is the famed Grand-Place, once described as the “most beautiful theatre in the world.” This iconic square with its imposing Gothic and Neo-Gothic style buildings, cobblestone streets, bustling market stalls and colorful splashes of flowers at every corner, is a treat for the senses. People here appreciate fine food, fashion and art, and they covet their leisure time. Sitting at one of the ubiquitous outdoor cafes in summer is a frequent pastime; one with which I quickly became enamored because of the opportunity it presented to people watch. The food, though, is reason enough.

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 Full name: Kingdom of Belgium

 Population: 10.44 million (CIA, 2012)

 Capital: Brussels

 Largest city: Brussels

 Area: 30,528 sq.km. (11,787 sq. mi.)

 Major languages: Dutch, French

 Major religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant,  Other

 Monetary unit: Euro

 GDP per capita: US $37,600

 Internet domain: .be

 International dialling code: +32

 Source: CIA World Factbook