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Travel Bytes

(Travel Bytes are local area descriptions provided by people who live in the area or have travelled through it. These comments are provided as is so please excuse the odd spelling or gramatical error.

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Located in north-western Europe, Belgium is a small country bordered by The Netherlands, France, Germany, and Luxemburg. There's more to the country than Belgian fries, glass and beer: multicultural and multilingual, Belgium is a veritable Europe in miniature.

Belgium reached its zenith under the Duke of Burgundy during the 14th century. However, the country declined in the mid-15th century. During the First World War, despite Belgium's neutral policy, the Germans invaded the country in 1914. The Germans attacked it again in 1940, this time taking control over the entire country within barely three weeks. After the war, Belgium witnessed an economic boom, which was further boosted by Brussels appointment as the headquarters of both the European Union and NATO.

Brussels today is a bustling city of diplomats, followed closely by towering skyscrapers and numerous restaurants. You will see superb examples of art and architecture, both past and present-Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, and Nouveau. The city is also famous for some well-preserved ancient châteaux, colourful fairs and festivals, nature reserves as well as amusement parks-all within easy reach.

Due to the country's strategic location, Belgians play host to tourists from all parts of the world. The local people are always friendly, cooperative and courteous. Though Dutch and French are the commonly used languages, you'll find that almost everyone can manage to communicate in English.

Belgium has some of the renowned art cities of Europe- Antwerp , Bruges , Ghent,Brussels and Leuven. The southern region of the country is interspersed with the rolling hills of the Ardennes, numerous castles, and the cities of Liege , and Tournai . The Ardennes, in particular, are a major centre for skiing in winter and kayaking in summer, with added facilities of hiking and mountain biking along the forest tracks.

Nowadays, Brugge lies about 10 km inland from the Noth Sea coast, but in the Middle Ages it still had a natural sea port. This meant that in brugge in the 13th century it exp)anded to become a centre of international trade, the link between the Hanseatic cities in the north an Venice in the south. Merchants travelled to Brugge from every corner of the globe. Trading in money also flourished: in many languages the word beurs stock exchange is derived from Van de Buerse, the name of a broker's family in Brugge who kept an inn whee financial transactions were concluded. In the early 16th century, this flourishing period came an end. The economic and commercial centre moved to Antwerpen. Brugge became a quiet city, a source of inspiration for melancholy writers and artists. Since the beginning of this century, Brugge has developed as an important tourist attraction.

A visitor to Brugge is completely submerged in the Middle Ages. The city has retained its late medieval wealth intact. A boat trip on the canals which wind through the city is an ideal way of savouring the past and discovering the many historical buildings. The Grand' Place is dominated by the Belfry, the proud symbol of municipal freedom. The Groeninge Museum has a rich collection of paintings by the Flemisch primitives. The old St. Jan's Hospital houses the Memling Museum, and in the Church of Our Lady there is a Madonna and Child by Michelangelo, one of the few works by the great Renaissance artist outside Italy. In this church there are also the magnificent ornamental tombs of two Burgundian princes. But even with all these wonderful treasures, Brugge has not become stuck in the past: the pedstrianised inner city is a lively shopping centre.

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